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March 2012 Issue

EPA Signs Off on US’s Largest No-Discharge Zone Yet
The U.S. EPA signed a rule in February that approved a California proposal to ban all sewage discharges from large cruise ships and most other ocean-going ships to state waters along the West Coast from Mexico to Oregon, spanning 1,624 miles and surrounding major islands. It will be the largest federally established no-discharge zone.

The ban covers all waters within three miles off the coast and applies to cruise ships and oceangoing vessels larger than 300 tons with sewage-holding tank capacity. The new rule, signed by EPA Pacific Southwest regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld, also bans treated-sewage discharge.

Several dozen cruise ships stop at California ports annually, and almost 2,000 cargo ships made more than 9,000 port calls in 2010. The proposal began as California senate bill 771, the Clean Coast Act, authored by Sen. Joe Simitian. It required the state to petition the federal government for a “no-discharge zone” to enforce the bill.

“By approving California’s no-discharge zone, EPA will prohibit more than 20 million gallons of vessel sewage from entering the state’s coastal waters,” Blumenfeld said. “Not only will this rule help protect important marine species, it also benefits the fishing industry, marine habitats and the millions of residents and tourists who visit California beaches each year.” For more information visit www.epa.gov.


UBC Identifies Areas Where Fishing May Trump Conservation
Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have identified global conservation hot spots where commercial fishing interests outweigh conservation concerns.

The highest-risk areas are Canada’s northeastern coast, Mexico’s Pacific coast, Peru’s coast, the South Pacific (particularly offshore New Zealand), Africa’s southern and southeastern coasts and the Antarctic region. They are the most biologically and economically vulnerable to overfishing, the researchers said.

The researchers developed a conservation risk index to measure the trade-offs between commerce and conservation. It is based on the discount rates of fishers, a measure of how much a dollar of fish to be caught in the future is worth today, and the intrinsic population growth rate of target fish, which is the difference between the birth and death rate of a fish stock.

“This index is a guide for determining the appropriate conservation and fisheries management policy for each region,” William Cheung, a UBC Fisheries Centre assistant professor, said. “Biology determines whether a stock is more vulnerable to fishing, while economics determines how strong the incentive is to overfish the stock now.”

UBC Fisheries Centre director Rashid Sumaila said, “The most vulnerable areas may need to be protected with special management approaches—such as marine protected areas, while others may benefit from economic incentive instruments to better manage the ecosystems—such as territorial use rights in fisheries, or TURFs.” For more information visit science.ubc.ca.


Hawaii Receives NOAA Grant to Update Ocean Management Plan
NOAA has awarded a $250,000 grant to Hawaii’s Office of Planning Coastal Zone Management Program for strengthening its ocean resources management plan (ORMP), which promotes an integrated approach to managing the state’s marine and coastal-zone resources. The ORMP was adopted in 1994 and updated in 1998 and 2006. The grant is also for implementing the U.S. National Ocean Policy.

The plan is being evaluated and updated again through 2013 with county, state and federal governments and academic and community partners. The result will be an updated management plan that includes action activities, identification of leading and supporting entities for each activity, performance measures and implementation strategies.

Hawaii is “particularly susceptible” to climate change and coastal development, said Jesse Souki, director of the Office of Planning. “ORMP ensures that we make sustainable resource management decisions that are informed by the best available ecological, social and economic information.” For more information visit hawaii.gov.


US Polar Knowledge Up, But Not Environmental Concern
Americans’ knowledge of the polar regions has grown modestly since 2006, but this has not coincided with more concern about the region’s environmental changes, a study by the University of New Hampshire found in February.

“People’s knowledge of polar regions and issues improved from 2006 to 2010, consistent with hopes that the International Polar Year in 2007 would boost public awareness,” said researcher Lawrence Hamilton, a professor at the University of New Hampshire. “Unfortunately, we did not see a companion increase in concern about the environmental changes in these regions, due, in part, to ideological and political divisions.”

The study is the first comparative analysis of questions about the polar regions, which were part of the National Science Foundation’s 2006 and 2010 General Social Survey. The questions asked about climate change, melting ice, rising sea levels and human or ecological impacts from environmental change.

The General Social Survey includes a quiz on scientific knowledge, and the study found that science literacy did not improve from 2006 to 2010, although the average “polar knowledge score” increased from 53 to 59 percent. This is significant because people with higher science literacy tend to be more concerned about polar environmental change and prefer to reserve the Antarctic for science in­stead of commercial development.

“Among the environment-related issues, all but reserving Antarctica for science show increasing political polarization—and even support for reserving the Antarctic divides along party lines,” Hamilton said. “Polar issues, like many other topics in science, increasingly are viewed by the public through politically tinted glasses.” For more information visit www.unh.edu.


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