Select Committee Releases Climate Report

Posted Posted in Advocacy, Policy, Take Action

Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Report: Release is Today!

By Sophia Zengierski

Back in January, the House of Representatives put together the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Since then, its members have been working with leaders on climate to determine recommendations on policies and strategies to ensure a better future for generations to come. After these months of investigations and hearings, the Committee released a report of findings today, June 30th. 

Made up of members from both side of the aisle and across of myriad of states, what the Committee puts forward will affect us all. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that our fate and the planet’s are one. As such we need to focus on protecting our environment, including our ocean, which contributes greatly to the planet’s overall wellbeing through regulating weather and temperature. 

At the Inland Ocean Coalition, we are excited to see the report from the Select Committee, especially the recommendations they put forward for communities. To help the report’s reach, share it with your friends and family and write to your legislators to let them know that you believe these recommendations should be taken seriously and that we need action on climate change to safeguard our future. 

For more information, you can check out the Committee’s website: Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. You can also follow the Committee on social media @climatecrisis.

On the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Rollback

Posted Posted in Advocacy, Policy, Take Action

By Sophia Zengierski

In a time of national division and crisis, President Trump has chosen to roll back protections on the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Signing this executive order means opening the area up and putting wildlife and habitats at risk. 

This map shows the area designated as protected by the monument.

In the race to protect 30% of the Earth’s land and seas by 2030, every protected area counts. But why are protected areas so important? Quite frankly, marine protected areas allow the species and ecosystems to flourish, undeterred by unexpected human activity. We have already seen the enormous capability the ocean, and nature, has to rehabilitate if given the opportunity. Providing a safe haven for animals and other marine life allows them to better cope with other stressors such as climate change and acidification. Typically, fully protected areas have as much as 600% of biomass restored.

However, wildlife are not the only beneficiaries of MPAs. Our human population derives a great benefit as well. MPAs enhance food security, promote marine tourism and the jobs that creates, and provide resilience against climate change and other global crises.  Furthermore, the American public values environmental protections with 86% of Americans supporting protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 and 95% supporting the development and maintenance of marine protected areas. As the only marine monument in the Northeast, the Seamounts represent a vital stake in our protection of our oceans. 

On World Environment Day and in the middle of World Oceans month, we should be taking the opportunity to learn and support the nature that surrounds us. But as we face challenges throughout the country, there comes a great strength in collaborating to build a positive future. No matter where we come from or the experiences we face, we are all dependent upon the sea. And together we can work to defend and protect our environment. 

 

Image Credit: The Pew Foundation

 

Plastic Pollution Legislation in Colorado

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advocacy, Clean Water, Plastic, Policy

This year Colorado is taking steps to reduce plastic pollution in the state through three legislative measures. First, SB 10 would have overturned a plastic preemption measure—essentially a ban on bans—that barred local governments and communities from creating their own bans on plastic items or regulating any plastic products within their jurisdiction. The bill was heard in the Local Government Committee on February 4th. Melissa, the Inland Ocean Coalition’s (IOC’s) new Community Engagement Manager, provided testimony highlighting the importance of reducing plastic here in Colorado, and that as a headwaters state, this would send positive ripple effects downstream to the ocean.

The IOC carried out a pilot study in 2017 with scientists from the Shaw Institute which found evidence of microplastics in high alpine mountain tributaries above 11,000 feet—what we would generally think of as pristine ecosystems. This highlights that plastic pollution is not a big city issue or far away problem: It’s something that affects all of us, from the mountains to the coasts.

Unfortunately, the bill, sponsored by Senator Kerry Donovan of District 5 in Eagle, Delta, and Pitkin counties, was voted down 3-2. This means it did not pass through committee to the Senate floor. Telluride Mayor DeLanie Young said, “It’s extremely disappointing. Our community has been patiently waiting…for elected officials to take action on this erroneously outdated language.”

However, there are still two upcoming bills that could still help reduce plastic production, use, and pollution here in Colorado. HB1162 would eliminate polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) use and and HB1163 would implement a single-use plastic bag ban for the entire state. These bills will be heard by the Energy & Environment Committee on February 24th. We plan to attend and again testify to the harmful effects of polystyrene and single-use plastic on our land, waterways, wildlife, climate, human health, and ocean. We anticipate that these bills will pass through committee and be heard by the whole floor in the upcoming months.

Stay tuned for updates! If you’d like to support these bills you can: 

The Meaning of Salmon

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Advocacy, Clean Water, Watersheds, Wildlife

By Stephen C. Curro, Inland Ocean Coalition Volunteer

Say the word “salmon” and different people think of different things. To foodies, salmon is a tasty meal rich in omega-3s. To anglers, it’s a gorgeous fish to fool on a line. To Native Americans and First Nations Peoples, it’s an important part of their culture and the web of life itself. To naturalists and adventure seekers, it’s a symbol of the wild.

Salmon are remarkable creatures. Depending on the species, they can be over three feet in length and weigh around thirty pounds. They feed on zooplankton when they’re young and seek out smaller fish as they grow. They live most of their lives in cold Atlantic and Pacific waters and swim upstream into rivers to spawn. During these salmon runs they leap up waterfalls and brave hazards like grizzly bears just so they can give the next generation a chance to taste the open ocean.

In the spawning season, and indeed other seasons, salmon are a critical food source for bears, eagles and a number of other terrestrial and marine animals. Salmon are even responsible for contributing nutrients to riparian ecosystems when they travel upstream. When predators eat salmon, they disperse nitrogen and phosphorus into surrounding lakes and foliage, increasing plant growth by up to three times the normal rate! By nourishing predatory animals, salmon help to nourish the entire riparian ecosystem.

But it’s not just the animals that benefit from the salmon. During these salmon runs, billions of dollars are generated and thousands of jobs are supported through fishing, angling and ecotourism. Commercial fishing greatly benefits from the bounty of salmon stocks, supplying the filets to your own supermarket. Many indigenous tribes have depended on salmon as a primary source of food for thousands of years.   When one considers these facts, it should be apparent why salmon are considered a keystone species; a linchpin that holds an entire ecosystem together.

Companies and politicians that want to exploit mineral resources in the far north—namely Northern Dynasty’s proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska—seem to fail to understand why people are resistant to their plans. It’s true; such a mine would yield billions of dollars and provide jobs. But such development is only skin-deep. In time the coveted gold and copper will run out and the jobs they supported will end. What will be left is a scar in the land and a torrent of toxic runoff dumped into the surrounding waters.

If allowed, Northern Dynasties will dig a hole 4,000 feet deep. To contain toxic runoff, the company will construct a tailings dam three miles long and 740 feet high. That’s larger than the Hoover Dam! All of this will happen in the heart of salmon country. The size and scope of this operation will place the surrounding waters at risk of contamination from 10 billion tons of toxic waste rock. Once dug and abandoned, the gold and copper mines will need constant maintenance just to keep the runoff in check, and not all of it will be caught. The contamination will be even worse if an earthquake strikes the region or the tailings dam breaches.

All five species of salmon, including the coveted sockeye salmon, are found in abundance in the Bristol Bay area. These are not just blip populations; we are talking over 50% of the known fishery. Unnecessary mining in the area will devastate this concentration of salmon, and as a result cripple the global population. That would be a severe blow to ecotourism, angling and commercial fishing. Worse yet, it would disrespect and damage the cultures of native peoples who revere salmon, who depend on salmon for physical and spiritual sustenance. It would strain animal populations that all depend on salmon for food, on the land and in the sea, and fracture the web of life in ways we cannot yet predict. Such a breakdown would further impact food stocks, further impact culture and tourism, and so on. These are consequences that will outlive any mine by far, consequences that cannot be easily reversed, if at all.

So what is the lesser of two evils? Choosing to not exploit viable mining, or sacrificing a critical natural resource that in all likelihood cannot be replenished?

How should America regard salmon? A food source? A draw for tourism? A facet of indigenous culture?

The answer is all of the above, and that’s a treasure worth more than precious metals.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to release the draft Environmental Impact Statement on or before the 22nd of February and there will be a 90 day public comment period. Stay tuned for how to make your voice heard on this critical issue. 

What’s the Fishue with Orca Whales?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advocacy, Clean Water, Policy, Wildlife

By Taylor Shedd, Inland Ocean Coalition Policy Manager

Some of you may know that June is orca awareness month. Few of you may know that there is a unique population of orca whales that live in the Pacific Northwest called the Southern Residents that are critically endangered. Even fewer of you may know that I, Taylor, am the Inland Ocean Coalition’s newest staff member serving as our Ocean Policy Manager. I am also an orca whale researcher in Washington state and am the Program Coordinator for the Soundwatch Program at The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. Soundwatch is on-the-water education and research that mitigates risk and disturbance away from the Southern Residents in the heavily trafficked Salish Sea. If some of this is starting to sound familiar to you, it may be due to this whale, and this photo.

This is a photo of J-35 ‘Tahlequah’ who carried her deceased calf for 17 days last summer. I actually took this photo and monitored J-35 for 12 days over 1,000 nautical miles (5 days the whales were out in open ocean). This photo made it around the world and back again, and brought attention to the plight of the Southern Resident orca whales. However, this is not a new story.

The Southern Residents are estimated to have numbered around 200 individuals pre-exploitation. In the 1960s, the possibility of holding orca whales in captivity to make a profit was realized with the successful capture and care of Namu in Biritish Columbia, then housed on the Seattle waterfront. Namu did not survive for long, and the search for a replacement quickly lead us to the Southern Residents. Around this time researchers had just figured out how to identify individual orca whales, and realized that pods are made up of strong family and social bonds. In 1972, the last live capture of orca whales in the United States took place in Penn Cove in Washington where 47 Southern Residents were removed from the populations. Five did not survive the capture, and the rest were sent around the world to theme parks. The whales returned to the wild were mostly older individuals and males, since young females were targeted by theme parks for their reproduction potential. In 1975, there were only 71 Southern Residents left in the wild. Today there are 76.

In the late 90s there was an increase to 98 individuals in the population, but since then there has been a steady decline in the Southern Resident population. This decline lead to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listing the Southern Residents as a distinct endangered population under the Endangered Species Act. In this listing, three main threats to the populations where listed as vessel disturbance, prey availability, and contamination. 

Great efforts have gone into reducing these risks to the whales with the most recent rendition being taken by Washington state Governor Jay Inslee. In March 2018, Inslee signed an executive order creating an Orca Recovery Task Force that would produce legislation to further aid in the recovery of the Southern Residents in a years time. Last summer was a difficult time for the whales and we had three high profile losses in the population: J-35’s calf (unnamed), J-50 ‘Scarlet’, and L-92 ‘Crewser’. A year has passed, so what’s changed? Four bills passed through the state legislature that came from the Task Force. Most of these changes focus on vessel disturbance, increasing approach distance by vessels from 200 to 300 yards, introducing a speed limit of 7 knots within a half mile of whales, and including Be Whale Wise information into state boater testing. 

Other bills targeted habitat restoration for salmon and forage fish, and increasing hatchery production in an effort to provide more prey for the Southern Residents. The Task Force is set to meet again in 2019 to establish longer term recovery efforts for the Southern Residents.

If you’d like to learn more about the Southern Residents, or be a part of the naming process for the two new calves, visit The Whale Museum’s website. If you are in the area and would like to volunteer for Soundwatch you can find information there as well. For those who would just like to help the whales there are many things you can do. Being informed and educated is a great first step, and even if you do not live in the Pacific Northwest there are things you can do everyday to help these whales. Being eco-friendly and using less single-use plastic benefits that environment as a whole. Purchasing truly sustainable seafood is a great way to reduce bycatch and impacts to the ecosystem. Being a part of the Inland Ocean Coalition, helping to educate your community and representatives, and sharing your voice can make the biggest difference. We’re excited to share our passion with you, and hope you share yours with us, so we can best protect all that we love.

Stand Up for Our Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advocacy, Policy, Take Action

By Jacob Villalobos, a trained Colorado Ocean Coalition Ocean Ranger

We all eat. We all breathe. We require water to live, and we are all subject to the effects of the weather and climate. No matter where you may be in this world, the ocean makes all of our lives possible. In our day to day lives, it can be easy to carry on without considering the natural processes that allow us to sustain our economies, enable our cultures, and plan for future generations. It can be difficult to comprehend the many connections we have to the ocean, especially if you live away from the coasts. But nonetheless, we are all critically dependent on a healthy, functioning ocean. And a healthy ocean requires an informed, mobilized public ready to protect it.

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that would allow for the expansion of oil and gas exploration along US coastlines, a move that would endanger a host of marine sanctuaries along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, American Samoa, and Hawaii. The “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” aims to allow fossil fuel companies to expand their reach into regions of the American coast and beyond that were recently set aside for conservation by the Obama administration. In doing so, the future of 11 protected areas may be in jeopardy, as the Trump administration will begin to review the policy behind each sanctuary to either limit or abolish their protected status and weaken their protective capabilities.

President Barack Obama invoked a provision in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 to permanently ban the development of offshore drilling practices along large portions of the Atlantic and Alaskan coasts, an unprecedented act that would ensure his environmental legacy following the Paris Climate Accord and the designation of numerous American monuments and reserves, both on land and sea. In continuing his quest to dismantle the Obama legacy, President Trump has promised to revitalize the fossil fuel industry by crippling numerous environmental regulations he claims are harmful to the economy. Despite the downward trend in oil and gas prices and the continued rise of renewable energy, President Trump is adamant that the revival of American prominence on the world stage lies in our continued reliance on an outdated and dangerous energy system. He has said, “Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent.”

National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine Monuments are both types of marine protected areas (MPAs). The primary difference between the two is the process by which they are designated and the laws under which they are established. More broadly, marine protected areas are regions of seas, oceans, estuaries, and lake and river systems that are designated as limited or no use areas for the purpose of conserving biodiversity, ecosystems, and natural resources.

This is a centuries old idea that received modern revision during the 1950s and 1960s as fish stocks and marine resources began to plummet under the weight of industrial pressures. Using the Antiquities Act of 1906, a statute enacted by President Theodore Roosevelt, President Obama protected over 550 million acres of land and sea, and more than doubled the existing size of MPAs in the US, including the massive Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.

The Trump Administration, through the Department of Commerce, has announced a 30 day public comment period on the review of National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments Designated or Expanded since April 28, 2007. This review opens up our nation’s underwater treasures to the threat of oil and gas exploration and development and the myriad dangers that come with this – seismic airgun blasting, oil spills, and an increase in the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet with devastating impacts on our ocean.

As citizens of inland America, it is essential that we be aware of the importance of marine protected areas, not only for their aesthetic value, but for their ability to revitalize and sustain natural resources that are critical to the wellbeing of our ourselves, our economy, and the generations that will come after us. Our communal waste, be it plastics, agricultural runoff, or industrial pollution, inevitably finds it way into the ocean, as we have seen in dramatic fashion with the rise of massive garbage patches and vast dead zones where little life can thrive. Our food and transportation choices impact marine food webs, creating emissions that are absorbed by the seas, increasing ocean acidity and and temperature and contributing to the melting of the planet’s ice sheets. Although we may live our lives hundreds or thousands of miles from a coastline, our actions and our knowledge of the collective impact of humanity on the ocean will nonetheless have an effect on its long term functionality and resilience.

Putting America first means protecting its natural treasures for all Americans, not exploiting their resources for short term gain for a very select few. It means keeping an eye on future generations and actively preparing a world for them that is as rich and beautiful for them as it has been for us. It means recognizing the true economic potential that lies in maintaining the oceans as they are, not in exploiting the combustible refuse of an ancient world that no longer exists. It means disseminating knowledge, founded in sound science, that opens our eyes to the true complexity of the seas, creating a community of inclusivity where all people identify with their many connections to the ocean. With the continued rise of denialism and rhetoric aimed at discrediting scientists and the realities of the dire state of this beautiful blue planet, the power of our communal voice has never been so important.

Take Action!
The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has written a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in opposition to revoking or weakening any of the designations or expansions of national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments that are under review. Please add your name today and/or submit a comment to the Federal Register on why protecting these areas is important to you.