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Our Daily Planet: Oil Drilling Poses Risks to National Parks, Tick Check, Ashton's Gift, and our Interview and Hero of the Week
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Friday, May 25th, 2018

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Jagged granite formations of Acadia National Park, Maine.  Photo: National Park Service
Dozens of National Parks at Risk Under Trump Offshore Drilling Plan

Nearly 70 National Parks and hundreds more state and local ones could be in jeopardy of oil spills and other industrial impacts and marred views if the Trump Administration's plan for oil and gas drilling all around the country goes into effect.  According to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association published this week, these parks had more than 84 million visits last year alone, and include some of our most iconic, ecologically important and historic national parks, including Everglades, Olympic, Acadia, and the Statue of Liberty National Monument.  These parks tell our nation's story and they provide refuge for people as well as for birds, sea turtles, whales and other wildlife.

Hyperbole?  Hardly.  As E&E News reports, three previous oil spills significantly damaged national parks.
  • In 1969, a spill harmed Channel Islands National Park and contributed to the deaths of thousands of seabirds and marine mammals when a blowout spilled 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel in California;
  • In 1989, the Exxon Valdez spill dumped nearly 11 million gallons of oil along the Alaska coastline, damaging park and monument sites such as Kenai Fjords, Katmai and Aniakchak; and
  • In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill, spilled more than 171 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, contaminating hundreds of miles of beaches and ocean waters and damaging Gulf Islands National Seashore.

These spills were devastating, and the Gulf Islands National Seashore, "is still recovering today," according to Mark Wenzler, senior vice president of conservation programs with the National Parks Conservation Association.

Why This Matters:  If the Administration's offshore drilling proposal goes forward, 47 lease sales would occur from 2019 to 2024, including 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic region.  These lease sales would go forward even over the objection of local communities surrounding the parks and Governors of those impacted states from both parties.  Our national parks have a huge impact on the local economies they reside in -- the report highlights that national parks and monuments in coastal areas with potential for drilling contributed $5.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017, supporting more than 59,000 jobsAs the summer season begins, when millions of Americans will visit these coastal parks, all park supporters must speak up and let their views be known to leaders at every level.

What You Can Do: 
Join a March for the Ocean on June 9th, and wear blue on June 8th and 9th to show your support for ocean conservation. For more info on that, read our interview with David Helvarg below.


 Climate Change

Clockwise from top left: The deer tick, which transmits Lyme disease; the American dog tick, which transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia; the Culex pipiens mosquito, which transmits West Nile virus; and the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, dengue and chikungunya.
Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
It's Tick and Mosquito Season -- Beware!

The start of summer means that it's time to get outdoors!  But it also marks the season when everyone should beware of ticks and other insects that bite because the risks they pose for humans, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, West Nile virus, and Zika, are greater than ever.  A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month found that illnesses in the U.S. from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have more than tripled from 2004 to 2016, according to The Washington Post.  

There are many possible reasons for the increase in disease cases caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, tick or flea. For one thing, these insects and their associated germs are increasing in number and moving into new areas. Also, U.S. citizens traveling overseas who are bitten and infected with a mosquito-borne virus such as Zika in one country can unknowingly transport it back to the U.S. when they return. In addition, climate change, which experts say can exacerbate many public health threats, also plays an important role, according to Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, which produced the report. Peterson explained that warmer temperatures tend to make mosquitoes get infected faster and also makes them more infectious. 

Why This Matters:  These illnesses can cause serious health problems -- particularly if not caught early.  First and foremost, prevent these pests from even trying to take a nibble by using natural and effective repellants.  Now more than ever it is also important to check yourself (and your dogs) for ticks and bites after spending time outdoors. Or maybe a friend will help you -- as one of our favorite country songs suggests!  

Brad Paisley's "Ticks" points out that preventing lyme disease can be fun! 


Hurricane Season Rolling in Early to Ruin Your Memorial Day

Though hurricane season doesn't officially begin until June 1st, AccuWeather reported that confidence is growing that Tropical Storm Alberto will form this Memorial Day holiday weekend before bringing a prolonged flood threat to the southeastern United States. The system that AccuWeather meteorologists have been monitoring this week has become better organized over the Yucatan Peninsula. Even if Alberto doesn't form into a tropical storm, it will ruin holiday weekend BBQs all over the Gulf Coast with its buckets of rain.  Over the next five days, up to seven inches of rain could fall from Mississippi to Florida.

This all comes as NOAA just predicted a "near- or above-normal" season for 2018 that will deliver five to nine hurricanes in the Atlantic. Of those, one to four will develop into major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher, while the season will produce a total of 10 to 16 named storms, the agency said in its first hurricane forecast of the year.

Why This Matters: As Earther reported, And in recent years, tropical storm systems outside of hurricane season have been more common. That includes last year when the first tropical storm of the season formed in April, and 2016 when the first hurricane of the season formed in January (2016 also had a May tropical storm). Brian McNoldy, a hurricane expert at the University of Miami, shared data with Earther showing that the first named storm of the season has been getting earlier over the past 30 years


Interview of the Week: David Helvarg, Executive Director of Blue Frontier

David is a former journalist and the author of six books including Blue Frontier and 50 Ways to Save the Ocean.  He is editor of the Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide, organizer of ‘Blue Vision’ Summits for ocean activists, co-founder of the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, and winner of the 2007 Herman Melville Literary Prize.

ODP:  You have organized a March for the Ocean for June 9th in numerous cities and around the world -- what inspired these marches, and what do you hope to accomplish? 

DH:  The marches grew out of a widespread sense that we have to give voice to the ocean in a new way.  Our blue world is facing huge challenges including threats from offshore drilling and spilling, plastic pollution and rising seas caused by the burning of fossil fuels.  Our hope is that by taking our public seas into the public square we can begin to promote solutions - like a rapid transition to job-generating renewable energy - and spark national and global debate and action.
ODP:  You have been a journalist and a private investigator in your career.  What led you to ocean conservation and your organization, the Blue Frontier Campaign?  
DH:  I always loved the sea but got distracted for thirty years covering wars, epidemics, and politics; then I left that so that I could go home and bodysurf.  After I wrote my first ocean book, Blue Frontier, Ralph Nader suggested I start a group to highlight the solutions of the seaweed – marine grassroots  - people I’d profiled.  In the spirit of recycling, I named my group after the book.  We work to link all marine conservation and maritime interests in order to restore healthy seas through citizen action.
ODP:  People think of our ocean as limitless, but we know it is actually quite fragile.  What, in your view, is the biggest threat to ocean health today and what can we do about it?

DH:  The biggest challenge for us is exactly that -- people thinking our ocean is limitless.  Unfortunately, like Upton Sinclair once said, “It’s hard for a man (usually a man) to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”  Too many people are making short-term profits overfishing, drilling, polluting and acidifying our seas while denying it’s reached any limits. We have to explore and restore the Ocean with some measure of humility and grace if our communities – both human and wild – are to survive.
ODP:  June 8th is World Oceans Day -- if people are not able to participate in a March for the Ocean to show their support, what can they do in their daily lives to make a difference and help conserve the ocean?
DH:  Symbolically we’re asking everyone to Wear Blue for the Ocean on June 8 and 9.  In part, this is to acknowledge that everything we do every day has an impact on the seas around us, and vice-versa. Luckily, in writing my book, ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ I realized that when you do good for the ocean, in terms of your choices in food, energy, transportation, housing, etc. it turns out it's also good for you; for your pocketbook, your physical health or just sense of well-being.
ODP:  You have been an ocean conservation advocate for more than 15 years, what gives you hope that we can turn the tide on ocean conservation?
DH:  I’m more hopeful than despairing because we know what the solutions are -- it’s creating the political will to enact them that’s the challenge.  We need more visibility, unity, and power to grow those solutions.  That’s why we’re Marching for the Ocean on June 9.

Thanks, David!  We are looking forward to joining the March for the Ocean.  And you heard it here first, ODP readers!  Be sure to wear blue on June 8/9 to show your support wherever you are!


Ellen's Big Surprise!

Earlier this year for her 60th birthday, Ellen DeGeneres' wife Portia de Rossi gifted her a campus named in Ellen's honor at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda. Dian Fossey has been a hero of Ellen's ever since she read about Fossey's work saving gorillas in the pages of her National Geographic magazines in the 1970s. The purpose of this newly established campus will be tourism, education, and further scientific research to help carry on Fossey's legacy of saving Rwanda's gorillas. Portia also established the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund so that Ellen can better pursue the animal conservation work she holds near and dear to her heart. 

Right before Ellen was set to go on vacation to Rwanda to start building her new campus, she received another amazing surprise from her friend and neighbor Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher and his business partner, Guy Oseary, invest in technology companies and recently invested in Ripple, a currency exchange platform with a philanthropic goal. Right there on her show, they surprised her by transferring $4 million via the app to Ellen's foundation to help her expand her work. Watch the video above if you need a pick-me-up or to start your holiday weekend on a happy note! 

Why This Matters: The world can seem really ugly a lot of the time but this is a touching story about friendship and compassion (for people and animals). Plus it's a great reminder to teach your children about the natural world early on as you never know how these lessons will inspire them! 

What You Can Do: A NatGeo subscription is really affordable and makes a great gift for friends and family (especially kids) who are interested in conservation. (Monica highly recommends this as a gift and hopes it has inspired her nieces and nephews to become the next generation of Explorers!) 


Photo: Mark Sanderson
Hero of the Week: Former Army Sergeant Mark Sanderson 

Mark Sanderson is a 32-year-old army veteran who served 10 years in the army during the war in Iraq. After deploying to Standing Rock to assist #NoDAPL protesters, he founded Veterans Respond, a group connecting young veterans to environmental causes across the country.

In Sanderson's own words:

"Our number one value is environmental stewardship: We are definitely an environmentally progressive organization. Our platform is that the green energy revolution is the way forward, and not only for our country. We truly believe that it can be used to end veteran homelessness, and end veteran unemployment as well. We want it to be here now, and to put veterans to work. We don’t get involved in the political leadership of the country. But it just so happens that right now we believe the best way to serve the people of this country is to bring awareness to environmental and social justice causes."
Have a great Memorial Day weekend!  We hope that you all can get outside and enjoy the holiday with family and friends.  Find your park!  We will be back on Monday with an abbreviated holiday version of ODP.  In the meantime, we salute all our military veterans and their families, as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.  
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