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Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA permit
By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer
On Tuesday, as the new First Family entered the White House, another new family was spotted in Georgia, and it has marine advocates just as excited. NOAA fisheries announced the thirteenth spotting of the season of an endangered North Atlantic right whale calf off the coast of Georgia. The calf, seen accompanied by its mother, is her first. With two months still left in calving season, experts are hopeful that the number of new calves this year will exceed expectations.
Why This Matters: The North Atlantic right whale was listed as endangered in 1970 and deaths have been outpacing births since 2010. 200 right whales died in the last ten years, almost entirely because of entanglements in commercial fishing ropes and vessel strikes. Since 2017, right whales have been experiencing what is classified as an “Unusual Mortality” event, with 32 deaths and 14 mortal injuries in the last 3 years alone. In that same timeframe, only 22 right whale calves were spotted. This resurgence offers newfound hope to advocacy groups like the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Defenders of Wildlife, but there are only 70 estimated female right whales left.
In 2020, two newborn calves were killed by vessel strikes. “Right whales face a daily gauntlet of fishing ropes and speeding vessels, which together have caused the deaths of more than 200 right whales in the last decade alone,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “We’re killing right whales far faster than they can reproduce. Unless we move quickly to abate these threats, we’re running out of time to save the species from extinction.”
NOAA previously passed protections for the North Atlantic right whale, limiting ship speeds in waters off the coast of New England and Long Island, NY. But the agency allowed those protections to expire, prompting Defenders of Wildlife to file a lawsuit challenging the agency’s failure to expand slowdown zones. But NOAA isn’t the only federal actor who has failed the whales.
Despite being protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Trump administration ignored warnings from NOAA in order to continue to perform seismic surveys in the species’ territory. On the opposite side of the country, the Trump administration expanded naval training drills in the Pacific, home to the North Atlantic right whale’s cousin, the North Pacific right whale. Trump also rolled back protections for many other species during his term, only furthering rapid biodiversity loss experts are now calling the next “mass extinction” event.
While these births are cause for celebration, they’re a sobering reminder of what could be lost if humans don’t clean up their act. Advocates like Davenport don’t plan on relaxing anytime soon. “While these births are an encouraging sign, the continued threats underscore that we still have to redouble our efforts to protect these vulnerable babies and their mothers,” she said.
Ten years after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, the Japanese government announced that it will release treated radioactive water from the destroyed plant into the ocean beginning in 2023. The decision to dump more than 1 million metric tons of contaminated water into the Pacific ocean has upset local fishers and surrounding countries.
Why This Matters: A decade after a 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the decision to release water into the ocean is just one part of the prolonged decommissioning of the plant.
Hundreds of citizens will fan out across the nation’s capital next week to meet with lawmakers in what’s projected to be the largest ocean lobby effort in US history. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they will meet with Biden administration officials, federal agencies, and members of Congress for a nonpartisan Ocean Climate Action Hill Day.
Why It Matters: As the Biden administration and the Congress begin to debate what’s infrastructure and therefore within the American Jobs Plan, the blue economy needs to be front and center in it.
The Evergiven is no longer stuck in the Suez Canal, but world shipping is hardly back to normal. In just six days, the massive container ship held up almost $60 billion in global trade. Supply chains across the world are delayed and off schedule, and the incident has economists and maritime experts across the globe reevaluating the efficacy of the current shipping economy.
Why this Matters: The pandemic has rocketed demand for goods (and vaccines) to all-time highs, but bottlenecks at many major ports and slow shipping speed could slow the global economy just as it begins to recover from COVID-19.
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