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Posts Tagged ‘fishing nets’

As the website Right Whale Festival notes, “The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is a federally protected ​endangered species.” Fewer than 350 exist today. Recovery is hampered by a slow reproduction rate and threats from entanglement in fishing nets and collisions with vessels.

Last week, I was talking to my younger grandson about elephants, and the conversation morphed into the topic of endangered species. He told me that the most endangered marine animal is the vaquita. I mentioned the right whale.

Today’s story is about an ocean scientist who is using drones and satellites to protect whales. Tatiana Schlossberg wrote about him for the Washington Post.

“Just yards from the Fish 1, a 22-foot research vessel, a humpback whale about twice the size of the boat hurled itself out of the water, sending shimmering droplets in a broken necklace of splash. In the other direction, a hulking cargo ship, stacked high with containers, crept closer.

“Aboard the Fish 1 … ocean scientist Douglas McCauley wanted to see whether the near real-time detection system he and his colleagues had developed, Whale Safe, could avert collisions between whales and ships in the Santa Barbara Channel.

“The tool represents one of the ways McCauley, who heads the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory at the University of California Santa Barbara, is working to protect the ocean even as it becomes more industrialized. By collecting data from several sources — an acoustic monitoring buoy that listens for whale songs, identifies them according to species with an algorithm and sends that information to satellites; a predictive habitat model for blue whales; and sightings logged in an app — Whale Safe forecasts to ships the chances of meeting a whale. Then, it grades shipping companies on whether they actually slow down to 10 knots or less during whale migrations, from May 1 to Dec. 15.

‘We can literally watch all of the ships in California and across the whole ocean; we are better positioned than ever before to try to track damage as it occurs, or before it occurs,’ McCauley said. …

“Humans have worked in the seas for centuries: fishing, seafaring and more recently, drilling for oil and gas and the development of offshore wind farms. Shipping lanes cross almost every surface of the sea, except for shrinking swaths of the Southern and Arctic Ocean. …

“In meetings with corporate executives and political leaders, McCauley has made a consistent argument: Protecting the sea is in our interest, since it already does a lot of the work for us.

“In 2020 McCauley led a report that provided a framework for marine protected areas on the high seas, finding that such refuges could be powerful tools for biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and climate resilience. Even port and fishing communities, he argued, depend on an ocean that is still wild and alive. …

“The encounter in late September, amid one of the world’s busiest shipping channels and a vibrant ecosystem, offered a glimpse of how to do just that. Minutes after the container ship had passed McCauley’s boat, the whale — possibly the same one, but it is hard to tell — had found another [whale], and the two sent up exhales of spray.

“It was as if a bulldozer operator had plowed through a herd of elephants without stopping, not too far from a major city’s downtown, hoping to avoid a crash. And it happens many times a day here in the Santa Barbara Channel, even though barely anyone sees it. …

“The ocean is, by far, the world’s largest carbon sink, having absorbed about 40 percent of the excess greenhouse gasses from burning fossil fuels. But it comes at a cost: more acidic and warmer waters, which may not soak up as much carbon going forward. The fact that ocean animals evolved to a narrow range of conditions, McCauley and others found, makes them more vulnerable to climate change. …

“He learned through experience: What is good for the ocean is also good for people, and possibly business too. Slowing down ships means fewer ship strikes, which means more whales. That is good for biodiversity and climate change: Whales themselves are carbon sinks and fertilize plant growth (another carbon sink). …

“Three shipping companies contacted for this article, as well as an industry association, said that they supported such programs. CMA CGM, among the world’s largest shipping container companies, is sending alerts above medium directly to their captains, and Hyundai Heavy Industries is working with Whale Safe to incorporate its data directly onboard new ships.

“But some of the firms tracked by the tool, which has recently expanded its use to include San Francisco, have received F grades. Matson Navigation, for example, only slowed down roughly 18 percent of the time.

“Lee Kindberg, the head of environment and sustainability for Maersk, which received a B for slowing down in about 79 percent of cases, said the company supports Whale Safe. But she added that shippers must balance safety and speed restrictions against weather and demands from companies — and their customers — who want everything faster.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Ocean Voyages Institute
So-called “ghost nets” are fishing nets that have broken loose and now float freely, entangling wildlife.

There are so many things going on right now that sometimes it’s hard to remember that crises like global warming and plastic pollution are no less urgent just because illness and job losses are center stage.

Fortunately, all this time we’ve been counting Covid-19 deaths, a few people have been working on the problems that will still be around when the pandemic has ended.

On June 19, Doug Struck reported at the Christian Science Monitor about one woman working to clean up the ocean.

“Nothing pleases Mary Crowley more than to see a huge, dripping, bedraggled fishing net, ensnarled with plastic garbage, being lifted from the sea. That is progress, she says.

“Ms. Crowley, a sailor since childhood days spent in her grandfather’s wooden sailboat on Lake Michigan, has been working for more than a decade to clean up the world’s oceans. She started by urging fishermen to pick up floating plastic. Now her million-dollar effort employs drones, satellites, floating GPS buoys, sophisticated oceanographic models, a corps of yachtsmen, and an oceangoing cargo ship.

“The Kwai, a 140-foot, two-masted cargo sailing vessel that normally shuttles supplies among Pacific islands, has been plucking nets and trash from the Pacific for the past six weeks. It is expected to return to Hawaii around June 23 with 100 tons of debris, the first of what Ms. Crowley hopes will be two such voyages this summer; she is hoping to dispatch the ship for a second voyage in July.

Much of that trash will be ‘ghost nets,’ fishing nets abandoned or lost that float freely, ensnarling fish, marine life, trash, and passing vessels.

“The Kwai’s crew of 11, sailors accustomed to unloading anything from cars to concrete on isolated islands, uses winches and sweat to hoist the heavy nets from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where swirling currents gather floating debris.

“The term is misleading; the area is huge and the debris is spread out. But the Kwai is led to wayward nets in part by GPS buoys that yachtsmen and other sailors, volunteers for Ms. Crowley, have stopped mid-ocean to attach to trash.

“ ‘This work feels great,’ Capt. Brad Ives replies mid-voyage from the Kwai by email. ‘When the weather is good and the nets are flowing, there is no better work for a fine old sailing ship. Crew spirits are high and we are cleaning our Mother Ocean.’ …

“Ms. Crowley began her project as a labor of love for the sea. She runs a yacht chartering business from Sausalito, California. But her clients consistently confirmed her own observations that the ocean seems increasingly cluttered with plastic debris. …

“Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic is washed from the lands and is threatening to choke the seas. The United Nations has warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Marine mammals are routinely found dead, their bodies clogged with plastics. Microplastics – the result of deteriorating larger pieces or small manufactured beads – are now thoroughly infused in the marine food chain. …

“There are many creative ideas to clean the ocean, and Ms. Crowley supports them all. She formed Ocean Voyages Institute in 1979 to educate audiences about the sea. Over time she gathered a ‘think tank’ of sailors, naval architects, marine engineers, and fishermen. ‘We decided that one of the most harmful things going on in the ocean is the huge proliferation of large plastics,’ she says. ‘This includes derelict fishing gear, and boats and piers and car fenders.’ …

“ ‘There is debris practically every day inside the gyre,’ Captain Ives writes from the ship. … ‘The most difficult are always the big nets. … These require divers in the water to get cargo slings around them and often several lifts to get them wrestled aboard. A large net can take several hours to wrestle aboard.’ …

“Ms. Crowley has recruited a cadre of volunteers with a gentle inexhaustibility.

“ ‘As someone who loves the ocean and has had the pleasure and honor of spending lots of time in the ocean,’ she says, ‘it’s my responsibility to not have the health of our ocean held hostage by plastic garbage.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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