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The 2016 NC Marine Debris Symposium is Scheduled!

Join Lisa Rider and other passionate ocean advocates and waste management professionals at the Blockade Runner in Wrightsville Beach this September 12 – 14. You’ll learn more than you ever imagined about ocean plastic, and you’ll learn how you can truly help address the problem. Here’s a brief history from the Symposium website:

Marine debris is a problem that continues to grow.  Our waterways and oceans are constantly polluted with a wide variety of marine debris ranging from polystyrene trays and plastic bags to derelict fishing equipment and abandoned boats.

Marine life, such as several Fish species, Whales, Sharks, Sea Turtles, and Birds have been known to ingest marine debris or become entangled in marine debris, which may lead to injury, intestinal blockage, and death.  Marine debris is an Eastern North Carolina concern not only because of the threats to our native wildlife, our ecosystem and our own health, but it also washes up on beaches and shorelines degrading the environment, and effecting our local economy and tourism.

Local cooperation and regional partnership is needed to create public awareness while developing ways to decrease the amount of debris going into the waterways as well as cleaning up the debris found in our waterways and on our shores.

We hope that this Symposium will create local cooperation and regional partnership by providing a forum for the exchange of information on recent developments, program ideas, and best management practices for marine debris prevention, education, and removal.”

Learn more at http://www.ncmarinedebrissymposium.com/2016-symposium.html

The Dark and Oily Lowdown on Offshore Drilling
Gulf Oil Turtle

The 5-Year Oil and Gas Plan currently under review by the NC Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is only a proposal and is far from being a done deal. We have until March 30th to let the BOEM know our stance on offshore oil & gas drilling. Please submit comments at ProtectOurCoastNow.com. Please personalize your own letter, but feel free to use points from below.

March 2015 Letter to the NC Legistlature:

Dear Mr. Wikel,

Even though some people never see the sea, all human interest connects to the ocean in some way. The ocean is responsible for 97% of earth’s water, and healthy marine phytoplankton is responsible for a minimum of 50% of the oxygen in earth’s atmosphere. As a political independent, I do not see this as a partisan issue but as a human issue. Until recently offshore drilling was not a partisan issue at all, and it’s bewildering how it ever became one.

I write to you not as an environmental alarmist but as a North Carolinian who loves my state and our way of life here. I also write to you as someone who has learned as much as I can about what is necessary to preserve that way of life. I find that a lot of North Carolinians have not accessed this information, and I feel a responsibility to share it.

In North Carolina, fishing, tourism, and recreation support 51,000 jobs and generate more than $2.2 billion in GDP for our state. Associated coastal property values are at approximately $3.4 billion on the conservative side.

Partly because Mobil Oil proposed offshore drilling in the 1980s and partly because of the resulting Oil Pollution Act of 1990, we now have the advantage of extensive economic and scientific study (see https://www.southernenvironment.org/south-atlantic-offshore-drilling-forum for only a few examples). Most of these studies indicate that drilling for oil and gas off of the South Atlantic will be disastrous for our fishing, tourism, and recreation industries. The potential and likely loss far outweighs even the maximum potential gain, which is estimated at only $116 million.

I and some friends visited southern Louisiana one year following the BP spill and interviewed 17 people including oil rig workers, shrimpers, airboat pilots, teachers, doctors, and other citizens in New Orleans, Houma, Lafitte, and Plaquemines Parrish.

While some agreed that the petrochemical industry had undeniably created jobs, all said they felt strongly that other states should not allow offshore drilling to begin. When we asked them why, they said that while there are many oil jobs, these jobs have come at the cost of many other economic options.

Oil and gas employment is characterized by some of the highest on-the-job injury and mortality rates and some of the lowest rates of employee recourse. Between 2003 & 2007 on-the-job fatalities were recorded at eight times the national average for other U.S. industries. As one oil rig worker stated, “BP made us realize just how expendable our lives are in this industry.”

Plus, as a result of oil and gas pipelines, southern Louisiana has seen the loss of 25 square miles of wetlands annually. This equates to a loss of 80% of Louisiana wetlands, 100% of which results from oil and gas exploration and production. This is partly because discarded dredge spoils block natural water flow. The pipelines also allow more salinity into marshes than marsh grasses are able to tolerate. In addition, every pipeline leaks oil daily. (Consult Cynthia Sarthou of the Gulf Restoration Network: cyn@healthygulf.org. Recommended reading: Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell)

Cajun oil rig worker, Lawrence Dufrene said that not only does this remove a crucial hurricane barrier but it removes a way of life that has been invaluable for him and his family for generations. He said that he knows that his seven-year-old daughter will never experience the wetlands that he has known. Furthermore, he says that many Cajuns are losing their homes and entire communities to wetlands loss.

More than 65% of North Carolina’s coastal shoreline is made-up of marshland that is critical in preventing floods and erosion, maintaining fish populations, and preserving water quality.

I was astounded by all of the things that we North Carolinians do not know about the offshore petrochemical industry and that we seem only able to learn by visiting the Gulf Coast directly.

There are 1.5 oil spills per day off of the Gulf Coast, with an average of 1500 annual spills off of Louisiana alone. The volume of oil spilled here is 330,000 gallons, yet Gulf spills only account for 20% of overall offshore spills in the U.S. annually.

There was another very large Gulf oil spill called the Taylor Energy spill caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 (hurricanes and offshore storms frequently cause spills and increase leaks), but we never heard about it. That well was not capped until 2007, and it still leaks, causing large masses of sheen.

Also research the Montara spill off of the Australian and Indonesian coasts. This happened one year prior to the BP Deepwater Horizon spill and occurred for very similar reasons (offshore drilling is an extremely complicated process, read A Sea in Flames by Dr. Carl Safina), but again few Americans ever learned of it.

Based on average national rates, the expected annual loss from regular oil spills off of North Carolina’s coast is $83 million, and potential reductions to coastal property values are estimated at between $636 million & $4.7 billion. (Credit: Dr. Michael Walden, “The Economic Potential from Developing North Carolina’s On-Shore and Off-shore Energy Resources”)

The public health impacts of offshore oil drilling in the Gulf have long been dire. There is an EPA Oil & Gas Exploration & Production loophole that allows hazardous waste dumping in open pits. This practice has been directly linked with the highest cancer rates in the United States and with a high rate of birth defects in children in Gulf Coast communities where toxic waste dumping from the oil & gas industry occurs.

Furthermore, hydrocarbons at levels toxic to humans have been found in the lungs of Gulf Coast seabirds, indicating that chemical inhalation is as large a risk factor as direct ingestion and skin contact (credit: Dr. Chris Haney).

And according to Gulf Restoration Network research, over the past 10 years there have been numerous documented safety violations among petrochemical companies operating along the Gulf Coast.

Apache: 18

Forest Oil: 11


BP: 11

In the Gulf, BP is responsible for 22 major spills over the past 10 years. The figure for Shell Oil is 21 and the figure for Chevron is 17.

Louisiana and Alabama fishermen currently report increasing declines in juvenile fish stocks while scientists continue to observe extreme DNA and gill damage in minnows. Note that in North Carolina, commercial fishing boasts an economic impact of $121.9 million.

In North Carolina, tourism remains the number one employment industry for the Outer Banks, providing 30,000 jobs for North Carolinians.

Following BP, communities in Florida who never even saw oil washed ashore still suffered major revenue losses as numerous visitors cancelled vacation plans. Tourism continues to suffer in the Gulf as many residents still report continued health impacts including nerve damage, increasing cancer rates, and increasing rates of respiratory disease (See http://www.southernstudies.org/2012/04/new-survey-details-bp-oil-spills-human-health-damages.html).

Further on the topic of offshore drilling-related public health impacts, bear in mind that following the Exxon Valdez spill, it took 17 years for Exxon to settle, and one-third of plaintiffs died while waiting on settlements.

And the wildlife impacts of oil spills are nearly unspeakable. The BP disaster resulted in the highest rates of dolphin mortality that the Gulf Coast has recorded. Sargassum mats attract dolphins and whales along with seabirds, fish, and invertebrates. These mats also served to naturally absorb oil from the BP spill. In order to prevent these mats from bringing large quantities of oil ashore, clean-up crews saw little choice but to burn the mats, burning all that was caught in them alive (http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/creatures-suffer-death-by-oil-8212-and-fire/).

Like in the Gulf Coast, Sargassum is also critical to nourishing much of North Carolina’s coastal wildlife. Note that the NC coast is home to 7 species of baleen whales, 23 species of toothed whales, and 4 species of sea turtles. 10 of these species are endangered.

And since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, nearly none of the Oil Spill Commission recommendations have been implemented aside from a few containment facilities which remain extremely weak. We are just as unprepared now to handle major offshore oil disasters as we were prior to the BP Deepwater Horizon event.

Aside from the economic risk posed by spills and leaks, consider how much expense North Carolina will assume in order to build infrastructure for this industry, which is predicted to decline rapidly over the next 20 years. A few things required by this infrastructure include horrendously unattractive refineries and plants, shipping channels, storage facilities, helipads, and rigs and platforms. In Port Fourchon alone, 1200 trucks carry supplies to heliports daily to carry supplies to rigs.

Also, oceanographers assert that there are multiple methane seeps north of the North Carolina coast. Because of our ocean floor topography, extraction off of our shore is especially complicated and risky. This extraction can cause frozen sediments to dislodge and cause underwater landslides which result in tidal waves. Not only does our topography pose special risks for extraction but also for ships transporting oil to refineries. It’s why we’re called “the Graveyard of the Atlantic.” (Credit: Dr. Len Pietrafesa, https://www.southernenvironment.org/south-atlantic-offshore-drilling-forum).

People whom we met in Louisiana often mentioned feeling like other people and businesses benefit from offshore oil drilling while their own communities are left to deal with the mess. And according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, drilling in areas previously closed to oil and gas drilling “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production . . . before 2030.”

When given a choice, poll data shows that Americans want to move off of a fossil fuels economy into one built on clean energy, and North Carolina has a chance to lead the nation in renewable energy technology.

The NC clean energy sector generated over $3.7 billion in gross revenues in 2012 as employment in this sector grew 3%. More than 18,000 North Carolinians currently have jobs in this sector, and offshore wind is estimated to create 25,000 more jobs in NC than would be created by offshore oil and gas drilling.

This week an article by Bob Geary explores HB 245 introduced by Cumberland County Republican, John Szoka. Szoka notes that “free enterprise is the cornerstone of the United States.” He and other bill sponsors note that we are allowing Duke Energy to maintain a monopoly on energy and to thwart technological advancement for their own short-term gain. The same goes for oil and gas companies who wish to operate off-shore.

Green energy is rapidly advancing, and the oil and gas market is predicted to rapidly decline over the next twenty years with renewable electricity predicted to overtake gas and oil for power generation, transportation, and heating. Plus, oil prices remain highly unpredictable, making it even tougher to accurately estimate potential offshore drilling gains.

HB 245 gives private renewable energy companies the ability to rent solar equipment to businesses and homeowners and then to directly charge the consumer at a rate lower than the local power company. This makes green energy immediately accessible and affordable for much of our North Carolina population.

Please give very careful consideration to the five-year Oil and Gas Plan proposal, and learn from the mistakes we’ve made in other parts of this country and the world. Clearly the economic risks of offshore oil and gas drilling far outweigh the potential economic gain, and we stand to lose so much in terms of public health, recreation, and quality of life.

I realize that you have many matters that you must research daily, but I believe that offshore drilling is currently one of the most critical issues that our state faces. I now firmly believe that offshore drilling is not the legacy that you, or any other consultant or policy maker will be proud to leave. But you do have an opportunity to steer our state to advance renewable energy and accelerate our access to its benefits.

Additional recommended resources:

Quick Offshore Oil Drilling Fact Sheets: http://nclcv.org/involved/protect_nc_coast_from_offshore_drilling/index.html.

Terry Tempest Williams: “The Gulf Between Us.

For more information on why offshore wells are so prone to accidents, leaks, and explosions, read http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001049.

Also, take a look at the Tulane GeoCommons Oil Spill Report Map:
Two chemists who are both discovering life-threatening levels of benzene and Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds in seafood and water samples; however, they feel helpless to enforce FDA regulation, which was weakened in 2011. See: http://www.katc.com/news/scientist-questions-safety-of-gulf-seafood/.

Health issues related to chemical poisoning from oil and gas waste did not just emerge with the BP spill. They have long been a problem in Louisiana, particularly in a largely African American area known as “Cancer Alley:” (http://www.pollutionissues.com/Br-Co/Cancer-Alley-Louisiana.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer_Alley).

Dr. Michael Robichaux, a two-term Louisiana Senator and a doctor who treats patients for chemical poisoning. Dr. Robichaux described to us in detail how the oil and gas lobby dominates policy-making in Louisiana and he assures us that our public officials and public health advocates will experience the same kind of powerlessness if we allow oil and gas to gain a foothold in our states.

Brenda Dar Dar Robichaux, former Chief of the Houma Indian Tribe. Chief Dar Dar Robichaux informed us of many ways that oil and gas companies have historically exploited Native American communities along the bayou. One of example includes using Grand Bois as a toxic waste dumping site. (See http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/13/us/louisiana-town-goes-to-trial-over-waste-pit.html.

Ed Bradley also did a 1997 story about this case for 60 Minutes). There is a Federal Amendment/loophole in the EPA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which exempts all waste materials associated with oil exploration and production (E&P). See http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/oil/oil-gas.pdf.

Louisiana’s wetlands represent 40% of the our overall marsh area in the United States. It is diminishing by 80%, and we lose a full football field of Louisiana wetlands every hour: http://healthygulf.org/our-work/wetlands/wetlands-home.


Jean-Michel Cousteau Urges California Governor, Jerry Brown to Sign Plastic Bag Ban

From the Mercury News09/25/2014

chris jordan albatross“I’ve appreciated the ocean since my first dive. As an explorer, educator and film producer, I’ve seen how important the ocean is to our happiness and prosperity as residents of a water planet. This is especially true for California, from our spectacular coast to the whales, orcas and leatherback sea turtles that enrich our corner of the Pacific.

This month, Gov. Jerry Brown is reviewing critical legislation to protect our ocean. I urge him to sign a single-use plastic bag ban and support consumers’ right to know about toxic flame retardants in furniture.

Plastic debris is a threat to wildlife worldwide and single-use plastic bags are one of the worst offenders. Marine debris is known to harm 660 species, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. More than 80 percent of marine debris is plastic, and most comes from land. Single-use plastic bags entangle fish, birds and other animals, sometimes strangling or suffocating them. Sea turtles eat these bags, mistaking them for edible jellyfish. One analysis of 370 leatherback sea turtle necropsies found that one in three turtles had ingested plastic, most often a plastic bag. Researchers have also documented dead whales with plastic bags in their stomachs.

These bags are a pervasive environmental pollutant, one of the most common garbage items removed from California beaches during Coastal Cleanup Day. They are up to 8 percent of the trash flowing into the San Francisco Bay through local storm drains, according to a 2012 report by the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association. We’ve all seen plastic bags polluting our streets, our parks and rivers. This is why more than 125 local governments, representing one in three Californians, have already opted to ban them. Outside the U.S., about 20 countries are tackling plastic bag pollution with bans or fees.

Senate Bill 270 (Padilla, De León, Lara) bans single-use plastic bags statewide. Brown should sign it.

During an expedition a few years ago, my team and I discovered that many populations of killer whales are contaminated with toxic, synthetic chemicals, including a class of flame retardants known as PBDEs. California requires these chemicals to be added to furniture and many children’s products. They leak into the environment through the air, are carried by dust and water and enter the food chain. Flame retardants persist in the environment, concentrate over time and are toxic with likely adverse effects for both orcas and humans. They’ve been linked to lower IQs in children, reduced fertility and increased cancer risks.

Flame retardants in our environment are doubling every five years, and worst of all, they’re not preventing fires as promised. Instead, they can produce more toxic smoke containing cancer-causing chemicals like furans and dioxin. Firefighters are exposed to flame retardants and their byproducts, which can penetrate protective gear and likely contribute to higher rates of cancer, heart disease and lung disease among firefighters.

Senate Bill 1019 (Leno) helps to address this problem by ensuring that consumers have the right to know whether the furniture they are purchasing contains toxic flame retardant chemicals. Manufacturers would simply add this disclosure to the existing product labels in California.Protecting our incredible ocean is everyone’s responsibility. Thousands of activists have worked to ban plastic bags and control toxic flame retardants. Environmental groups, labor unions, businesses, local governments and, for flame retardants, firefighters themselves have helped to pass the legislation. I applaud the California Legislature for sending these two proposals to the governor and urge him to sign them.”


NRDC Petitions for More Endangered Species Protections to Save the Bryde’s Whale

The Petition is available online here. Press Release Below:



Press contact: Kimiko Martinez at 310-434-2344 or kmartinez@nrdc.org
If you are not a member of the press, please write to us at nrdcinfo@nrdc.org or see ourcontact page
Whale Woes: NRDC Petitions for Endangered Species Act Protections
Gulf of Mexico’s Resident Bryde’s Whale Population “can’t make it in the Gulf if we don’t help them out…”

LOS ANGELES (September 18, 2014) —The Gulf of Mexico’s only non-migrating  great whales are in big trouble, which is why the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to add the region’s Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whale population to the federal endangered species list. Recently published studies identify the Gulf population as genetically unique numbering fewer than 50 animals.

This small population – whose habitat appears to have dwindled to a single area, the DeSoto Canyon, off the Florida panhandle – faces a suite of potential threats in the Gulf’s highly industrialized waters. Collisions with ships, deafening ocean noise from oil and gas exploration, and pollution from the Deepwater Horizon spill and other sources make the population’s prospects dim without federal protections.

“This is a unique group of whales, different from all others of its kind, and it’s threatened six ways to Sunday,” said Michael Jasny, director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal  Protection Project and lead author of the petition. “An Endangered Species listing would bring a recovery plan and the resources needed to save these animals … they just can’t make it in the Gulf if we don’t help them out.”

In July, biologists from the National Marine Fisheries Service published an article inEndangered Species Research detailing the genetically unique nature of the Gulf of Mexico’s population from Bryde’s whales across the world’s oceans. The paper concludes that the population is distinct and suggests an independent singular evolutionary trajectory. The small population size and markedly low genetic diversity raise conservation concern for the Gulf’s only baleen, or filter-feeding, whale.

“The unique nature and tiny population of Bryde’s whales in the Gulf deserve our attention,” said NRDC Wildlife Program Director and petition co-author Dr. Sylvia Fallon. “With help, these amazing whales can be saved.”

Bryde’s Whales

Named after Norwegian commercial whaling pioneer Johan Bryde, these baleen whales are closely related to blue and humpback whales. The 35- to 50-foot marine mammals can be found in warm waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. While not targets of contemporary whaling operations, the whales face huge threats in the Gulf, including ship strikes, toxic pollution, and noise from seismic airgun surveys for oil and gas. Known for spectacular feeding behaviors, which involve lunging mouth agape through schools of fish and krill, Bryde’s whales have a diverse diet that allows them to find food and stay in the Gulf’s waters all year long.

Endangered Species Act Process

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides protections for plant and animals under threat of extinction. The National Marine Fisheries Service must make its initial assessment of NRDC’s petition within three months. If the Service finds that the petition presents “substantial scientific evidence” that the whales are endangered, the agency is required to conduct a formal status review of the species and to make a preliminary listing decision within the year. The petition is available online.

Additional Media and Resources

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Please Sign NRDC Petition to Save Whales from Navy Sonar Blasts

baby_dolphinThe Navy is prepared to kill nearly 1,000 whales and other marine mammals during the next five years of testing and training with dangerous sonar and explosives. Tell Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to direct the Navy to adopt commonsense safeguards that will protect marine mammals during routine training without compromising military readiness.

Watch video.

Sign petition here.

Shark Tourism Worth More Than Shark Fins: Branson Joins WildAid to Save Whale Sharks

| July 17, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and Virgin Unite, has joined non-profit group WildAid to swim with 300 whale sharks off the coast of Cancun to demonstrate that the economic benefits of shark tourism can drastically outweigh the value derived from killing a shark for its fins.

According to WildAid, the lifetime economic value of a single whale shark can exceed $2 million dollars, compared to a few hundred dollars to kill the same shark for its fins.  It is estimated that whale shark tourism is worth over US$47 million worldwide per year.

“Sharks play an incredibly vital role in our lives both environmentally and economically,” said Branson. “They are at the top of the food chain and balance the ocean’s now fragile ecosystem, and the conservation tourism numbers show that they are more useful to coastal communities alive than dead. It goes without saying that we must do everything we can to preserve these highly-threatened, magnificent creatures.”

Fins from up to 73 million sharks are used every year to make shark fin soup and related food products.  Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice – captured at sea and hauled on deck, the sharks are often still alive while their fins are sliced off. Because shark meat is not considered as valuable as the fins, the maimed animals are tossed overboard to drown or bleed to death.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that 1/3 of the world’s pelagic shark species are threatened with extinction, with certain species experiencing declines up to 90%.

WildAid’s mission is to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetime by reducing demand through public awareness campaigns and providing comprehensive marine protection. WildAid has been investigating the shark fin industry and markets around the world for over a decade. Extensive footage and stills of shark finning, the fin trade and preparing shark fin, as well as our PSAs, are available upon request.  For more information, visit www.wildaid.com or follow us on Twitter (@wildaid) or Facebook (fb.com/wildaid).

Virgin Unite is the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group. For more information, please visit www.virginunite.com.


Great news from the NRDC and from Mexico! One coral reef saved as a result of ocean advocacy outcry!

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has just rejected plans for a massive resort complex that could have devastated the marine paradise of Cabo Pulmo, its coral reef and the local community.

This is a huge victory for NRDC and all the local, national and international groups that waged a strong multi-year campaign urging officials to abandon the destructive proposal called Cabo Cortés.

Tens of thousands of BioGems Defenders like you stood strong in vocally opposing this mega-tourism scheme.

Please send a message to President Calderón and thank him for stopping Cabo Cortés in its tracks.

Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park is home to the only living hard coral reef in Mexico’s entire Gulf of California. This pristine haven is teeming with whales, porpoises, dolphins, orcas, sharks, sea lions and five of the seven species of endangered sea turtles.

But it was all put at risk by Spanish developer Hansa Urbana, which would have built up 9,400 acres next door with condos, hotels, golf courses, a marina and a private jet port — imperiling the coral reef’s marine life and the local communities that depend on eco-tourism for survival.

Make no mistake: We may have won this battle, but Cabo Pulmo still lacks permanent protection from industrial development. Now, the region needs a plan to ensure that communities do not have to repeatedly rescue this valuable resource, a sustainable plan that takes advantage of the natural riches of Baja California’s marine ecosystems.

Send your message to President Calderón today. Thank him for halting Cabo Cortés. Then urge him to work with the people of the region to guarantee that this globally-important marine sanctuary will be sheltered from massive development projects forever.


This month’s petition: http://act.oceana.org/letter/l-seismic/

Don’t Drown out Dolphins’ Voices

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