Environment: Scientists say global standards for ocean noise pollution are needed to protect marine life

Naval training exercises off the coast of California could pose a threat to endangered marine mammals.

Ocean noise pollution hinders communication among whales, and likely impairs their ability to navigate and feed.

Increase in seismic blasting raises concerns

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists say new global regulations on ocean noise pollution are needed to protect marine life.

Governments and industries around the world are expanding the use of high-decibel seismic surveys to explore the ocean bottom for resources, potentially putting whales and other animals at risk.

To reduce the risks, the experts recommended that ocean noise be recognized globally as a pollutant — something the European Union has already done — and managed through a revision to the existing International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Continue reading

Environment: Scientists say 90 percent of all seabirds have ingested plastic debris

One study found 200 bits of plastic in a single seabird

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A heron patrols the splash zone of a beach on the Florida Gulf Coast. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Plastic debris in the world’s oceans is now so widespread that about 60 percent of all seabirds have bits of plastic in their gut. Based on current trends, 99 percent of all seabirds will be affected by plastic ingestion by 2050, a team of international scientists said this week.

Based on a review of all studies published since the early 1960s, the scientists estimated that more than 90 percent of seabirds have alive today have eaten plastic of some kind. In 1960, plastic was found in the stomach of less than 5 per cent of individual seabirds, rising to 80 per cent by 2010.

“For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species … and the results are striking,” said CSIRO researcher Dr. Chris Wilcox. “We predict, using historical observations, that 90 per cent of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution.” Continue reading

New Arctic oil exploration puts narwhals at risk

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Marine conservation advocates say new seismic airgun blasting in the Arctic Ocean threatens whales and other marine life. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Seismic blasting east of Greenland raises concerns about impacts to marine mammals

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Arctic Ocean north of Alaska isn’t the only area increasingly at risk from oil and gas exploitation. Oil companies are exploring the seabed off the eastern coast of Greenland, and the seismic blasting is likely harm whales and other marine life.

Oil companies use seismic equipment to map underground oil and gas reserves with airguns that emit 259 decibel blasts, a sound intensity would be perceived by humans as approximately eight times louder than a jet engine taking off. Continue reading

Scientists to investigate spate of Alaska whale strandings

30 large whales reported dead in past year

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Bears feeding on a fin whale carcass in Larson Bay, Alaska; near Kodiak in June 2015. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal biologists said they’re launching an investigation into the cause of an unusually high number of whale deaths in the western Gulf of Alaska. In the past year, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale, and four unidentified cetaceans have stranded around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula.

As a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared a formal unusual mortality event, which triggers a focused, expert investigation. An unusual mortality event is a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population, and demands immediate response. The number of large whale strandings for this region to almost three times the historical average for any comparable timespan. Continue reading

U.S. takes huge step to boost global marine mammal protection

Proposes fishery rule could prevent tens of thousands of unnecessary whale and dolphin deaths

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Porpoises and other marine mammals could benefit from a new rule that would require other countries to meet protective U.S. marine mammal standards. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to boost global efforts to protect marine mammals with a new set of proposed rules that would require commercial fishing operations in other countries to meet U.S. standards.

As proposed, seafood imports from other countries could be banned if they don’t meet those requirements. Scientists estimate that each year more than 650,000 whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear. These animals are unintentional “bycatch” of commercial fisheries and either drown or are tossed overboard to die from their injuries. Continue reading

Environment: Coastal communities in southeastern U.S. not exactly enthusiastic about offshore oil and gas drilling

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Where there is drilling, there are oil spills. Photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

Offshore wind energy projects touted as better alternative

Staff Report

FRISCO — Cities along the southeastern coast of the U.S. are lining up to oppose offshore fossil fuel exploitation. Earlier this week, the  Morehead City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing seismic airgun blasting and offshore drilling.

The council’s resolution expresses concerns that federal plans for offshore oil and gas exploration and development threaten coastal communities, economies, fisheries and marine mammals.

The city was reacting to the Obama administration’s proposed plans to opening a large swath of the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Georgia, to offshore drilling. Meanwhile, seismic airgun blasting, a process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor, is continuing to move forward in an area twice the size of California, stretching all the way from Delaware to Florida. Continue reading

Greenpeace activists help stop illegal gillnet fishing in the race to save vaquitas

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Will we let the vaquita vanish? Photo courtesy NOAA.

More enforcement, support for sustainable fishing practices needed to protect world’s most endangered marine mammal

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Marine mammal conservation advocates with Greenpeace last week said that their patrols in the northern Gulf of California found 10 illegal gillnets, which were removed by Mexico’s environmental authorities.

The patrols by the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza are aimed at protecting vaquitas, the world’s smallest and most critically endangered porpoise species. Based on the latest scientific surveys, there are less than 100 vaquitas remaining. Continue reading

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