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Executive Summary for March 2nd

In our weekly summary, we report on new marine protected areas in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, some sad news for endangered North Atlantic right whales and a new study that calculates the millions of dollars saved when beaches are clean.

Published on March 2, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Innovative Marine Protections for Ocean Islands

February was a big month for island marine conservation, with large reserves established off Easter Island in the Pacific and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

This week, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile signed a law protecting an area of ocean about 1.5 times the size of the country itself, broken into three regions. The largest new region protected, one of the biggest in the world, is the Rapa Nui Marine Protected Area (MPA) surrounding the remote Easter Island.

The Chilean government initially announced the marine park in 2017 after 73 percent of the island’s residents voted in favor of it. To garner support, the government banned industrial fishing, mining and other extractive activities but allows the local, largely Indigenous population to continue fishing from small boats. According to the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, it will be one of the few MPAs in the world in which Indigenous people had a say in establishing its design.

The announcement followed another innovative marine protection plan announced in late February surrounding Seychelles. It involved a financing model called a debt swap, a first for marine protection, although it has been used in other kinds of conservation. With the help of private and foundation financing brokered by the Nature Conservancy, the project converts up to $22 million of the nation’s debt into investments in marine conservation that will offer varying levels of protection of up to one-third of Seychelles’ waters.

No Babies for Endangered Right Whales This Year

As the breeding season for North Atlantic right whales winds downs, biologists who track the highly endangered species are disturbed that they have yet to discover any calves this year.

Populations of right whales have been in steep decline, with only five calves born in 2017, and scientists worry the species could become extinct within the next few decades. Barb Zoodsma, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Boston Globe that no calves this year is a “worst-case scenario.”

In the last 20 years, the highest number of calves born in a breeding season was 39 in 2009, according to the Boston Globe. Today, fewer than 500 right whales remain, and at least 17 have been found dead within the last year, killed largely by fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes.

According to a November study, as the ocean warms whales have been feeding further north than they used to, likely following prey that prefer cold waters. But these areas, off the coast of Canada, lack policies to protect the whales because they had not appeared there in large numbers in the past. In late 2017, after the deadly year for the right whales, Canada held a meeting to discuss taking urgent protective actions.

Study: Beach Cleanups Boost Local Economies

It is intuitive that clean beaches attract beachgoers, but Ohio State University researcher Tim Haab says he has conducted the first study to examine their behavior and put a dollar figure on the return from picking up oceanside trash.

For a study published in the journal Marine Resource Economics, researchers collected data on debris at 31 beaches in Orange County, California, and combined that with mailed surveys that 1,436 randomly selected people completed about their beach trips. Two-thirds of respondents ranked the absence of trash and good water quality as more important than scenic beauty or convenient parking.

This data, collected in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program, allowed the researchers to create a model that estimated the influence of litter on people’s choices to travel and spend more to visit more distant beaches. They concluded that cleaning beaches would save Orange County residents an estimated $30 million to $47 million in one summer, depending on the level of cleanup conducted.

“A lot of work has been done to quantify the physical costs of ocean debris, but until now we haven’t been able to quantify the economic benefit of cleaning up the beaches and preventing the problem in the first place,” Haab said in a press release.

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