President Obama bans oil and gas drilling in Arctic, indefinitely
President Obama has permanently banned drilling for oil and gas in the majority of US Arctic waters, and is preventing future leasing. Importantly, he has taken steps to prevent the undoing of this new ocean protection legacy that he will leave behind him in the new year. This designation is said to be permanent, so it won’t need reviewing every few years, and could be difficult to roll back by the next President due to the use of a law from 1953, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which means that this ban can be in operation indefinitely. What’s also great is that Canada has announced a similar ban in conjunction with this one. Prime Minister Trudeau has also banned the allocation of oil and gas drilling licences in Canadian Arctic waters, and this will be reviewed every 5 years. These announcements mean that fragile Arctic marine ecosystems and communities who live in these regions will be protected from the risk of damage by oil spills. Species in the Arctic often exist at the edge of their physical capabilities, which makes them really vulnerable to the impacts of human activities. Such a large scale ban in this area will offer protection to a large portion of fragile ecosystem, and the legal basis used by the Obama administration will hopefully prevent the undoing of this great step forward in the near future.
Supermarkets agree to ‘Switch The Stick’
Loads of leading UK supermarkets and health and beauty retailers have pledged to ‘switch the stick’ and stop selling cotton buds with plastic stems and switch to rolled paper stems instead. Thanks to a campaign by switchthestick.org, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Boots and Superdrug have all agreed that their own brand cotton buds will be plastic free by the end of 2017. This is brilliant news for the sea because plastic cotton bud stems are one of the major polluters of coastlines (23.7 of these plastic cotton buds were found on average every 100 METRES during the Great British Beach Clean 2016). They’re often flushed down the loo and, as a result, can find their way into the oceans. Once they’re in the sea they are near impossible to remove, and become only more difficult over time as they break down into smaller plastic fragments and eventually microplastics that cause a whole load of other problems. So phasing out plastic from this very common product is a real step forward and will help to cut down on plastic sewage related debris in the oceans.
More than 5% of global ocean now protected
2016 was an exceptional year in terms of the designation of new Marine Protected Areas. At the beginning of the December, the percentage of the global ocean that is now designated as any form of MPA hit 5%. This is massive news, and shows a growing global commitment to the health of the oceans. It’s been calculated that 3.6 million square kilometres of ocean have been designated since April, which is pretty staggering, and means that finally the global percentages of protected waters are creeping up. Most of this was in the form of 5 Very Large Marine Protected Areas (VLMPAs). It’s so great that the MPA coverage percentages are increasing, and at the rate that they are too, but it’s important to remember that designating them alone is not enough – they need to be effectively managed and monitored so that they actually do the job on the ground (water) that they were designated for. Drawing a line on a map won’t automatically mean that an area in real life suddenly becomes well managed and pressures on the marine environment are removed or balanced out. We need to have effective management plans in action for each of these areas to make sure that the impact of this wave of MPA designation that has happened in 2016 is maximised. These new designations form a basis that we can now work to protect effectively, and offer real positivity in marine conservation for the start of 2017.
The MPA wave keeps on going
The fact that new MPA designations keep featuring in each of these monthly positive rundowns is reason to be cheerful in itself. Here are a few more designations that have been announced in December that are helping the global coverage percentage creep up:
- Four new MPAs have been designated in Mexican waters – tripling the amount of existing areas and taking the total to 91 million hectares.
- The Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area protects 112,300 square kilometres of the Bering Sea, which is a hugely rich, complex and fragile marine environment. It’s depended upon by ‘40 tribes of coastal Yup’ik and Inupiaq peoples’, and this designation will help protect these communities and ecosystems from encroachment by activities such oil and gas exploration and shipping, that combined with the impacts of climate change, are threatening livelihoods in the area.
- There are now four new Marine Conservation Zones in Northern Ireland that will contribute to creating an ‘ecologically coherent network’ of these MCZs across the UK. These new designations will offer protection to fragile seagrass systems, sections of deep sea, a submerged coastline (which proves global sea level change), the ocean quahog (a kind of edible clam) and sea pens. Find out more about where they are
Chasing down ghost nets to help threatened vaquita
A tiny population of very small porpoises, vaquita, in the Gulf of California are getting the help that they need. They’re threatened by ghost nets, that is, fishing nets that are dumped at sea or otherwise become detached from fishing vessels and continue to drift around, unmanned, catching anything in their path. They currently pose a large risk in the Gulf of California to vaquita, the ‘world’s most rare marine mammal’ as there are fewer than 60 individuals left and they all live in the same place. The good news is that the threat is decreasing because large areas of the Gulf of California are being trawled by Mexican authorities and scientists to remove as many of these nets as possible from the area. So far they have removed 103 nets, and have been using drones and navy ships to deter the illegal release of nets in the area.
Marine reserves help boost hawksbill sea turtle numbers
A healthy juvenile population of an endangered species of sea turtle has been discovered on Glover’s Reef Atoll in Belize which falls inside the Glovers Reef Marine Reserve. This is positive news for the highly endangered hawksbill sea turtles, as there is concern that their population size is falling, therefore discovering a group of young individuals offers hope for the future. This group of juveniles is likely to have appeared due to the protected waters status of the reef, which offers a safe space for species to develop away from human activity. Hopefully, this indicates that more effectively managed marine reserves will help the recovery of more species that are under pressure.