The Ocean Issues: Photo Blog

Sometimes the best way to explain the issues is to use a picture.

Source: NOAA
The critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal population has declined over 60% in the last 50 years with fewer than 1200 Hawaiian monk seals alive today. Their population size continues to decrease at a rate of 4.1% every year. In addition to this overall population decline the survival rate of pups is less than 15%. These declines are due to multiple factors such as declines in food sources due to fishing and competition with other top predators, predation on by sharks, entanglement in derelict fishing gear, and harmful interactions with humans. In the past year, 13 Hawaiian monk seals have been entangled in derelict fishing gear and in the past week an entangled monk seal was found dead. Marine Conservation Institute advocates for the protection of the Hawaiian monk seal by encouraging federal and state governments and agencies to increase federal funding and support that goes toward monk seal recovery and management, by raising awareness of the plight of the Hawaiian monk seal, and by building partnerships between public and private agencies to work together to recover this amazing species. 

Source: NOAA
Marine debris is not just in the Pacific gyre or coming from the Japan Tsunami, marine debris is a omnipresent threat to all of the worlds oceans and other large bodies of water; a recent study found that even the Great Lakes have a large amount of dissolved plastics. These dissolved plastics and other large marine debris are not solely an eyesore on our beaches, but are also a massive threat to marine life. More and more marine debris is being found in the stomach contents of marine organisms, ranging from sea birds, to sea turtles, to fish. Some forms of debris can kill marine organisms, such as sea turtles swallowing jellyfish that turn out to be plastic bags, and sea birds being strangled by bottle tops. Others cause more insidious problems for the health of marine mammals and humans, such as the absorption of chemicals from marine debris and the passing of those chemicals up the food chain. Marine Conservation Institute is advocating for increased attention to the issue of marine debris as well as for the reauthorization of the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act in Congress.

Source: NOAA
The flux of carbon into the atmosphere (in the form of carbon dioxide and methane) has major implications for the chemistry of the oceans. As carbon is absorbed by the ocean, the water becomes more acidic, in addition carbonate ions are removed. With both the lack of carbonate ions and the increase in acidity of the oceans, many organisms including reef building corals, shellfish, and even fish, will struggle to adapt and survive. The image above shows one of the effects of ocean acidification, the deterioration of a pteropod–a tiny organism that forms the base of many marine food chains–shell when placed in ocean water with the acidity and carbonate levels that are projected for 2100.  Ocean acidification is a critical problem, and Marine Conservation works together with policy makers, marine managers and scientists to create innovative solutions for adapting to the problems associated with ocean acidification, gain a better understanding of what society stands to lose (biologically and economically), and to protect areas of the ocean most likely to survive the coming changes.

Source: Large–USCG, Small–NOAA
Coral reefs are like the rainforest of the ocean, complex ecosystems teaming with life. These unique ecosystems are living habitats for thousands of organism, and are home to many key prey species for large pelagic organisms. Unfortunately the world’s coral reefs are facing large threats, ranging from local problems such as disease and shore based pollution, to global scale problems such as climate change and ocean acidification. Marine Conservation Institute believes that one of the best ways to protect this essential and irreplaceable resource is to create marine protected areas. Marine Conservation Institute has been integrally involved in the creation and increased protection and enforcement of numerous marine protected areas. Currently, Marine Conservation Institute is conducting research on deep-sea corals in canyons off of the U.S. Atlantic Coast in part to determine areas that should be designated for protection. Even in these protected areas damage has occur to coral reefs by incidents such as ship groundings that can crush and kill whole sections of reef. Marine Conservation Institute is working to increase enforcement of marine protected areas in order to try to protect these amazing ecosystems.

Source: Top–NOAA, Bottom two–NASA
One of the most destructive methods of fishing is trawling. Trawling involves dragging a net with a heavy weight across the seafloor scaring the marine landscape, non-selectively taking all marine life in its path. A good metaphor for the affect of trawling is to think of the Serengeti with lions, giraffes, cheetahs, gazelles, rhinoceros, elephants, zebras, birds and more, then imagine a plane flying over with a giant net taking everything and anything in its path, including the grassland and trees. From the net only the zebras are kept and the rest are thrown out of the plane to die. This is what trawling is to the marine habitat. Trawling is even so destructive that you can see the mud tracks and scars on the seafloor from space. Marine Conservation Institute is dedicated to ensuring our seas are sustainable, now, and for future generations and encourages fishermen to shift toward using sustainable fishing methods that are less harmful to benthic habitats and have lower rates of bycatch. Additionally, Marine Conservation Institute works with individuals and corporations to help them make sustainable seafood choices.

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