This World Oceans Day, help Defenders by celebrating our precious ocean ecosystems and all they do for life on Earth.
Today’s celebration of World Oceans Day carries extra significance as it falls just days after the 100th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birth (May 27, 1907). Although Rachel Carson is best known for Silent Spring, which helped catalyze the global environmental movement, prior to this groundbreaking book she was already a celebrated chronicler of the beauty of our oceans.
On World Oceans Day, we are reminded of Carson, a marine biologist by training whose first love was the sea. She wrote three of the most lyrical books of natural history writing ever published (Under the Sea-Wind, The Sea Around Us, and The Edge of the Sea). Her Sea Trilogy perfectly melds scientific detail with elegant, poetic prose capturing the majesty and mystery of our living seas and shores. These timeless works remind us that all life comes from the oceans.
Oceans cover two-thirds of the globe. They provide us with oxygen, regulate the global climate, and supply food and drinking water. We rely on ocean and coastal ecosystems for recreation and tourism, for transportation, and for global commerce.
In honor of Rachel Carson, I challenge you today to celebrate the abundance of life in our oceans and the life the oceans make possible on our blue planet. On World Oceans Day, we recognize how terrestrial ecosystems and human society itself are intricately intertwined with marine ecosystems. We renew our commitment to ocean protection; without healthy oceans, human health, the health of myriad marine species, and the entire planetary biosphere are in jeopardy.
At Defenders of Wildlife, marine conservation is central to our mission. In our field offices and in the national and international arenas, we fight every day to protect iconic marine species, from whales and dolphins, walruses, and manatees, to shorebirds, sea turtles, sharks and rays, polar bears, and sea otters. By protecting these charismatic species, we also protect their marine and coastal habitats, as these species cannot survive and thrive except as interconnected parts of healthy and vibrant ecosystems. Just as we are all connected to the sea, so too is Defenders’ marine advocacy work inextricably connected across issues and offices. This World Oceans Day, we offer a glimpse of these connections by highlighting our work on sharks and rays, sea turtles, and whales and dolphins, as well as on emerging threats to the marine environment from the Trump administration’s recent actions.
Sharks and Rays
Sharks have roamed Earth’s seas for more than 420 million years. These apex predators are a key component to maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. Yet one in four shark species around the globe is now in danger of extinction.
The brutal practice of shark finning kills up to 73 million sharks every year. Sharks are targeted specifically for their fins, hacked off while the shark is still alive. Thrown back into the water, the sharks are left to die of shock, blood loss, starvation, or predation.
Sharks are also under tremendous pressure from global fisheries for their meat and skin. and Unintentional bycatch of sharks entangled or hooked in fishing gear set for other species of fish contributes to further population declines. Because sharks are long-lived, slow-growing, and slow-reproducing, they are unable to replenish their populations to account for the major losses they’re suffering.
The shark’s close relatives, the manta rays and the devil rays, face similar pressures: whether directly targeted for their meat or their gill rakers (filter-feeding structures) or unintentionally entangled in fishing nets, their populations are also suffering massive declines.
For years, Defenders has used international and domestic legal and advocacy tools to protect sharks worldwide—in U.S. waters, foreign waters, and on the high seas. Although much remains to be done, we have made tremendous strides. At the international level, we have worked with conservation allies around the world to get nine shark species, all manta ray species, and nine devil ray species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). CITES regulates trade in listed species via an export/import permit system, requiring a scientific sustainability and legal analysis before international trade can proceed. We have augmented these victories by helping to train fisheries and enforcement officials from many Latin American countries on how to identify shark fins by species.
On the domestic front, our U.S. legal team has picked up the baton on protecting CITES-listed sharks and rays by petitioning a number of these species for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a result of our efforts, the National Marine Fisheries Service recently issued proposed rules to list both the oceanic white tip shark and the giant manta ray under the ESA. We have also supported national legislation banning shark finning in U.S. waters as well as state-by-state legislation in eleven states and three U.S. territories, to ban the shark fin trade within those areas. We are now working to support the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2017, bipartisan legislation that has been introduced in both the House and the Senate to eliminate the market for shark fins nationwide.
Of the seven species of sea turtles that occur worldwide, six are found in both U.S. and Mexican waters. Five species nest on U.S. beaches, while all six species nest on Mexican beaches. Some of the most important turtle nesting beaches in the world are found in Florida, which hosts 90 percent of sea turtle nesting in the continental U.S., while in Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California Sur are sea turtle nesting hotspots.
Defenders fights to protect imperiled sea turtle species both on land and in the oceans. Our Florida field staff have worked for years to protect the quiet, dark, undisturbed beaches sea turtles need to nest successfully, particularly on Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which attracts more nesting loggerheads than almost any other place on Earth.
Further north along the Atlantic Coast, Defenders went to court to force the National Park Service to develop a management plan to protect sea turtle nesting beaches at Cape Hatteras National Seashore from off-road beach driving. In Mexico, Defenders has lobbied for regulations to protect coastal vegetation, address artificial lighting, and ban off-road recreational vehicles from fragile nesting beaches.
Beyond safeguarding crucial nesting grounds, Defenders is working hard to protect sea turtles from other urgent threats. Fisheries bycatch is a major danger to air-breathing sea turtles, which drown if they are entangled in fishing nets and cannot surface. While we have worked to obtain better regulations to reduce sea turtle bycatch in Mexican waters, the U.S.-based legal team has worked through litigation and advocacy to ensure that shrimp trawls are outfitted with escape hatches known as turtle excluder devices that enable sea turtles to swim free of the nets.
Whales and dolphins
Whales and dolphins are some of the most iconic and beloved creatures to call our oceans home. Defenders works to protect whales and dolphins at various levels throughout the organization. In our Alaska office, Defenders staff has worked for many years with stakeholders to develop recovery measures for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, which numbers less than 350. In the Pacific Northwest, our staff is currently celebrating Orca Month, which brings awareness to the threats facing the highly endangered southern resident orca, such as toxic contamination and the loss of the orca’s salmon prey due to dams.
In Washington, D.C., Defenders serves on four Take Reduction Teams, stakeholder groups of conservationists, scientists, fishermen, and state fisheries agencies convened under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) negotiating consensus-based proposals to reduce fisheries bycatch of right whales, humpback whales, pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, and Atlantic harbor porpoises. Our legal staff has also successfully litigated and advocated for years under the ESA and the MMPA to secure better protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale from the threats posed by entanglement in fisheries gear and ship strikes and to expand designated critical habitat.
New threats: Arctic and Atlantic offshore oil drilling and threats to marine national monuments
Our marine conservation work has taken on even greater urgency in the face of President Trump’s recent executive targeting the oceans. In response, Defenders is in “all hands on deck” mode.
One executive order attempts to re-open the Arctic and the Atlantic for offshore oil and gas exploration and development. Defenders has already joined a lawsuit with its conservation allies to block any attempt to move forward with offshore drilling in the Arctic or Atlantic. Of immediate concern is the push to move forward with seismic blasting to map out potential offshore oil and gas reserves with large airgun arrays. These airguns are fired into the ocean floor around the clock for days and weeks at a time. Because of our grave concerns about the harmful, even lethal, effects of this extreme noise on whales and dolphins, we will oppose the National Marine Fisheries Service’s recent proposal to authorize this testing under the MMPA.
The other executive order calls for a review of all national monument designations of the last decade, a list that includes four marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Atlantic Ocean that protect vitally important marine ecosystems and species. Defenders is writing detailed comment letters urging the administration not to attempt to roll back any national monument designations, including the five marine monuments.
At Defenders of Wildlife, every day is World Oceans Day. We are committed to using all the legal and advocacy tools at our disposal to protect the ocean wildlife we love and the ocean ecosystems we depend on,
“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”
~Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
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