Ocean Issues

(above photo: Great South Channel, off Martha’s Vineyard. ©Carl Safina. Common dolphins.)

The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and yet they’re one of the least-understood habitats on the planet. And unfortunately, they’re one of the most threatened–by things like climate change, overfishing, bycatch, plastic pollution, and more. More and greater efforts to protect the oceans and the life they contain are vital. Learn more about what you can do to help here:

HR 200 – a bill that would compromise the foundations of US fisheries management – is coming up for a vote this week. If it’s enacted, it would threaten the rebuilding of vulnerable fish stocks, undermine science-based catch limits and overrule key environmental laws.

What can you do to protect coastal communities and oceans from unsustainable, unscientific new fishing laws?

Call your U.S. Senators and tell them you support healthy fisheries and you urge them to OPPOSE HR 200
Click here to find U.S. Senators’ contact information.

Click here for a draft phone script

Read our coverage of the issue and call to action on the Safina Center Blog, here!


GOOD NEWS! New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s menhaden legislation Assembly Bill A10506 passed the New York State Assembly! The bill, also carried by Senator Ken LaValle in the Senate, will prevent industrial-scale purse seine boats from coming and taking schools of bunker that are supporting New York’s fisheries and marine mammal resurgence.

Here’s what you need to do now:
FIND OUT who your New York State senator is here, and send them an email…or better yet, give them a call–you can find their phone number on your senator’s official website. Tell your senator that you support Assembly Bill A10506 because you care about the health of New York State’s marine ecosystem, the state’s fishing and tourism economies and the health of all the world’s oceans!

You can also help push the bill forward by requesting to add your name to a letter representing scientists, fishers, residents and nonprofit organizations who understand the importance of keeping menhaden in the sea. For more information, contact Carl LoBlue of the Nature Conservancy:

Background information

Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) are a small species of forage fish related to herring. Biologists consider them to be “the most important fish in the sea” because an enormous number of predator species that live in or around the sea consume them. This includes shorebirds and seabirds, including bald eagles, herons and egrets, brown pelicans, cormorants, gannets, gulls, loons, osprey and terns; predator fish like bluefish, cod, striped bass, sharks, and tuna; and marine mammals, such as dolphins, seals and whales. While marine wildlife need menhaden to survive, humans pull hundreds of tons of menhaden from the sea each year as part of “reduction fisheries” that grind up captured menhaden and turn them into various products, from human fish oil dietary supplements to fertilizers to beauty supplies to high-protein animal feed.

Because menhaden populations had been so low, they have not been industrially fished in NY waters for about a decade. But a recent increase in menhaden in New York waters has raised the concern that industrial fishing will return. New York Assembly Bill # 10506 would greatly limit menhaden catches in New York waters by prohibiting highly exploitative purse-seine fishing, leaving more fish for marine wildlife.

If the bill is passed, industrial scale menhaden (bunker) fishing with purse seines in NY waters will be prohibited. The good news is that the bill has passed through the New York State Assembly and the bill was discussed at the recent NY Marine Resources Advisory Council meeting. The Council is comprised of recreational and commercial fishing representatives from all around New York’s marine district, including a representative of Regal Bait, one of NY’s largest fishing bait dealers, who also represents NY on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Advisory Panel. The council unanimously supported the bill, along with the recommendation that, should the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner declare a fish-kill emergency, that DEC be permitted to employ the use of purse seines to prevent or clean up a fish kill. Legislators have stated that this part of the bill will remain if it passes.

SPECIAL ACTION ALERT: Protect the world’s last greatest salmon run from certain destruction!

UPDATE: Key financing deal for Pebble Mine falls through! This is a major step forward in protecting Bristol Bay’s watershed, the most ecologically and economically important remaining salmon basin on Earth. Read more, here.

But currently, the US Army Corps of Engineers is still deciding whether or not to move forward with Pebble Limited Partnership’s application to construct Pebble Mine. The mine would likely span  three miles across and would require a huge tailings dam and containment pond to “hold” the 2.5-10 billion gallons of mine waste produced over the mine’s lifetime. Accidents could destroy the existing values of the whole region. Chronic leaks and a near-eternal poison drip seem virtually guaranteed.

You can help stop Pebble Mine by making your voice heard! The Army Corps has recently lengthened the public comment period from the end of April to June 29, 2018, so there is time for you to take action. Find out  more about the project, and how to take action, in our recent blog post about the project here.

Access the Army Corps’ public commenting page hereHere’s a sample comment you could send to the Army Corps:

To U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

We must safeguard Bristol Bay from ecological destruction in order for Alaska’s economy, environment, and culture to survive. Your agency should protect Bristol Bay, and the people and businesses these highly productive waters support. Please considering the following when reviewing the Pebble Mine project:

1. The Pebble Mine application is incomplete. Your agency should not release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement without more information from Pebble Limited Partnership. Foundational information for major parts of Pebble’s proposal, including the proposed transportation corridor, port or use of Lake Iliamna, are lacking from their application. The data Pebble did supplied is more than 10 years old and thus is not reliable for analyzing project impacts. Pebble Limited Partnership should also give you an independently prepared economic feasibility analysis, which is usually done for other mines like Donlin. Without the economic feasibility analysis, the Corps could be analyzing and the public could be commenting on a mine that will never be built due to a lack of funds. To move forward with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process under these conditions is a waste of government resources and of the people’s time.

2 . The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that a mine smaller than what Pebble is currently proposing would pose “significant and irreversible harm” to Bristol Bay’s waters and would result in “a complete loss of fish habitat.” The current plans outlined by the Pebble Limited Partnership will permanently destroy 4,000 acres of wetlands and more than 5 miles of anadromous streams vital to the region’s salmon and many other kinds of fish. Pebble Mine’s pollution levels exceed EPA’s proposed restrictions on the mine. The Army Corps needs to compare the plans of Pebble Limited Partnership to the EPA’s analysis before moving the project forward.

3. The Army Corps needs to examine a range of possible alternatives beyond Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposed mine site and include alternatives for mining copper and gold somewhere other than Bristol Bay.

4. The Army Corps needs to take a realistic look at Pebble Mine to accurately assess its impacts. Pebble Limited Partnership asks the Corps to limit the review to an unreasonably small 20-year mine, while it tells its potential investors that the mine can operate for 200 years and produce 11 billion tons of ore. The Army Corps needs to look at the full extent of mining the Pebble deposit, and not ask the public to participate in a process that is founded on a permit application that is missing such basic components.

Please stand with the lives and livelihoods of the people of Bristol Bay, and the millions of Americans that understand the enormous ecological value of these waters. Please reject Pebble Limited Partnership’s mine permit application as incomplete, missing key environmental and economic foundational data, and missing information needed for government agencies to accurately assess the extent of the impacts mining the Pebble Deposit will have on local economics, ecology and cultures.


[Your Name]

Prevent plastic trash from getting into the oceans. Here are some tips to help you reduce your use of plastic products, so less of it ends up in the oceans:

  • Avoid purchasing food and products wrapped in plastic
  • Use a reusable water bottle. Don’t buy bottled water or other drinks
  • Don’t use products that contain microbeads. (Check by using the Beat the Microbead website and app)
  • Cook at home more often; eat takeout less
  • Buy secondhand items since they usually don’t come in packaging
  • Recycle the plastic items you do use (instead of throwing them away in the trash)
  • Support legislation banning or taxing plastic bags, styrofoam and other plastic products
  • Buy things in bulk to cut down on plastic packaging
  • Bring a reusable garment bag to your dry cleaner
  • Support campaigns that encourage less use, or an end to the use, of plastic. We encourage you to check out the OneLessStraw Campaign, organized by conservation nonprofit One More Generation (OMG), which was founded in 2009 by then 8.5-and-7-year-old brother and sister duo Carter and Olivia Ries.

Support marine protected areas. Marine protected areas serve as refuges for marine life. They’re places where fish, marine mammals, corals and other creatures can live without being exploited for human use. Nominate a marine area you want to see protected through Mission Blue’s Hope Spot program, here.

You can also help by advocating for America’s investment in its national marine sanctuaries.  Sign the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s petition here.

Help keep the oceans as quiet as possible. It’s well known that human-created noises from ships, oil and gas exploration and military exercises are harmful to marine creatures. You can help keep the oceans as quiet as possible by:

  • Buying locally (so you’re not supporting trans-ocean shipment of goods
  • Avoiding engine-powered recreation in sensitive ocean areas
  • Keeping your boat engine in good order, reducing the amount  of noise it emits
  • Commenting on proposals and legislation that affects marine noise
    • There are two major military exercises that would cause large amounts of ocean noise that are currently under NOAA review. While NOAA’s public commenting period remains open, you can write letters to NOAA here. A sample letter might read: “I oppose NOAA authorization of these military exercises because they would cause harmful ocean noise. Scientists are aware that increased background noise in the oceans–caused by ships, military exercises and energy exploration–can cause marine animals to change their natural behavior and experience hearing loss, prevent them from hearing important sounds, and can make it more difficult to communicate with other animals. To prevent potential deaths of marine mammals, I call on NOAA to halt the approval of these military exercises.”

Take part in a beach cleanup. Beach cleanups are a good way to remove trash from marine ecosystems, preventing harm to marine and coastal creatures. Look for cleanup locations near you through the Ocean Conservancy.