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Plan to "Protect" Oceans goes to Bush

In its final report Monday, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy included language to clarify that the recommended Ocean Policy Trust Fund would not be used to change current government policy on offshore drilling. If created, the fund would use up to $4 billion in annual offshore oil and gas royalties to safeguard oceans and coastal areas.
Oil Platforms Off California
Oil Platforms Off California
Plan to protect oceans goes to Bush
Oil drilling section reworded at some governors' request

Updated: 9:06 a.m. ET Sept. 21, 2004

WASHINGTON - A presidential commission's report on protecting oceans was on its way to President Bush after it was modified to allay governors' concerns about oil drilling off their coastlines.

In its final report Monday, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy included language to clarify that the recommended Ocean Policy Trust Fund would not be used to change current government policy on offshore drilling. If created, the fund would use up to $4 billion in annual offshore oil and gas royalties to safeguard oceans and coastal areas.

"The sole intent of the trust fund is to ensure a dedicated source of funding for improved ocean and coastal management, including the sustainability of renewable resources," the report said. "It is not intended to either promote or discourage offshore uses authorized under existing laws, and the fund itself would not drive activities in offshore waters."

The change was one of a few minor modifications to a draft report the commission issued in April. It was included after several governors, including Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Democrat John Baldacci of Maine, expressed fears that drawing on federal royalties from offshore gas exploration could create incentives for more drilling and pumping.

Schwarzenegger against oil 'incentives'
"I support the establishment of an Ocean Policy Trust Fund as well as a thorough evaluation of all available funding sources and partnership opportunities," Schwarzenegger wrote to the commission. The letter insisted, however, that "no incentives for additional offshore oil and gas development be created through the use of funds from these revenue sources."

The proposal for an Ocean Policy Trust Fund is among 212 recommendations the commission made in its 610-page final report, the first federal review of ocean policy in 35 years. By law, President Bush now has 90 days to respond to the recommendations.

The 16-member commission's chairman, retired Navy admiral and former Energy Secretary James Watkins, held a press conference Monday with Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., to urge the Bush administration to act.

"The oceans are saying, 'We've had it, human beings. Give us a break,'" Watkins said. "We need to treat it today or in 2010 we aren't going to be able to recover."

Watkins delivered the report earlier to administration officials, who welcomed its recommendations in a conference call with reporters. James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the administration strongly supports the commission and will move quickly to respond.

Asked about the trust fund proposal, Connaughton said, "There are numerous competing proposals for those revenues as well, so we'll have to take a close look at that."

Action in Congress

Lawmakers have already introduced bills enshrining various commission recommendations. A Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the report was set for Tuesday. Also on the agenda was legislation by Hollings that seeks to establish a new national ocean policy and turn the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into an independent agency separate from the Commerce Department. The co-chairmen of the bipartisan House Oceans Caucus also have introduced a broad bill to improve oceans management that includes many of the commission's recommendations.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy spent 2˝ years studying coastal areas, the Great Lakes and 4.4 million square miles of ocean. It issued a grim assessment, pointing to rising sea temperatures that spread viruses and kill reefs; contaminated seafood; and pollution from urban and farm runoffs that causes algae blooms harmful to ocean life.

Among recommendations were to create a new Cabinet-level National Ocean Council, reform the management of domestic fisheries, give coastal commissions and other local government bodies more authority over growth and double the budget for ocean research.

The commission estimated the cost of its recommendations at $1.3 billion the first year, $2.4 billion the second year and $3.2 billion annually after that.

The proposed trust fund would draw on $5 billion annually in royalties and leases that now goes to the Treasury from offshore oil and gas drilling. The commission wants to use $4 billion of that; the other $1 billion already is directed to specific purposes. The commission also recommended tapping revenues from any new offshore activities, such as wind energy projects.

Recommendations from the last ocean commission report in 1969 led to the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1970 and coastal zone and fishery management laws in 1976.

The full report is online at  http://www.oceancommission.gov/documents/welcome.html.

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Marine species gone or on the brink 22.Sep.2004 13:39

FACT FILE

A coalition of conservation and government scientists put together a list reflecting the types of marine species lost over the years -- as well as those on the brink. They note that although extinctions are natural, the rate has increased dramatically in recent times, primarily due to human activity. Click on a category for examples of what's at stake.

Extinct species
Below are examples of some marine species known to have been lost, preceded by the year one was last seen:
1768—Steller's sea cow
1840—Periwinkle
1844—Greak auk
1880—Sea mink
1929—Atlantic eelgrass limpet
1935—Horn snail
1952—West Indian monk seal


White abalone
This oval, usually reddish mollusk generally measures between 5 and 8 inches in length.
Status: Listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act as a domestic endangered species. Fewer than 2,000 are thought to remain (or 0.1 percent of the original population), with the greatest reduction in the last 30 years.
Distribution: Lives on rocky bottoms between 80 and 200 feet deep from southern California to Mexico's Baja peninsula.
Threats: Past overcollection by fishers left the remaining individuals so widely dispersed that reproduction is difficult.
Actions needed: Maintain fishing closures, and continue programs to identify successful techniques for culture and reintroduction.


Johnson's seagrass
One of the smallest seagrasses, it has spatula-shaped leaves that occur in pairs less than one-inch long.
Status: Listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act as a domestic threatened species.
Distribution: Sporadic patches down to 10 feet deep between Sebastian Inlet and north Biscayne Bay in southeastern Florida.
Threats: Intensive coastal development and high-traffic waters cause direct mortality and destructive habitat alteration.
Actions needed: Strictly enforced regulation of development and travel near critical habitats. Habitat restoration and transplantation techniques would be a last resort.


Vaquita
The world's smallest porpoise, it has a gray back fading to a white belly, with black eye rings and dark patches surrounding its lips.
Status: Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, with no more than 250 mature vaquita thought to remain.
Distribution: The smallest distribution for any marine cetacean, the vaquita is restricted to the upper Gulf of California, to a maximum depth probably no greater than 100 feet.
Threats: Killed in nets and other fishing gear as bycatch; some also suspect it suffers the effects of habitat alteration from reduced flow of the Colorado River, dammed upstream.
Actions needed: Fishing within the northern Gulf needs to eliminate the threat of bycatch. Means include fishing bans and safer fishing gear.


Mediterranean monk seal
Averaging about 8 feet long, this seal's fur color ranges from light gray to dark brown or black.
Status: Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, with a present population estimated at 300.
Distribution: Once found throughout the Mediterranean, eastern Atlantic, and Black Sea, it now is limited to two separate populations in the eastern Mediterranean and northwest Africa.
Threats: Hunted historically, and still occasionally killed by fishermen who perceive it as a competitor for fish. Additional threats from entanglement in fishing gear, habitat loss and degradation, and introduced species.
Actions needed: Stronger enforcement of existing protection measures, and fishing gear restrictions within critical habitats such as its feeding areas.


Christmas Island frigate bird
This large black seabird has a white belly, forked tail, and a pink bill.
Status: Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, with an estimated population of 3,200.
Distribution: Nests and breeds on Australia's 3.5-square-mile Christmas Island, but forages throughout the east Indian Ocean and western Indo-Malayan archipelago.
Threats: Habitat destruction from phosphate mining removed as much as 25 percent of its breeding area. Two-thirds of the remaining population is restricted to one breeding colony, which increases its vulnerability to storms and fire. Perhaps the most serious threat is from the introduced Yellow crazy ant, which preys on nestlings.
Actions needed: The Christmas Tree Island National Park protects two-thirds of the breeding colonies, but additional measures should be taken against the ant. Other critical habitats and buffer zones might need extended protection.


Totoaba
This fish is known to have attained a maximum weight of 220 pounds and a length of 6.5 feet.
Status: Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. Some recent observations suggest hope that this species might show signs of recovery.
Distribution: Only along the northern Gulf of California and perhaps no deeper than 35 feet.
Threats: Overfishing from the 1920s-70s, when a ban was imposed. Poaching continues, though the greater threat now is probably from capture of juveniles in shrimp trawlers and loss of spawning habitat in the Colorado delta.
Actions needed: Strict enforcement of the fishing ban, and elimination of destructive trawling from nursery areas.


North Atlantic right whale
This mostly black whale, reaches a maximum weight of 100 tons and a length of 60 feet.
Status: Listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union, with mature individuals estimated at less than 250.
Distribution: Found in the north Atlantic to depths of more than 3,000 feet. The principal feeding grounds are in the Bay of Fundy, Roseway Basin, Great South Channel, and Cape Cod Bay.
Threats: This species was decimated by hunting, and today is threatened by entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, and collisions with ships.
Actions needed: Radical changes in fishing gear and measures to reduce the threat of ship collisions, such as diverting vessels from critical habitats.


Leatherback sea turtle
The largest sea turtle, it gets its name from the black, leathery carapace it has in place of the hard shell found on all other sea turtles. The largest can weigh a ton and reach lengths of six feet.
Status: Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. Up to 30,000 are thought to occur worldwide, but numbers are declining rapidly in many areas, including the Pacific, where a major nesting colony in Mexico plummeted from 70,000 in 1982 to less than 100 in 2002.
Distribution: Found in all tropical and subtropical waters of the world to a depth of 5,000 feet.
Threats: Overharvest of eggs and adults, death from ensnarement in fishing gear, coastal development, boat collisions, and pollution, including plastic debris which it confuses with its jellyfish prey.
Actions needed: Protection of critical habitats, reduction of pollutants, and control of fishing boats that capture the animals by accident.


Brazilian guitarfish
An elongated ray, it can measure up to three feet long and ranges in color from olive gray to brown, with white blotches.
Status: Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. Its population in Brazil has decreased by 96 percent in just one decade (1984-1994).
Distribution: Shallow coastal waters to over 130 feet, from the Lesser Antilles south to northern Argentina.
Threats: Overfishing and bycatch.
Actions needed: Protection via marine reserves and alternative livelihood options for coastal fishermen.


Speckled hind
A reddish-brown fish with white spots, it can reach a length of almost 4 feet and a weight of 65 pounds.
Status: Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union.
Distribution: Found mostly between 150 and 300 feet on hard bottom reefs in the western Atlantic, from Bermuda and North Carolina south to the Bahamas and northern and eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Threats: Overfishing as a popular game and food fish.
Actions needed: Deep water marine reserves and restrictions on fishing, possibly supported by an education campaign.

Source: Conservation International, BirdLife International, World Conservation Union, NOAA, California Department of Fish and Game • Print this

Five threats to marine biodiversity 22.Sep.2004 13:40

FACT FILE

Fisheries' operations
One study found that, in the past two decades, the world's fishing nations have so excessively increased their efforts that global fishing capacity in the traditional fisheries is estimated to be 30 percent greater than required to take the world catch. In the United States, it has been estimated that about one-third of all the fisheries for which sufficient data exist are overfished.


Chemical pollution and eutrophication
More than 75 percent of ocean pollution actually comes from sources on land. These might be factories, farms or even homes hundreds of miles inland, which pollute either into the air or into rivers that run into the sea. The pollution can increase mortality rates, decrease growth, impair reproduction and genetically mutate ocean species. It is also believed to contribute to the increase in certain marine algae that can kill various marine organisms and cause illness and even death in humans who consume contaminated seafood.


Alteration of physical habitat
According to the United Nations, more than half of the world's population lives within 40 miles of the shoreline and this could rise to 75 percent by the year 2020. And as more people live close to shorelines, that means more erosion, destruction and pollution of habitat used by many ocean species. In the United States and worldwide, coastal salt marshes have been destroyed by dredging and filling, mangroves have been removed for shrimp aquaculture, coastal development has altered natural patterns of erosion and sedimentation, and mining and dredging have directly altered habitats for marine species.


Invasion of exotic species
Both man and nature sometimes add a species to an area where it's not native. The danger is that this can bring new disease organisms that the native species are not equipped to defend against. Man's impact often comes via the exchange of ballast water in ships, which can dump marine organisms into new areas. This has been implicated in outbreaks of red-tide in Australia; the invasion of the Black Sea by the American comb jellyfish with disastrous effects on plankton biomass and the anchovy fishery; and the invasion of the Great Lakes by Eurasian zebra and quagga mussels that have caused great economic damage in inland waterways.


Global climate change
Should Earth continue its warming pattern, scientists fear shore and habitat erosion, increased salinity of estuaries and freshwater aquifers, altered tidal ranges in rivers and bays, changes in sediments and nutrient transport, a change in patterns of chemical and microbial contamination in coastal areas, and increased coastal flooding. Ecosystems particularly at risk include saltwater marshes, mangrove ecosystems, coastal wetlands, coral reefs, coral atolls, and river deltas.



Source: National Research Council, National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration • Print this

hmm 22.Sep.2004 16:16

iggir

those offshore rigs look strangely sci-fi...good article, btw