Three Immediate Ways to Stave Off Ocean Collapse

Our ocean animals are headed the way of the dinosaurs. Mass extinctions of fish, marine mammals and other aquatic life, could occur within decades. That's the unfathomable--but all too real--conclusion of a widely-reported new study published in the journal Science.

And as you might guess, the authors point to humans as the cause of this problem. Our industrial activities are destroying precious ocean habitats across the globe. But they also say we have the power to solve it....if we act quickly.

Thankfully, there are 3 immediate actions the U.S. government can take to stave off this ocean collapse across the world and right here off our shores.

  1. This week--the U.S. government can help advance a United Nations treaty to enhance habitat protections for all international waters.
  2. Any day now--The Department of the Interior is expected to release its five-year offshore drilling plan. If we really want to revive our oceans, we need this plan to keep important valuable habitats off limits from the oil industry.
  3. On February 11th--a Mid-Atlantic ocean council will vote on whether to preserve deep-sea coral canyons right off our eastern seaboard, which are critical areas for ocean life.

If we want to avoid future generations viewing Finding Nemo as a window into a world we've lost, these are solutions at hand that we must prioritize as a nation.

Protecting the High Seas

From January 20th to 23rd, 2015, countries will convene at the United Nations to decide whether to pursue a long-stagnant effort to enhance oversight and protections for international waters, also known as the high seas. These waters, which make up two-thirds of the world's oceans and cover nearly half the planet, are a Wild Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.

If we're serious about saving the oceans from collapse, the vast waters of the high seas is where we need to start. As my colleague, NRDC international ocean director, Lisa Speer has long advocated, we need to employ basic modern conservation tools in these waters, including the ability to establish fully protected marine sanctuaries in order to protect ocean life from seabed mining, bottom trawl fishing that clear-cuts the ocean floor and other damaging industrial activity.

An overwhelming majority of countries now support developing a new international agreement to modernize high seas conservation and management. Now we need them to transition that support into action. We cannot ignore the plight of our high seas anymore.

Stopping Unnecessary, High-Risk Offshore Drilling

The Department of the Interior is expected to release its draft five-year offshore drilling plan imminently. It will lay out its 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, and it's not expected to be pretty.

The plan may open up the Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for the first time in 30 years and could increase leasing in the Arctic. Offshore drilling and leasing in these areas would threaten billion dollar coastal economies, open fragile and priceless ocean and coastal ecosystems to damage from pollution and spills, and would accelerate global climate change.

The areas off the Atlantic coast contain extensive and diverse fisheries, as well as numerous species of endangered and threatened marine wildlife--sea turtles, dolphins and whales. These resources and state economies up and down the east coast that rely on tourism and recreation would be put in harm's way and threatened by a blow-out and resulting oil spill, as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf demonstrated.

As for the Arctic, there is no worse place to drill for oil and gas than those biologically rich, fragile and vitally important waters. These areas simply cannot be drilled safely. There is currently no viable plan for cleaning up a spill should it occur, or infrastructure available in such an emergency.

The fact is, if we really want to revive our oceans, new and expanded oil drilling is not the way to go about it. We need this plan to keep important pristine habitats off limits.

Preserving East Coast Deep-Sea Canyons

On February 11th, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which manages U.S. fisheries resources in the region, will vote on whether and how to protect deep-sea coral communities off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

These canyons have only recently been explored by NOAA and the findings are astonishing. Recent explorations have found over 40 different vibrantly-colored coral species in our cold northern Atlantic waters. Some of these corals are so abundant that they've been described as "coral forests."

And within these delicate and diverse habitats lie unexpected ocean life, including some species that are believed to be new to science. These canyons are home to everything from sea stars to octopus to the elusive Greenland shark, the slowest shark on Earth. These pristine ecologically-diverse canyons are also breeding grounds for many ocean animals, making them critical to preserving the biodiversity of our Atlantic coastal waters.

More on these canyons, include amazing video and images, can be found on my colleague Ali Chase's blog.

As frightening as the Science study is, I'm heartened that solutions are within our grasp. This winter, the U.S. can lead the way toward bringing our seas back from the brink. I hope our leaders seize this opportunity to ensure the resilience and wonder of our world's ocean.


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