Orca Protection Act revived in state legislature

February 27, 2018

The proposed Orca Protection Act, which was declared dead last week in the Washington State Senate, has sprung back to life with the addition of a budget provision that offers a new chance of passage.

The newly resuscitated bill, approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is nearly identical to the original bill, which includes special protections for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. If approved by both houses, the legislation would impose new restrictions on boaters and drone pilots, increase on-water patrols by state law-enforcement officers and support studies regarding what people can do to save the whales.

The original legislation died on Feb. 14 when the Senate failed to approve it before a deadline passed for bills that had no budget impact, as I described in Water Ways last Saturday. The bill was revived this week when its sponsor, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, used a procedural maneuver to add a new budget provision.

Specifically, Ranker proposed a $5 increase in the cost of special vehicle license plates that depict endangered species, including orcas. The extra money would be used by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for marine patrols and other orca-related activities.

As a result of Ranker’s maneuver, the original bill, SB 6268, will get a new bill number, SB 5886, which is a bill originally submitted by Ranker in March 2017 with no text. A wholesale amendment on Thursday planted the text of the Orca Protection Act into SB 5886, which still carries the title “Relating to natural resources.”

Dave Pringle, Democratic policy analyst who works closely with Ranker, told me that the senator heard support for the maneuver from fellow legislators who wanted a chance to vote on the bill. Ranker expects it to pass the Senate with strong support from fellow Democrats as well as a number of Republicans. Action on the Senate floor could come next week, when the bill would move on to the House.

The bill describes the 76 Southern Resident orcas as “critically endangered” with a population falling to a 36-year low. The whales are important to the ecosystem and to the culture of Washington tribes. The Southern Residents also provide the foundation of a $60-million tourist industry, according to the bill.

The legislation calls for at least 100 law-enforcement patrols during whale-watching season. Remotely controlled aircraft, known as drones, would not be allowed to come within 200 yards of any Southern Resident orca — which is the same limitation for vessels under existing law. The bill also would require vessels to slow to 7 knots within 400 yards of a whale. Current law has no speed limit.

The revised bill adds an exception from the requirements for distance and speed when vessel operators cannot tell that they are too close to the whales because of fog, rain or other weather conditions.

The bill also would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to make recommendations about what further actions could be taken by the Legislature and state agencies to help restore the orca population. It also calls for meetings and collaborations with wildlife officials in British Columbia to discuss protecting and restoring the orcas.

Source: king5.com

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Puget Sound orcas again sighted in outer coast waters

February 20, 2018

Members of the L pod of Southern Resident Killer Whales were observed off the south Washington coast near Westport on Feb. 13, according to Greg Schorr, a research biologist with the nonprofit Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research.

L pod is one of three groups of orcas that inhabit Puget Sound for much of the year. Research in recent years has shown that the L and K pods each spend an extended period each winter hunting for Chinook salmon off the West Coast, with their efforts often focused around the mouth of the Columbia River. Long Beach Peninsula residents see them with some frequency from the southwestern section of Discovery Trail during the late winter through much of the spring.

Writing on the Orca Network website, Schorr said, “On Feb. 13, researchers from Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research, in collaboration with Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Cascadia Research Collective and the U.S. Navy, conducted a small boat survey out of Westport, WA for Southern Resident killer whales. Weather conditions were excellent, and members of L pod were encountered north of Grays Harbor, WA during the latter part of a 91-nautical-mile survey effort.”

The scientists took identification photos and made an effort to collect prey remains and fecal matter, but no samples were obtained. Additional surveys are planned throughout the winter and spring, when permitted by the weather and logistical constraints.

The extent to which the famous Puget Sound orcas utilize the outer coast was under-appreciated until a series of satellite-tracking experiments that concluded in 2016.

“We have suspended tagging indefinitely after the potential tagging-related mortality of L95 in 2016. We never envisioned tagging as a long-term methodology and the data we gained over the past few years has been extremely informative and is sufficient for our needs at this time,” Brad Hansen, who leads NOAA’s West Coast orca-research efforts, said Tuesday. L95, a member of the L pod, died after a tagging wound became infected.

That tracking effort showed orcas often ranging quickly down to Northern California waters before turning back north to intercept Chinook runs in the Columbia River plume.

Source: Chinook Observer.com

Orca bill sinks in state Senate

February 18, 2018

State legislation that would increase protection for Puget Sound’s killer whales died this week amid confusing action on the Senate floor.

Now, orca advocates are pushing a narrower bill approved by the House to limit remote-controlled aircraft around whales, while they also hope for a $3-million budget appropriation to support other orca protection measures.

Whether people should be allowed to fly a drone around the endangered Southern Resident orcas seems to be the issue stirring up the most attention in the Legislature — although it is a small part of the overall effort.

Current law prohibits a “vessel or other object” from approaching the Southern Residents closer than 200 yards. Using that language, state fisheries enforcement officers have issued at least two citations to people flying their drones over orcas in the San Juan Islands, according to Sgt. Russ Mullins of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In one case filed in 2015, a Mercer Island photographer appealed the citation, saying the law does not apply to drones. The prosecutor in San Juan County eventually dropped the case while requesting a legal clarification from the state Attorney General’s Office.

The opinion from the AG’s Office says the 200-yard limitation for “other objects” should apply to drones flying over the killer whales. The final word, however, would need to come from a judge in a state court.

To eliminate any confusion, Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, last year introduced a bill that would prohibit “unmanned aerial systems” from approaching orcas closer than 200 yards in any direction. The one exception would be if the drone inadvertently flies over the whales while traveling to an unrelated destination.

“My intention is to keep drones away from an icon of our state and to prevent the almost harassment, as some people in my district feel, of our orca whales,” Rep. Lytton testified after submitting her bill.

The concern is not so much about one or two drones, although any could crash and harm a whale, Sgt. Mullins told me. But if the rules do not keep drones away from the whales, it will be only a matter of time before lots and lots of whale watchers bring their drones out to photograph the orcas up close while watching from a boat.

“There is already enough drama and confusion out there,” he said. “We don’t need someone driving his boat as well as his drone around these whales.”

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, said they would prefer to broaden the legislation to keep drones from operating around any threatened and endangered species. But no changes have been made so far, perhaps because the specific law being revised is focused entirely on the protection of killer whales.

The bill to protect orcas from drones passed the House last week on a vote of 67 to 31, with all Democrats in support of the legislation along with about a third of the House Republicans.

In the Senate, Democrats decided to take a broader approach to the issue of orca protection. Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced a bill to complement Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed orca protection and restoration initiative.

The legislation, SB 6268, would more than double the number of marine patrols around the orcas, essentially protecting the animals from aggressive boaters and drone operators anytime the whales are in Puget Sound. Studies have shown that the mere presence of patrol boats leads to greater compliance with the rules, which are designed to allow the whales to find food more easily and to engage in more normal social interactions. The patrols also serve to educate boaters about how to act around the whales.

The cost for the nearly full-time patrols is estimated at about $475,000 per year. If the patrols help save the whales from extinction, it would allow a continuation of the multi-million-dollar tourism industry, not to mention the ecological importance of orcas and the joy that people experience when seeing whales.

Other provisions of the bill would require boaters to slow down to 7 knots anytime they come within 400 yards of a Southern Resident orca. Also included are proposed studies to see how human-generated noise affects the orcas, along with at least one meeting to better coordinate protection and recovery strategies between Washington state and British Columbia in Canada.

The Senate bill appeared to be sailing through the Legislature until Wednesday — the last day to approve bills that originated in the Senate. Democrats were anxious about approving two bills before the end of the day — one dealing with student debt and the other with basic education funding. They thought the so-called Orca Protection Act would be approved with barely a bump in the road.

The first amendment offered to the orca bill was the “ominously numbered amendment 666,” as Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib dubbed it while calling on the amendment’s author, Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. The hostile amendment would remove any prohibition against using drones around killer whales.

“The orcas are a really a big tourism attraction in the Puget Sound,” Honeyford told the chamber. “This would allow those tourists who have unmanned aircraft or drones or whatever you want to call them to be able to fly them. They are electric, and they are quiet, and they can take pictures. I believe it would be a great increase in tourism.”

With an eye toward the clock, the Democrats decided not to fight the amendment. They knew that the House bill was coming later to deal with drones, and they apparently hoped to get quick approval of the Orca Protection Act. After all, everyone was still speaking in favor of it.

The Democrats were talking fast. But Republicans along with Sen. Tim Sheldon, a right-leaning Democrat from Hoodsport, appeared to be taking their time. Democrats finally gave up and pulled the bill, essentially killing it for this year.

The original bill to limit drones around the orcas, which originated in the House, is still alive after House passage. It is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 20 by the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology.

Some aspects of the Senate bill, such as the extra patrols around the orcas, could be implemented through the budget, according to Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The House bill is titled, “Concerning the use of unmanned aerial systems near certain protected marine species.” That title does not leave much leeway to resuscitate the Senate bill by heavily amending the House bill, Sen. Rolfes told me.

Still, other efforts to protect the orcas could be accomplished with legislative funding of Gov. Inslee’s Southern Resident killer whale recovery program. He is seeking $3 million from the general fund for the next two years.

The governor’s proposal goes well beyond the idea of extra patrols around the whales. Included is increased hatchery production of chinook salmon, the orcas’ primary food; restoration of chinook salmon habitat in streams and estuaries; and steps to reduce seal and sea lion predation on chinook, which are also on the Endangered Species List.

Inslee’s budget proposal also calls for developing oil spill plans to help the orcas in an emergency, since many experts believe that an oil spill could drive the whales to extinction faster than any other problem they face.

“Funding orca recovery is an urgent issue that cannot wait another legislative session,” said Mindy Roberts, director of People for Puget Sound, a division of Washington Environmental Council. “Our region knows all too well the pressures the orcas face. They are starving because they don’t have enough salmon to feed on; toxics in their bodies are released when they go hungry; and vessels are interfering with their abilities to feed and communicate.”

As she told me in an email, “We will be looking for ways to provide emergency funding for short-term solutions identified in the bills that died and in the governor’s budget proposal.”

Source: Kitsap Sun.com

AWI’S DR. NAOMI ROSE, OTHER EXPERTS FILE AMICUS BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF LOLITA

February 14, 2018

A group of marine researchers and scientists, including Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) marine mammal scientist Dr. Naomi Rose, filed an amicus brief today in defense of Lolita, the lone orca who has languished for over 45 years at the Miami Seaquarium. Specifically, the amicus brief supports a petition for a rehearing at the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which recently affirmed a lower court finding that the substandard conditions under which Lolita is held do not pose a threat of serious harm to her.

In July 2015, a coalition of animal welfare organizations filed a lawsuitagainst the Miami Seaquarium, contending that the facility’s holding of Lolita constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act. In June 2016, a judge dismissed the case, establishing that captive conditions must be “gravely threatening to the survival” of an animal—which the coalition and supporters felt was an erroneous standard. A month later, in July 2016, the coalition filed an appeal of the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

As part of its ruling last month, which affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit, the court of appeals concluded that, although the district court applied an improper standard, the evidence in the case did not support a conclusion that Lolita’s conditions posed a threat of “serious” harm to Lolita. The amicus brief, submitted by Dr. Rose, Dr. Joan Gonzalvo, Kathy Hessler, Dr. Lori Marino, Sandro Mazzariol, Dr. Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Alison Rieser, and the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative of Lewis & Clark Law School, argues that Miami Seaquarium’s conditions do pose a serious threat to Lolita and the rehearing petition should be granted. The main points made in the brief are as follows:

  • The presented evidence of Lolita’s injuries must be viewed holistically. Any one injury or condition might not seem serious, but together the injuries have a cumulative impact and may act synergistically to make things even worse for her.
  • Lolita’s injuries are not isolated and passing incidents, but rather chronic and persistent.
  • Because orcas are highly intelligent and very socially complex, any conditions that cause injury or behavioral abnormalities—including holding a member of a social species alone—must be viewed as much more harmful.

”In May 2015, captive Southern Resident killer whales were recognized as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which led to the original lawsuit under that statute seeking to help Lolita. AWI hoped that this listing would mean the beginning of the end of her suffering,” stated Dr. Rose. “We were dismayed when the lower court unfairly dismissed the case that sought to remove her from that horrible, tiny tank she languishes in. We hope this amicus brief helps undo that error.”

Click here to view the amicus brief in full.

Source: awi online.org

Spotlight on the Southern Resident Killer Whale—An Interview with NOAA Fisheries Biologist Lynne Barre

February 13, 2018

Watch this video to find out more about Southern Resident killer whales, the threats they face, and how we are studying them from a NOAA biologist.

The endangered Southern Resident killer whale is an icon of the Pacific Northwest and inspires widespread public interest, curiosity, and awe around the globe. Unfortunately, their population level is the lowest we have seen it in several decades. 

Beginning in the late 1960s, a live-capture fishery removed nearly 50 whales for display at marine parks and resulted in an immediate steep decline in the population. Live captures of this population ended in the early 1970s, and since that time the population has gone through several periods of growth and decline.

Threats

  • Scarce supply of their preferred food—Chinook salmon.
  • Noise and overcrowding from boat traffic.
  • High levels of contaminants.

How NOAA is Helping

We study how these threats are affecting the whales. Our research informs conservation and management actions to address those threats. We use:

  • Passive acoustic monitors in the environment to understand how the whales are using their habitat.
  • Digital acoustic tags to learn more about their behavior, such as how they are diving and responding to sound, and how, in turn, that might affect their ability to find food.
  • Aerial drones to take photos of the whales to look at body condition, to see if they are getting enough to eat, and if any whales are pregnant. 

We also collect scales and tissue from the prey that they’re eating, and get breath samples to understand pathogens that might be causing disease for the whales. We collect killer whale poop to learn more about what the whales are eating, which yields a wealth of information on the genetics of the salmon, individual whales,  hormones, and contaminants.

Future Conservation Actions

  • Increasing critical prey for the whales. 
  • Focusing on whale health.
  • Working to understanding what’s causing problems with their health and reproduction.

Source: Fisheries.NOAA.gov

OUT OF ORCA Thomas Cook stops promoting SeaWorld online following animal rights protests

February 7, 2018

The decision comes after animal rights group PETA put pressure on the holiday firm, which resulted in 22,000 people sending in emails in agreement

TRAVEL company Thomas Cook has agreed to stop promoting SeaWorld online after months of protests.

Animal rights group PETA’s campaign for the company to stop advertising included 22,000 emails from supporters.

But PETA is calling for more action from Thomas Cook, urging them to stop sales to the SeaWorld marine park entirely.

The animal rights group disagrees with SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas and other animals.

The park faced accusations of cruelty last August after an ex-trainer made allegations against it over the way whales are treated after one called Kasatka had to be put down.

Her former trainer, John Hargrove, left the marine park in 2012 after 14 years caring for the whales and became a whistleblower.

He told the Mail On Sunday: “What continues to go on in parks like SeaWorld is an abomination.

“They claim captive orcas help educate people, and for years I bought into it. But Kasatka lived in misery, in barbaric and horrific conditions, and died in agony.”

Hargrove wrote a best-selling book on his experience at SeaWorld and was a central figure in the award-winning documentary Blackfish.
The 2013 film detailed the suffering of the animals at the marine park and caused the company’s shares and tickets sales to plummet.

And last April SeaWorld announced that the birth of a killer whale at its parks would be its last.

In a statement at the time, the theme park said: “Although this will be the last opportunity for SeaWorld guests to see a baby killer whale up close as it grows and matures, SeaWorld will continue to care for the orcas at its parks for decades to come.”

A rep for Thomas Cook told Sun Online Travel: “We have taken steps to remove promotional content for all animal excursions, in line with our animal welfare policy.

“This includes adverts, social media promotional campaigns and blog content across our websites and social media channels.”

A SeaWorld spokesperson said: “SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment remains committed to operating at the highest animal welfare standards and tickets to our parks continue to be sold by Thomas Cook.

“All of our SeaWorld parks are accredited and certified by several of the world’s foremost zoological bodies including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA) and the American Humane Association.”

Source: The Sun.co.uk

Animal rights group PETA bought stock in Thomas Cook so it could lobby the firm to cut ties with SeaWorld

February 6, 2018

  • Animal rights activists invested in travel company Thomas Cook in a protest against its stance on SeaWorld.
  • PETA bought around £1.20 of stock to gain access to Thomas Cook’s AGM in London and lobby executives and shareholders.
  • Campaigners object to the company selling tickets to SeaWorld, which they think is cruel and inhumane in its treatment of killer whales.
  • Thomas Cook told Business Insider that animal welfare is a priority.

Animal rights group PETA has purchased stock in travel company Thomas Cook to gain entry to its AGM and lobby executives in person to stop selling tickets to SeaWorld.

PETA has long been protesting against the Florida marine park for its treatment of whales, which it says is cruel and inhumane. It also targets businesses that deal with SeaWorld, like Thomas Cook, which offers tours to the park.

The group told Business Insider that it has bought a single share in the company, valued at around £1.20 ($1.66), because it grants it entry to the annual general meeting, being held in London this Thursday.

Yvonne Taylor, a PETA campaigner, told Business Insider that she and a colleague plan to use this right to go inside the AGM in east London and ask executives directly to end ticket sales to SeaWorld, and to lobby shareholders.

Meanwhile, protesters outside are going to distribute leaflets, and pose for photos. Activists will hold gravestones and roses to mourn 41 orcas the group says died at a young age during their time in captivity at SeaWorld.

PETA is known for its eye-catching and disruptive protests, but Taylor said its actions at the AGM would have a respectful tone and will be made in a genuine spirit of engagement.

She said their lobbying has had some effect already, claiming credit for a decision by Thomas Cook over the weekend to remove references to SeaWorld from its online marketing.

However, it still offers tickets, a practice PETA wants to stop. In a statement to Business Insider, Thomas Cook said it was “puzzled” that it had been targeted despite taking some steps to improve its animal welfare standards.

A PETA spokeswoman told Business Insider: “At SeaWorld orcas are confined to tiny concrete tanks, where they’re deprived of any physical or psychological stimulation.

“These highly intelligent animals — who live in large, complex social groups and swim up to 140 miles a day in the wild — are forced to spend their days swimming in endless circles and gnawing on the bars of their tanks in frustration.”

PETA considers this an example of animal cruelty, and has called SeaWorld an “abusement park.”

In a statement to Business Insider, Thomas Cook did not directly address its relationship with SeaWorld, but defended its commitment to animal welfare. It said:

“As the first tour operator to enforce an animal welfare policy by removing animal excursions that don’t meet the standards we require from sale, Thomas Cook welcomes discussion on this important topic.

“We have been encouraged by the support we’ve received from groups like World Cetecean Alliance, however we’re puzzled by PETA’s approach.

“This appears to criticise us specifically because we’ve taken an industry-leading position. We are committed to continue to work with the industry to raise standards of animal welfare around the world.”

Three killer whales died while living at SeaWorld’s California franchises in 2017.

The theme park has since phased out its emphasis on the animals, announcing in 2015 that it would stop using them in shows at some locations and in 2016 that it would no longer breed them.

The decision doesn’t appear to be a result of animal rights protest, though. Earlier this month, the SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby slammed “small-minded arguments from activists that really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Source: Business Insider.com

Loro Parque Foundation collaborates in a study about the impact of toxic substances on the immune system in orcas

February 6, 2018

A recent study carried out in collaboration with Loro Parque Foundation concluded that contaminants, such as DDT, PCBs and persistent organic pollutants, accumulated in the seas generate together a toxic cocktail that affects the immune system of orcas to a greater extent than if the animals were exposed to the same amount of each substance separately.

The project supported by Loro Parque Foundation in 2017 aimed at investigating how toxic pollutants in the seas specifically affect the immune system of orcas. Dr. Javier Almunia, Director of Environmental Affairs of Loro Parque Foundation, explains that the novelty of this study lies in the fact that the toxic components were measured combined, which is how they are found in nature, and not individually. 

The components were selected due to the frequency of their detection in the corpses of the stranded animals in Antarctica. The scientists from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, then implemented the analysis. The study was conducted in a laboratory with the blood extractions, about half a liter each, that were taken from the orcas in the installations of OrcaOcean in Loro Parque. The blood samples were processed to separate the blood cells responsible for the immune system which were subjected to an in vitro test and then exposed to the toxic cocktail.

Dr. Almunia explains that the scientific community has knowledge about how each of these components, for example DDT, affects the immune system of orcas but there is not a lot of research done to analyze the effect produced by a combination of different toxic components. The study concludes that the combined impact is greater, i.e., various of these substances together can cause a major pathogenic effect than each individual component in a similar concentration.

The toxic agents, when combined, start to produce an effect on the immune response capacity in orcas faster than expected. It is also possible that these pollutants influence the reproductive system of the animals, as some of them are similar to hormones in structure. In fact, there is a group of resident orcas in Scotland that has not bred for years, and it is suspected that this has to do with pollution. A toxicology analysis on a female orca stranded recently showed a very high concentration of persistent organic pollutants.

As its greatest impact, this toxic cocktail can shorten the life of the animals as their immune systems are forced to fight constantly against the pathogens, which is something that has already been seen previously in dolphins. Dr. Almunia emphasizes that obviously, “it is difficult to demonstrate that pollution was a direct cause of the death of an animal as, logically, an animal dies eventually as a result of a pathology, an infection, a tumor or a parasite infestation.”

The question that the expert of Loro Parque Foundation raises is how much easier it is for a pathogen to affect the health of an animal whose immune system is depressed. Further extensive studies are needed to answer that, and that is why Loro Parque Foundation is working together with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, to identify and analyze the concentration of toxic substances in animals stranded in the Canary Islands.

Up until now, the toxicology has focused on studying each single compound, and this study supported by Loro Parque Foundation helps to bring forth a different perspective which can determine whether toxic compounds, once accumulated in an organism, interact in any particular way among themselves causing, as a result, a greater impact on the immune system in animals.

As far as the regulation and control of these toxic substances is concerned, Dr. Javier Almunia comments that the results of this study are published in the Environmental Science & Technologymagazine and are, therefore, available to the scientific community. The next step would be to deliver this information to the political level for the appropriate decisions to be made to address the matter.

Source: EIN News.com

Conservation groups intervene in lawsuit to protect killer whales and Oregon rivers and salmon

February 2, 2018

The Audubon Society of Portland, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife submitted a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by industry groups seeking to undermine protections for Oregon’s endangered salmon and the rivers they depend on for survival. This would harm endangered Southern Resident orcas, which live along the Pacific Coast and are starving for lack of their preferred prey, spring chinook salmon.

If successful, the industry lawsuit — brought by a coalition using the deceptive name “Oregonians for Floodplain Protection” — would reverse years of effort in Oregon to reform the taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The flood insurance program places people, communities and wildlife at unnecessary risk by encouraging development in flood-prone areas by providing taxpayer subsidies for insurance coverage that private companies generally see as too risky.

Floodplains provide important fish and wildlife habitat, increase flood storage capacity and protect water quality. In an age of climate change, floodplains provide critical landscape resiliency in the face of larger and more extreme flooding events.

“The tragic flooding that occurred around the country in 2017 should have been a wake-up call to all Americans that our current floodplain development policies are dangerous and unsustainable,” said Bob Sallinger, director of conservation at the Audubon Society of Portland. “However, instead of allowing Oregon to move forward with much-needed floodplain reforms, industries that benefit most from irresponsible, taxpayer-subsidized floodplain development are seeking to undermine reform efforts.”

FEMA’s program subsidizes flood insurance in flood-prone areas. Increased losses in floodplains in recent years have put the national flood insurance program more than $24 billion in debt. That number still needs to be updated to account for flooding in Houston, Puerto Rico and elsewhere in 2017. Without federal tax dollars covering the inevitable damage, most flood-zone construction would not occur.

In 2016 the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded in a “biological opinion” that the current structure of the flood insurance program in Oregon jeopardizes the continued existence of salmon, steelhead and Southern Resident orcas and adversely modifies the designated critical habitat of anadromous fish species in Oregon.

The biological opinion included a list of reforms FEMA should implement to protect those endangered species. These reforms not only benefit imperiled species, but will also reduce flood risks to people and property. The Oregon reforms set a national precedent for reforming floodplain management to better protect both people and imperiled species.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service has outlined sensible improvements to FEMA’s flood insurance program to help recover listed salmon, steelhead and orcas,” said Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The changes will protect not only listed salmon and steelhead habitat, but also people, property and American taxpayers. This industry-led lawsuit must not prevent FEMA from making the reforms necessary for sensible development within Oregon’s floodplains.”

However, the industry lawsuit argues that FEMA has no obligation to comply with the Endangered Species Act when it issues taxpayer-subsidized flood insurance to high-risk developments. In fact, FEMA has always maintained minimum eligibility requirements for communities to obtain flood insurance. Unfortunately, as currently implemented by FEMA, these requirements often facilitate dangerous and environmentally destructive development.

“This lawsuit is about greed, period,” said Ryan Shannon, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The suit’s backers want to keep building in highly hazardous flood-prone areas and they want taxpayers and endangered species to keep footing the bill.”

“We have waited long enough for FEMA to make these necessary, common-sense changes to its program,” said Daniel Rohlf, counsel at Earthrise Law Center. “Now it is time to move forward and ensure that FEMA works with Oregon’s municipalities to manage floodplain development to protect salmon and strengthen our communities.”

Background

Under the program, FEMA identified 251 communities in Oregon that are flood-prone. These communities have experienced damaging floods in 41 of the past 53 years and since 1995, there have been 12 flood-related presidential disaster declarations in Oregon. Since 1978, Oregon has had 5,299 flood claims under the program totaling more than $91 million — costs that were directly borne by taxpayers. Oregon currently has more than 31,600 flood insurance policies in place totaling more than $7.5 billion dollars.

The Fisheries Service’s biological opinion recommends a series of changes to the NFIP in Oregon in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act and ensure that the NFIP program does not push listed salmon, steelhead and orca closer to the brink of extinction. These guidelines will not prevent floodplain development altogether, but it will provide incentives to local jurisdictions to put in place long overdue protections to reduce unwise floodplain development and ensure that impacts are mitigated when construction does take place in floodplains.

Source: San Juan Islander.com

SeaWorld and OCEARCH Join Forces to Bring Travellers Closer to Marine Life

February 2, 2018

SeaWorld Entertainment and OCEARCH, a leader in generating marine life scientific data, have partnered to make their research data available to both the scientific community and the general public for the first time ever. The partnership will bring everyday people closer to the water by sharing real-time data, content, and park experiences.

In an effort to promote global conservation and educate the public, OCEARCH is gathering data that did not exist previously. The research that is collected from expeditions is the first of its kind and is shared freely with the public allowing everyone to learn from the data collected. Users can learn about rescued animals, read their stories and follow their tracks in almost real time as they are given a second chance at life.

Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader said “Together, OCEARCH and SeaWorld will focus on bringing everyday people closer to the ocean to increase understanding of how to better protect marine animals and habitats. We are committed to providing open-sourced, real-time data and content, allowing anyone to follow our findings – from classrooms to researchers and experts.”

The most popular way for travelers to experience this is through the Global Shark Tracker where people can follow great white sharks, as well as the rescued and returned animals that rehabilitate in SeaWorld’s care.

SeaWorld veterinarians, scientists and researchers will participate in on-board missions with the OCEARCH team, sharing and collaborating knowledge and experience. A big focus of the partnership will be on education – co-development of content that will educate students, while inspiring the next generation of explorers, scientists, and stewards of the ocean.

Source: Travel Pulse.com