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Gills Club Interviews Dr. Sylvia Earle

Gills Club Interviews Dr. Sylvia Earle

Our partners at the Gills Club recently interviewed Mission Blue founder Dr. Sylvia Earle. Learn more about the Gills Club and their amazing work on their website.

Why did you start studying marine biology?

My first encounter with the ocean was on the Jersey Shore when I was three years old and I got knocked over by a wave. The ocean certainly got my attention! It wasn’t frightening. It was more exhilarating than anything else. And since then life in the ocean has captured my imagination and held it ever since. I started out as a kid and never did grow up. The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids. They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. Who, what, where, why, when, and how!

What do you enjoy most about being a scientist?

You never know what you’re going to find! Ninety-five percent of the ocean is not explored. Diving in, meeting creatures, and observing the wondrous diversity of life on earth are the real joys of exploring the ocean, for me. On land, only about half of the many major divisions of life occur over all the continents and islands put together – the terrestrial parts. But even in a bucket of seawater you may find as many of these major divisions of animal life, plus a nice dollop of photosynthetic organisms as well. About half of the creatures that occur in the ocean occur only there, of the major divisions. Think of starfish and their relatives. There’s no counterpart anywhere on the land or anywhere in fresh water. Or look at the whole category of life that includes the jellyfishes and the corals. Well, there are a very few freshwater jellyfishes, but they are such a small number compared to the great, great majority that are out there in the ocean. And so on down the list. There are a handful of freshwater sponges, but there are thousands, tens of thousands of marine species. So the dominant diversity of life on earth, contrary to what some people think, is not rainforests, as wonderfully diverse as they are. It’s the ocean! It’s the ocean!

Do you have a favorite memory from being on the water?

Oh, there are so many. I was at a place called Marion Reef in the Coral Sea, diving in 70 feet of water, and these grey reef sharks circled us. I could not count them, there were so many – at least 100. They were forming a great wheel around us but were quietly curious, not aggressive. It was a little hair-raising – had they chosen to gang up on us, they could have easily consumed us. But they were just looking. I remember it so well in my mind’s eye.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned from your research/conservation work?

The Ocean is alive. It is the cornerstone of earth’s life support system, and the cornerstone of the ocean’s life support system is life in the ocean. Oxygen is generated by living creatures. Every fish fertilizes the water in a way that generates the plankton that ultimately leads back into the food chain, but also yields oxygen and grabs carbon – it’s a part of what makes the ocean function and what makes the planet function.
Take away the ocean and we don’t have a planet that works. Take away life in the ocean and we don’t have a planet that works. All life needs water, and all life needs other forms of life to have the complex communities of life, ecosystems of life that ultimately over four-and-a-half billion years arrived at a state that is just right for humankind.
I have had the privilege of spending more time than others in the ocean and have seen things that others haven’t. People need to know. You can’t care if you don’t know and most people simply don’t know.

How does your research benefit shark conservation?

My self-appointed job is to inspire people to explore the ocean for themselves and to use their talents, whatever they are, to make a difference for the natural world. Part of that job is to spread the word that as top predators, sharks are fundamental to ocean health and they’re certainly not enemies. Occasionally a shark will take a bite. But we are not on their menu – they are on ours. We are the real top predators and kill them for sport, kill them for their fins, their liver, their meat. But they ignore us for the most part. We shouldn’t really have trouble in their presence.

A successful dive is usually a dive where you are fortunate to see sharks of any sort. Their numbers have dropped precipitously since when I first began diving in the 1950s – 90% of them are gone, most of them in the last 30 years. We’ve become extremely good at killing not only them, but also what sharks eat, throwing the entire food web into disarray. People need to know that healthy shark populations are worth more to mankind (in terms of tourism dollars and ecosystem stabilization) than dead sharks.

What would you say to aspiring young female marine biologists?

The Ocean is vulnerable. What we do or don’t do will make a difference. As individuals, young people can make a difference. The only difference that has been made ever in the world, for good or for not so good, always starts with somebody, an individual. Look in the mirror, consider your talents, and think about how you might use them to make a difference. Some have artistic skills; others are good with numbers or have a way with words. Everyone has power to make a difference as an individual – or by joining the company of others who share a common goal. The key is in knowing that what you do matters, including doing nothing!

We need to convey a sense of urgency because the world is changing quickly. The next ten years is likely to be the most important time in the next 10,000 years. We have options that we are going to lose within ten years unless we take action now. Every day, options close. Take care of the ocean as if your life depends on it, because it does.


When I met Sylvia Earle


As long as I have known about the ocean, I feel like I’ve known about Dr. Earle.  Growing up in land-locked Canada I followed Dr. Earle’s career with great interest & was always inspired by women like her & Eugenie Clark.  In fact, one of my lifelong ambitions – close to the top of my bucket list – was to meet Sylvia and have the opportunity to chat with the woman who changed the face of marine science for so many young women growing up in the 1980s.  But it was always just that: an ambition; a wish.  Something I never in my wildest dreams thought would become a reality.  And then, in early 2014, my old boss & colleague, Dr. Tony Ribbink (Sustainable Seas Trust) – a close friend of Sylvia – met with our team at the SA Shark Conservancy & mentioned that Sylvia would be visiting South Africa to launch her Hope Spot initiative.  When he asked if we could help launch the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot (and mentioned I could actually meet Sylvia), I immediately jumped at the opportunity.  I really & truly could not believe I would be meeting her face-to-face (and that the queen of marine science would actually be visiting the NGO I started in 2007!!)!  Even now I squeal (internally, of course!) at the thought!  After many months of preparation, Sylvia finally arrived in Hermanus to launch the Hope Spot.  She was obviously tired from her transcontinental flight & crazy South African travel schedule, yet when she spoke with me I felt like we were the only two people in the world.  She had me captivated from hello!  Not to mention that she held my 10-day old son – surely a sign of incredible things to come!  Despite being 79 years old, Sylvia has the energy levels of a 20 year old & is possessed with an undying passion for the oceans that is obvious in every word she speaks.  She is one of the most magnetic people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have met her.

Meaghen E. McCord
Founding Director
South African Shark Conservancy  

Originally published on the Gills Club July newsletter.

(Featured Image © Todd Brown for UNEP)
Source: Mission Blue

Nurturing Conservation in the Water

Nurturing Conservation in the Water

Mission Blue is excited to partner with Blue Ventures, a science-led social enterprise that works with coastal communities to develop transformative approaches for nurturing and sustaining locally led marine conservation. In cooperation with their many partners, the Blue Ventures team works in places where the ocean is vital to local people, cultures and economies, and where there is a fundamental need to support human development. Over the last decade, their models have guided national fisheries policy and been replicated by communities, NGOs, businesses, donors and government agencies along thousands of kilometers of coastline. Blue Ventures have created the largest locally managed marine protected area (LMMA) in the Indian Ocean, catalyzed a sea change in community-led fisheries management, established sustainable aquaculture and ecotourism businesses, and developed new approaches to financing and incentivizing marine conservation. So far their work has impacted the lives of more than 200,000 coastal people. __BlueVentures_GarthCripps_CommunityConservation_SWMadagascar

Blue Ventures have contributed more than 20 stories to the Mission Blue curated Google Earth Explore the Ocean layer, visible on our website here (search for Blue Ventures). From community conservation, small-scale fisheries, blue forests and aquaculture, to community health and education, these stories represent the diverse range of transformative community-centered conservation initiatives, which engage communities towards long-term solutions for decreasing poverty, preparing for climate change and safeguarding biodiversity. Finalizing these stories for submission to Explore the Ocean was greatly aided by dedicated volunteers from Portland State University (Adam Zaremba, Kendra Lynn).


Through their partnership with Google, Blue Ventures are pioneering the use of and providing proof of concept for a number of emerging online mapping tools and storytelling resources. These tools are providing substantial practical benefits to ongoing marine research and conservation efforts in diverse ways, from influencing regulatory frameworks (e.g., securing municipal-level legal resource management rights; influencing REDD+ policy for mangroves), to facilitating conservation efforts (e.g., improving existing livelihoods through mangrove restoration, conservation and reduced-impact use), and contributing to predictive ecological models (e.g., future mangrove deforestation scenarios). Most recently, through the Trekker program, Blue Ventures have collected the first Street View imagery for Madagascar. The imagery resulting from the Trekker program is hoped to specifically help further bring attention to all of Blue Venture’s ongoing community-centered initiatives, and more generally, increase global awareness of Madagascar, showcasing in panoramic detail the incredible cultures and biodiversity the island nation is renowned for. What this new Trekker imagery means for the people of Madagascar is previously unavailable representation to a global audience. Through this additional exposure, it is hoped that further attention will be brought to the many challenges faced by the Malagasy, and the organizations and institutions engaged with local communities towards tangible long-term solutions.


Blue Ventures initiatives are generously supported by funding and in-kind contributions from organizations and institutions listed here.

For overviews of the themes within which Blue Ventures is working with coastal communities, view these Factsheets.

For stories from the field relating to all ongoing Blue Ventures activities, visit the Beyond Conservation Blog.

For an overview of the many meaningful contributions to community conservation and marine and coastal science to date, visit this Publications overview.

(All photos © Blue Ventures / Garth Cripps)
Source: Mission Blue

Protect Costa Rica’s Hammerhead Sharks from Poachers

Protect Costa Rica’s Hammerhead Sharks from Poachers


By Shari Sant Plummer with contributions by Courtney Mattison (Originally published on National Geographic Ocean Views)

Three hundred forty two miles west of mainland Costa Rica lies an oceanic island so spectacular Jacques Cousteau called it the “most beautiful island in the world.” Cascading waterfalls cut through lush foliage, the symphony of a thousand seabirds echoes in your ears, and the surrounding deep waters host a diversity of wildlife found almost nowhere else on the planet. Isla del Coco’s extreme wild beauty appears Jurassic – and was in fact used in the movie of the same name. It seems as though you’ve gone back in time, to a time before humans.

Spinner dolphins leapt and twirled at the ship's bow. © Kip Evans / Mission Blue

Our ship, the Argo, was greeted by spinner dolphins who leapt and twirled at her bow as we entered the boundaries of Cocos Island Marine Park. After two days on the open ocean, the green towering mass of land before us was a most welcome sight, but the real anticipated pleasure was beneath the surface – the chance to dive with many species of sharks. Cocos is known for its shark populations; many species migrate throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific from Galápagos to Colombia, Panama and finally to Costa Rica. Schooling hammerhead, Galápagos, and silky sharks are frequent visitors, as are tiger and whale sharks. There is also a large resident population of white tip reef sharks. Together, these top predators shape the food web and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

The expedition is led by Mission Blue founder Dr. Sylvia Earle and Nicolás Ibargüen, environmental correspondent for Fusion. Like me, many of the others onboard are experienced shark divers: shark conservationist Ocean RamseyI AM WATER Ocean Conservation Trust’s Hanli Prinsloo and Peter Marshall, Shark Angels founder Julie Andersen, Undersea Hunter co-founder Avi Klapfer and Mission Blue’s Director of Photography and Expeditions, Kip Evans. Also with us are a couple of new shark divers who are excited to have some encounters, including actor Adrian Grenier and editor-at-large for Bloomberg News Stephanie Ruhle.

After two days on the open ocean, the green towering mass of land before us was a most welcome sight. © Shari Sant Plummer

Originally, our intent was to visit Cocos to highlight the success of this World Heritage Site, which has been a sanctuary for wildlife and a bucket list dive destination. Unfortunately, a week before our trip we heard from PRETOMA – one of Mission Blue’s nonprofit conservation partners in Costa Rica – that the Costa Rican government’s Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) had allowed the export of endangered hammerhead shark fins despite international commitments not to made by the previous president, Laura Chinchilla. The two shipments were sent to Hong Kong to feed the seemingly insatiable market for shark fin soup in Mainland China. Sources estimate that the number of sharks killed for these shipments was representative of close to 2,000 hammerheads.

Fresh shark fins drying on a sidewalk in Hong Kong © Cloneofsnake

The two species of shark included in these shipments were the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena). The Eastern Pacific population of S. lewini is considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Both S. lewini and zygaena are listed on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II – a resolution to which Costa Rica signed on in 2013, making it a violation to import or export these species without first verifying that the animals are being fished sustainably with legitimate certificates of origin.

Shark fin soup © Francis Chung

Randall Arauz, President and founder of PRETOMA, reported that the new government of Costa Rica, which is nearing the end of its first year in office, allowed these recent shipments of shark fins without the necessary verification, violating its international obligations and further threatening an already endangered species. However, under pressure from Costa Rican citizens and the international community, the Ministry announced on March 2nd that it would abide by CITES and ban shark fin exports pending a review that will likely occur in the next six months. In the meantime, catching, landing and slaughtering hammerhead sharks continues unabated in Costa Rica, and Mr. Arauz expects that shark fishers are stashing fins for export anyway, stating, “The [fishers] are going to dry these [new] fins and stash them. What happens if the [CITES review] says they can’t do it anymore? They’re going to use the same argument that the sharks are already dead and there is no conservation benefit in not allowing the fins to be exported.” The Ministry will have the ability to stop this action, but many environmentalists are not optimistic that they will given that the declared customs value of one ton of hammerhead fins is worth more than $100,000. Arauz expects the new government to prioritize profit over conservation.

Dr. Sylvia Earle diving in the Cocos Island Marine Park. © Kip Evans / Mission Blue

Given this ominous news, our expedition to Cocos Island became about shining a light on this abuse of the legal framework for shark protection, and protesting the trade of shark fins – ironically by the very government that the world has come to applaud for protecting them. We sought to create media that would help engender support for shark protection, and spark outrage that these shark fin exports could happen in a country that prides itself on its environmental stewardship.

We did several dives each day, many times below 95 feet looking for hammerhead sharks. Though we saw many white tip reef sharks, we saw very few hammerhead sharks. Just a few years ago I saw hammerheads on every dive here, but now they were scarce. We did catch glimpses of them, and on the last dive at Alcyone we saw a school of about 25 swimming deep below us, but nothing like what we had hoped for.

We found fishing lines in the Marine Park and saw hooks in the mouths of Galápagos and silky sharks that were feeding on bait balls. We can’t prove that the fins that were exported came from sharks in the Park, but we can say that there is poaching there; the park rangers told us so and we saw evidence of the longlines. Randall Arauz later informed us that The Ministry of the Environment “has a list of all the illegal boats they see fishing in Cocos Island. And it turns out that one of those boats was seen at Cocos Island fishing and a week later that boat landed its products in Puntarenas and those hammerhead shark fins got exported.”

Hanli Prinsloo freediving in a school of jack fish. © Peter Marshall Photo

For our expedition team, it was still thrilling to dive in Cocos. Some were expert freedivers and could get really close to dolphins, schooling jacks, groupers, eels, and all kinds of reef fish. We also had spectacular Galápagos and silky shark encounters during a bait ball event, and I even spotted a whale shark on one deep dive! But if the government of Costa Rica doesn’t step up to protect hammerhead sharks, I’m afraid they won’t be here at all the next time I visit Cocos. Will these magnificent animals only be seen as floating fragments in Chinese soup? The only way to ensure their survival in the wild is to impose absolute bans on hammerhead shark fishing, landing, commerce and the export of shark fins from Costa Rica to prevent poachers from being able to trade. Enforcement reforms in protected areas are also badly needed; many poachers even when caught are not prosecuted. And the Costa Rican fisheries management agency, INCOPESCA, needs scientists advising on the catch limits of allowed species, not just the fishermen that run it today.

As our voyage came to an end and we returned to the mainland, the beauty and fragility of Cocos’ diversity of life played on in my mind. I resolved to do what I can to help protect this special place, and you can help too!

Join Mission Blue in urging the Costa Rican government to enforce hammerhead fishing and fin export bans. Sign the petition and donate to support Mission Blue and PRETOMA in this fight. Together we can save sharks, save the ocean, and thereby save ourselves.

CocosPetitionBanner1 copyCocosDonationBanner1 copy




Source: Mission Blue

Sacred Forests – Part I: The Search

Sacred Forests – Part I: The Search

By Sam Low, author of Hawaiiki Rising

In 1990, the Polynesian Voyaging Society decided to create a new canoe, to be called Hawai’iloa after a famous Tahitian navigator. Hawai’iloa would be built of traditional materials – lauhala for the sails, olana for the lashings, koa for the hulls, ohia for crossbeams to connect the hulls, and hau for stanchions, decks and steering paddles.

HawaiiloaTeaurere-Marquesas-SamLow1-555x348“Hokule’a was built quickly, of modern materials mostly,” Nainoa Thompson recalls, “and then we went right into sailing – it was an ocean project – the emphasis was on sailing her, not building her. But when our ancestors built and sailed voyaging canoes, it required the labor and arts of the entire community, everyone working together – some collecting the materials in the forest, others weaving the sails, carving the hulls, lashing, preparing food for the voyage, practicing rituals to protect the crew at sea. So we thought that building a canoe of traditional materials would bring our entire community together, not just the sailors, but the craftspeople, artists, chanters, dancers and carvers. The Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program was set up to build not just a canoe – but a sense of community – by recreating Hawaiian culture.”

Nainoa hoped they could find traditional materials to build the canoe in Hawaii. He was particularly concerned about finding two large koa logs for the hulls. For nine months, almost every weekend, teams of Koa hunters fanned out through Hawaii’s forests. They walked over hundreds of square miles on Molokai, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii. They followed tips from foresters, naturalists, game wardens and hunters. Once they discovered an extremely large and promising tree but it was rotten. It had probably died 50 years earlier. As the days passed without success, Nainoa worried. If they did not find the trees the dream of building Hawai’iloa of native Hawaiian wood, after years of planning and soaring hopes, would certainly fail. Time was running out.

On a weekend in the middle of March 1991, Nainoa and Tava Taupu searched the remains of a once dense Koa forest on the flanks of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island. They scanned the trees around them, measuring the trunks visually, looking for one large enough to carve into the 60-foot hull of a voyaging canoe.

“We searched that weekend with a large team and found nothing,” Nainoa says. “Everyone had to go back to work on Monday but Tava and I stayed up in the forest and we decided that Tuesday, March 18th, was our last chance. At that point I was very sad and depressed by the difference between what I imagined the forest to look like and what it actually looked like. All around us were alien species and ferns uprooted by feral pigs. I saw a layer of vines twisted in the canopy from one tree to another, choking the trees. The fence line between the Kilauea forest and Keahou ranch created a stark contrast. How small the reserve seemed when compared to the ranch. How much had been cut down.”

“There’s a fence line up ahead about a half mile,” Nainoa told Tava, “I’ll go up slope and we’ll work towards it together to cover more ground. We’ll meet at the fence. If we don’t find anything, that will be it.’ We knew that it was probably a futile attempt, but it was our last chance.”

It was getting cold as the two men neared the fence line. Mist sifted through the trees and collected on Nainoa’s fleece jacket. He raised the collar and hunkered into its warmth. Reaching the fence, he joined Tava and they continued together downslope toward the sea. They came to a place where prairie grass lapped at their legs with a swishing sound like the ocean on a sheltered beach. The view opened out to wide expanses of ranch land with cattle in the far distance. They headed toward a four-wheel drive truck parked in grass up to its hubcaps.

“I saw Tava and he saw me but we didn’t say anything,’ Nainoa recalls. “We each knew that the other had not found a tree. There was nothing to say, because there was nothing good to say. We did not even walk on the same side of the road and Tava walked behind me, as if we were repelled by each other. We were very depressed. We did not achieve what we so much wanted to achieve. But beyond that, I think the erosion of the forest was eroding something inside of us. We didn’t want to mess with each other. I walked ahead. He walked behind.”

A single alternative remained. Nainoa did not want to accept it but he knew that it was the only way that Hawai’iloa could be built.

Can’t wait to read the rest of the story? Find it HERE.

Learn more about Sam Low’s work via his website:
Source: Mission Blue

Act now to protect our ocean and fresh water

Act now to protect our ocean and fresh water

By Riki Ott, PhD on behalf of The ALERT Project

I am a survivor of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a marine toxicologist, a commercial fisherman, and an author – turned activist. The turning happened 26 years ago today, when I flew over the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The Sound – my backyard, my fishing grounds, and most importantly, a place I loved. The giant inky stain on the water was… overwhelming. Intimidating. It was vast, and I was only one person. What could I do? As I flew over the ocean of oil, I realized I knew enough to make a difference… did I care enough? The answer, I knew, would change my life.

That day, my love overcame my fear. I decided I would work upstream of oil spills to help transition our nation off of oil, because as long as we drill, we will spill. These days I find myself in other people’s backyards: in industrialized railroad corridors where dangerous bomb trains carry explosive Bakken shale through neighborhoods and the hearts of our cities; in farm and ranch lands rocked by frack quakes and poisoned by fracking activities; along existing or proposed pipeline corridors where the steel-destroying, corrosive and abrasive tar sands oil has already spilled or most certainly will spill; and along our nation’s coastlines at risk from offshore oil drilling and offshore fracking.

Prince William Sound, Alaska. During the Exxon Valdez “cleanup,” beach workers were not protected with respirators and they breathed the oily mists. Exxon documented over 6,000 cases of “Valdez Crud,” now known to be characteristic symptoms from exposure to crude oil. Today, on-call responders in Prince William Sound are properly trained with hazardous waste operator equipment, including respirators. Photo © Riki Ott, 1989.

You see, it doesn’t matter what type of oil spills or where — the impacts to people’s health, lives and livelihoods, and communities are the same. People get sick and, because the health risks from these industrial petrochemical exposures are ignored or downplayed, most people do not receive adequate health care for chemical detox. Many are left with life-long debilitating illnesses. Children are especially vulnerable, very much including those still in their mother’s belly. We are, after all, human, and we share the same needs for – and rights to – healthy water, healthy environments, healthy local economies, healthy homes, and healthy bodies.

A lot of this oil that is sucked from the earth finds its way by tank trucks, rail car, pipeline, and tankers to our seaports. And here’s where you come into this story. About 135 million people – 42 percent of Americans – live in crude oil corridors within twenty miles of our coasts, Great Lakes, and the Mississippi River. Millions more people vacation in these regions. Millions more care deeply about the health of our ocean and fresh waters.

Now is the time to unite our voices to protect what we love, because a small, often overlooked “something” is happening that will have a huge impact on the future of oil drilling in this nation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking public comment on its proposed new rules governing the use of dispersants and other chemical and biological products on oil spills in U.S. waters.

BP cleanup kids1

This is game changing. Or it could be, if millions of us got involved. Here’s why:

Under the Clean Water Act, the President is tasked with preparing and publishing a National Contingency Plan (NCP) to remove spilled oil or mitigate impacts. Specifically, the law calls for the Plan, among other things, to include a Schedule identifying products that may be used on oil spills; the waters in which such products may be used; and the quantity of product that can be used safely in such waters. By Executive Order, these responsibilities passed to the EPA, who then developed a set of regulations or rules to implement the law. The rules for the Schedule are found in Subpart J of the Plan and the definitions in Subpart A. The screening and testing protocols are found in Appendix C. These three sections are now open for public comment.

The important part: By law, every operator of an oil facility, every shipper of oil – whether by train, truck, tanker, or pipeline – must have a viable contingency plan, approved by the federal and state governments. The last time EPA updated the rules was 21 years ago after the Exxon Valdez spill. The rules were created for maritime spills of conventional oil, which floats where unconventional oils sink or explode, and the testing protocols are over 30 years old. This means that 100 percent of the contingency plans are either obsolete for conventional oil or completely irrelevant for unconventional oil and gas such as tar sands oil or oil produced by the new style of hydrologic fracturing. This means, legally, we shouldn’t be drilling or transporting oil. Anywhere.

What if, just what if, people started to take these contingency plans and the Clean Water Act seriously? What if we no longer allowed our government to rubber-stamp-approve contingency plans that don’t work? What if we strengthened the national framework for all contingency plans, as the opportunity now presents with the EPA rulemaking, and made provisions not only for wildlife, but for human health and welfare? What if we demand that plans provide for temporary evacuation and the housing of threatened individuals, and alternative water supplies… for potentially millions of people?

The answer is: We wouldn’t be drilling in the Arctic Ocean because there is no way to clean up spills by mechanical recovery, dispersants, or burning. We wouldn’t be allowing subsea use of dispersants on offshore drilling rigs because dispersants neither remove oil nor mitigate harm. We wouldn’t be crisscrossing the Great Lakes and our rivers with pipelines, tankers, and rail cars because there is currently no way to remove or mitigate unconventional oil impacts – or doing so would bankrupt the spiller and the industry. In short, we would push a lot more of the risks and cost of our oil dependency back onto the oil industry, which might be forced to recognize that neither it nor the public can afford the full costs of this dangerous energy dependency.

I care about our ocean and fresh waters, our children and our future, and I know you do, too. Please take a few minutes to let EPA know you care. I’m currently spearheading public comment efforts through the ALERT Project. Please support ALERT’s Top Ten Recommendations and make your comments on or before April 22. Ask your friends to do the same. Join ALERT in making the most of this opportunity to protect what we love. Here’s how to help:

  1. Read ALERT’s condensed version of the most significant changes by clicking here.
  2. Write your opinions in a letter to the EPA, or use our sample language below.
  3. Submit your comments to the Federal Register online by clicking here. You will see a button on the upper right hand portion of the page that says, “Submit a formal comment.” All comments are viewable, but you have the option of making your name private.

Cordova, Alaska. Fishermen demand Exxon pay up. Fishermen, Alaska Natives, and others fought the giant ExxonMobil in court for 20 years and lost. Plaintiffs were paid 10 cents on the dollar, causing some to file bankruptcy. Exxon’s profits went from $5 billion a year in 1994, the year of the jury verdict, to $40 billion in 2008. Left to right: Patience Andersen Faulkner, Riki Ott, Robert Masolini, and Ross Mullins. Photo © Robert Cornellier, 2006.


Use the text below as written, or personalize it by adding your own comments:

Dear EPA,

This comment is in regard to the proposed revisions to the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP). Human and environmental health are critical issues during oil spills, and we must address the hazards of dispersants and other chemical and biological agents used to “clean up.” We need to specifically:

  1. Have the right people in charge of decision-making — A) Clarify that the EPA has ultimate authority on product use, not the Coast Guard or the spiller; B) Leave local people in charge of developing Area Contingency Plans to bring local knowledge into the planning process; and C) Don’t put the spiller in charge of environmental monitoring of spill impacts!
  2. Expand the scope of Area Contingency Plans to include protection of public health and welfare, as well as wildlife.
  3. Create more Area Committees with companion Citizens’ Advisory Councils to protect communities at risk from oil activities.
  4. Use only non-toxic products that will do no more harm during oil spill response.
  5. Close the loopholes that negate the planning process.
  6. Establish general listing and testing and monitoring requirements for all agents and certain sorbents as a basic right-to-know if the product is non-toxic and effective.
  7. Require site-specific monitoring and testing to determine if the product might work as intended and if the product did work as intended during and after use.
  8. Reduce risk to the environment and people by ensuring readiness of quality products, recovering products from the environment, and timely notification of product use.
  9. Establish a public process for appeals and removal of products that don’t work as intended, and for transitioning to the new rules.
  10. Clarify definitions to ensure that we understand what we are dealing with and can plan to mitigate harm from oil and products.



Riki Ott, PhD, directs the ALERT Project, a project of Earth Island Institute. For more information about the EPA rulemaking, please visit Comments on EPA’s rulemaking must be received by April 22.

Featured image (top): Dolphins swimming through oil in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster. Photo © Ron Wooten
Source: Mission Blue

Rescuing Sea Turtles from Ghost Nets

Rescuing Sea Turtles from Ghost Nets

Mission Blue is thrilled to partner with the Olive Ridley Project in the Maldives! The following is a guest post all about their amazing work:

Every year millions of animals including whales, dolphins, turtles and birds are mutilated and killed by lost, abandoned or discarded fishing nets, otherwise known as “ghost nets.” Entangled animals either drown within minutes or endure long, slow deaths lasting months or even years, suffering from debilitating wounds, infection and starvation. Oceanic currents provide pathways for ghost nets to travel huge distances from their points of origin, often accumulating in various hotspots around the world.

Three entangled olive ridleys

The Olive Ridley Project (ORP) was founded in the Maldives by biologist Martin Stelfox in response to the alarming number of olive ridley sea turtles found entangled in ghost gear. ORP collects data from citizen scientists and marine biologists working predominantly in the Maldives but also in other Indian Ocean countries. Citizen scientists are usually boat captains, dive masters, and vacationers. We also have a large network of marine biologists based in various resorts throughout the Maldives that are contributing by actively recording and removing ghost nets. In collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), ORP has developed a standardized protocol that anybody can use to record data on the designs of recovered nets and details of entangled animals. Since July 2013, over 100 olive ridley entanglements and over 300 ghost nets have been recorded by ORP. We use this information to try to identify where ghost nets originate so that the scale of the problem can be quantified and necessary steps taken to help mitigate it.

Education makes up an important part of our work. By visiting local schools, conducting workshops, meeting local fishing communities and organizing seminars we are able to spread awareness on the issue of ghost nets within the Indian Ocean. We work towards encouraging a sense of care and responsibility among the people who are able to make a difference, changing behaviors by actively removing ghost nets from the environment and discouraging the public from throwing unwanted nets into the sea.

School Children of Thulaadhoo Baa atoll, Maldives. © ORP

A large proportion of animals found entangled in the Maldives are marine sea turtles, specifically the olive ridley. To help relieve the suffering of these animals, ORP has recently designed a turtle rescue center that is scheduled to be constructed in the middle of 2015. This center will help care for the many injured olive ridleys found in the Maldives before they are released back into the wild.

In addition, ORP is part of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative founded by the World Animal Protection International. This initiative brings together a powerful alliance of governments, industry, IGOs and NGOs that will work together to tackle the problem of ghost fishing gear on a global scale. Eventually, the data that is collected and sent to ORP will contribute towards a global data hub that may be used to quantify the problem globally. This could be a great tool to further understand how ghost gear moves and potential mitigation measures that could be taken.

Learn more about the Olive Ridley Project at

Source: Mission Blue