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Oceans Awash: 5 Wins and 5 Losses in 2010

This year, President Obama issued an executive order to implement conservation-based management of our public seas, while marine researchers discovered an area in the Pacific containing 40 times more plastic than plankton.
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  • New U.S. Ocean Policy: President Obama issued an executive order in July to implement conservation-based management of our public seas -- based on marine spatial planning, or what former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen calls, "urban planning into the water column." It would try to coordinate everyone (government agencies, ocean industries, environmentalists) to better manage our public seas for healthy ecosystems and sustainable development of our coastal economies.

  • Census of Marine Life completed: A decade long exploration of the world's seas; "an international observational program to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the oceans" was conducted by several thousand scientists between 2000 and 2010. It found there's still new and amazing critters and habitats out there.
  • New Shark Protection Laws: First Hawaii banned the trade in shark fin that endangers a 600 million year old keystone predator of the sea in order to sell soup to rich people in Asia. Then, just before recessing, our Lame Duck Congress lent a hand (or wing) and passed a bill that all but prevents any new shark finning in U.S. waters.
  • New Ocean Wilderness Parks created: California established new no-take protected areas off southern California in December, part of a network of marine wilderness parks under its Marine Life Protection Act. In doing so California joins a number of nations including the U.S. Britain, Kiribati and Australia who have set aside vast areas across the Pacific, Indian, Atlantic and Southern oceans to protect and restore the seas natural bounty. Still, only about one percent of the world's oceans have been given wilderness status. Scientists suggest 20-25 percent ought to be.
  • Some offshore drilling protection:
  • In the wake of the BP disaster, the Obama administration walked back the dogfish saying there will be no new drilling off the Atlantic seaboard or in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. While that's an advance from the President's pre-Gulf blow out proposal to open extensive U.S. waters to oil development, it's still less than what was protected under the drilling moratorium in effect for a quarter century until rescinded during the Bush administration.


    • BP Disaster: Flying over the Gulf of Mexico in June seeing oil spills out to the horizon and 100 dolphins and a whale trapped and dying in the slicks, even as the oil blowout continued, it was hard to believe this would not have profound impacts on U.S. energy policy, but it doesn't seem to have. Still, few Gulf locals I continue to talk to believe the government's claim that most of the 200 million gallons of oil released, "went away." Likely impacts will be in the water column, fisheries and wildlife reproduction and bottom habitat for years to come.

  • Bluefin condemned to extinction: Japan served endangered Bluefin Tuna sushi at the Convention on Endangered Species meeting in March where it blocked attempts to protect this top ocean predator whose population is collapsing, with 80 percent of the biomass fished out since the 1970s. In the wake of the CITES failure, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas was expected to take bold action in November, but it also failed to act.
  • New study says nowhere left to fish: A new scientific study by the University of British Columbia and National Geographic found that we're now overfishing everywhere from the deep ocean to Antarctica, stripping the last previously unfished populations of marine wildlife out of our seas. Few nations appear willing to constrain this global buffalo hunt.
  • Plastic waste now found everywhere in ocean: The 2010 '5 Gyres' expedition launched by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation is finding plastic refuse and debris in all ocean gyres or whirlpool currents, while in the central Pacific gyre the amount of plastic has gone from 6 pounds per pound of plankton to over 40 pounds in just the last decade.
  • Climate failures mean rough seas ahead: The failure of the U.N.'s 2009 Climate Meeting in Copenhagen and token progress in Cancun this year on addressing fossil-fuel fired climate change means continued trouble for the world ocean including Arctic melting, sea level rise and more destructive storm surges, coral bleaching, shifting wildlife populations and ocean acidification that's changing the very chemistry of the sea, none of which is good for man or fish.
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