Ocean Issues

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.

If you care about ocean issues, here are some things you can do:
Push for Southern Resident Killer Whale conservation
Advocate for bluefin tuna conservation
Stop supporting Icelandic whale hunts
Prevent plastic trash from getting into the oceans

Push for Southern Resident Killer Whale conservation

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are a unique population of endangered killer whales living off the Pacific Northwest coast that exclusively eats salmon, instead of also eating marine mammals like many other killer whales. But salmon populations in the region are dwindling due to overfishing, habitat destruction and hydroelectric dams, and this is causing the Southern Residents to starve…because they will only eat salmon.

There are three pods, or families, of these killer whales: J, K and L. Each individual whale is named for its number and pod. The Center for Whale Research has recently confirmed that Southern Resident Killer Whales J17, K25 and L84 are dead, bringing the population down to 73 Southern Resident Killer Whales. These whales are long-lived, but reproduce very slowly. Successful births in recent years have been very rare.

It’s clear to whale researchers that the Southern Residents will go extinct if we don’t take drastic and necessary actions to save them. You can help by continuing to push Washington State Governor Jay Inslee to take actions that can help the Southern Residents. Thus far, he’s been an active supporter of legislation that can help these whales.

Here’s what to tell him: Emphasize the continued importance of increasing the number of salmon available to the Southern Residents by removing the Snake River Dams; and cutting pollution by stopping the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, shutting down fish farms, fighting toxic dumping; reducing ship traffic where whales congregate; and taking action on climate change. You can contact him online or by phone at +1-360-902-4111.

In 2019 Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans unit, passed a set of rules closing some salmon fisheries and requiring increased distance between boaters and whales in a bid to help the Southern Residents. You can help push further actions to save the whales forward by also reaching out to him and showing your support of dam closures, salmon conservation, climate action, pollution reduction, an end to pipeline expansion, and increased awareness of the Southern Residents’ plight. Find contact information for Minister Wilkinson and his office here.

You can also help out the Southern Residents by making changes in your everyday life:

-Tell everyone you know about the Southern Residents and ask them to also take action.

-Stop buying, eating and ordering salmon.

-Ride your bike, walk, take public transit, carpool, and buy locally to reduce your carbon footprint.

-Buy organic, so you don’t support farmers who grow plants with toxic chemicals

-Decrease your plastic consumption by using reusable products and buying unpackaged items.

-Turn your lights off to use less electricity (some of which could be hydroelectric).

Advocate for bluefin tuna conservation
ACT BY: September 30, 2019

Carl Safina and the Safina Center have been involved in bluefin tuna conservation work for decades. Atlantic bluefin tuna are a critically endangered species, and implementing strong science-based fishing rules is of utmost importance to their continued recovery.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service unit is now deliberating over changes to legislation that would affect the way bluefin tuna are fished and protected in American waters. We’re asking you to submit a formal comment that could help push forward helpful parts of the proposed legislative changes, while making sure possibly harmful changes don’t move forward.

The proposed changes in legislation are now on the table, and the comment period is open until September 30, 2019. You can help protect bluefin tuna by submitting a comment supporting the continuation of science-based management practices, here, online.

Here’s what to include in your comment:

1. On the matter of Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Areas, support “Action C1, No Action.” Over the past four years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has enforced prohibitions on using gear likely to unintentionally catch bluefin tuna in areas in the Gulf of Mexico. These areas have proven extremely effective at reducing deaths of spawning bluefin tuna in gear meant to catch other fish. Fishing of bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico has been banned since 1982, since it is such an ecologically important area for these fish.

2. When weighing in on weak hooks, support “Preferred Alternative D2.” This proposed change would make weak hooks mandatory to use during the peak months for longline fishing, while allowing fishers to use strong hooks the rest of the year. Weak hooks are made of softer metal made to straighten and release when a large non-targeted species, such as bluefin tuna, grabs it and pulls. The best available fisheries science suggests weak hooks are a helpful complement to the Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Areas in reducing Bluefin tuna bycatch and deaths after being caught and released.

3. In regard to the Northeastern United States Pelagic Longline Closed Area, support “Alternative A1: No Action.” This large swath of sea east of the New Jersey coast is closed fishing boats carrying longline gear during the month of June. This area has existed since 1999. Longline gear is notorious for unintentionally catching non-target marine species, including bluefin tuna. Since there’s been no longline fishing in this area for two decades, opening it up to longlining again would most likely significantly increase deaths of bluefin tuna and other species that commonly get snagged on longlines such as sharks and sea turtles.

Stop supporting Icelandic whale hunts
Iceland, with its beautiful nature and wildlife, has become a popular tourist destination in recent years. However, Iceland continues to hunt whales despite belonging to the International Whaling Commission, which placed a ban on commercial whaling in 1986 to try to bring an end to the practice worldwide. What’s more, the Icelandic government just announced it will allow for around 2,000 whales to be killed over the next five years.

Much of the meat from the whales caught ends up on the dinner plates of tourists–there is no longer a strong local demand for whale meat. You can help make a change by refusing to eat any whale meat offered to you if you visit Iceland. And maybe you will reconsider visiting Iceland all together. Show your support for keeping whales alive by going whale watching in countries that do not participate in whaling. Japan, Norway and Iceland have continued whaling despite international efforts to conserve–rather than hunt–whales.

CALL OR WRITE Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir asking that her country adhere to international agreements to stop commercial whaling. Here’s the number to her office: Tel. +354 545 8400. And the address: Stjornarradshusid vid Laekjartorg, 101, Reykjavik, Iceland and the telephone for the minister of Environment and Natural Resources: Tel. +354 545 8600. And the address: Skuggasund 1, 101, Reykjavik, Iceland. Email for Ministry of Env:, and email for prime minister’s office is Call and write!

Prevent plastic trash from getting into the oceans
Plastic pollution is a global issue affecting land, air and water, all over the world. It’s a problem that’s very visible in the oceans, as plastic tends to travel far and wide through the sea. Humanity’s decades of plastic overuse, poor waste management practices and bad littering habits have led to the natural environment being completely filled with plastic items and particles called microplastic. Both intact plastic items and microplastic pose a threat to the health of wildlife, and humans too! Cleaning up plastic out of the environment is a good way to bring attention to the issue, but experts say it is critical to focus on preventing further use of plastic and the mismanagement of plastic waste.

Here are some ways you can help reduce plastic pollution 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 shopping bag to stores, and a reusable garment bag to your dry cleaner
  • Avoid using fossil fuels, byproducts of which are used to create plastic (not to mention, contribute to climate change)
  • 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

(cover photo: Short-beaked common dolphins in the Great South Channel, off Martha’s Vineyard. ©Carl Safina)