NOS Assistant Administrator Weekly Update
Did you know that the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary leads a multi-agency, community-based effort to disentangle humpback whales from derelict fishing gear? On Friday, January 12, 2018, an entangled adult humpback whale was freed by a team of trained responders off Makena Beach, Maui. The animal was trailing more than 285 feet of braided fishing line from its mouth. All gear was successfully removed and recovered.
The Sanctuary and its partners are often called upon to free humpback whales from life-threatening entanglements. In late December, trained rescuers removed more than 340 feet of heavy gauge line from another humpback whale, including 55 feet of line in its mouth. The sanctuary and its partners have freed 25 large whales over the past 14 years, and, in the process, removed nearly 11,000 feet of derelict fishing gear and marine debris from Hawaiian waters.
Disentanglement can be a painstaking and dangerous process. Rescuers start by attaching buoy floats to the gear entangling the animal. The buoys slow the whale down and generally tire it out. The desired result is a whale that is more approachable, allowing rescuers to more safely assess both the animal and the entanglement, and then attempt to free the animal of all entangling gear. Specially designed hooked knives on the ends of poles are used to cut the whale free.
In carrying out this mission, the sanctuary works with NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Coast Guard, the State of Hawaii, and the local community. Learn more about the Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network.
Congratulations to NOAA’s team of experts for its work protecting humpback whales!
W. Russell Callender, Ph.D.
Ocean Services and Coastal Zone Management,
National Ocean Service
Geodesy: The invisible backbone of navigation
A Global Perspective on Declining Oxygen in the World Ocean
An international team of scientists, funded in part by NCCOS, published an article in the January 2018 issue of the journal Science that is the first to take a global perspective on the causes of, consequences of, and solutions for low oxygen in the oceans. Since 1950, ocean areas with no dissolved oxygen have increased fourfold, and areas with low oxygen have increased tenfold. The team recommends three strategies to tackle the problem: address the causes (nutrient pollution and climate change); protect vulnerable marine life; and improve low-oxygen tracking worldwide. As proof that local action can have a positive effect, the researchers point to the ongoing recovery of Chesapeake Bay, where nitrogen pollution has dropped 24 percent since its peak due to better sewage treatment and improved farming practices. While some low-oxygen zones persist, the no-oxygen portion of the bay has almost disappeared.
NOAA Supports Tribal Effort to Remove Abandoned and Derelict Vessels
The Makah Tribe of Washington successfully removed three abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) from the Makah Marina in Neah Bay. The wooden-hulled fishing boats were deteriorating into a debris field and contaminating a larger area of the marina. The removal eliminated the threat to navigation posed by the sunken vessels in the busy marina, and mitigated further harm to the local environment. The marine salvage firm Pacific Pile and Marine was contracted to remove the vessels, while tribal staff experienced in vessel removal provided oversight, coordination, and project management. A NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant made the effort possible. MDP created an ADV fact sheet to inform people about this global problem.
Introducing New Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System
CO-OPS and OCS worked in partnership to unveil a new Gulf of Maine coastal conditions forecast system. The new operational forecast system (OFS) provides users with forecast guidance on water levels, currents, water temperature, and salinity. The model forecasts conditions out to 72 hours, which promotes safe navigation by helping mariners better plan their transits and preventing accidents. The information can also be used for coastal management, ecosystem restoration and protection, harmful algal bloom forecasting, and emergency response. The model is the result of more than three years of collaborative development, testing, and operational implementation between OCS and CO-OPS, and expands the coverage of coastal and Great Lakes OFSs across the nation. Implemented in ports, harbors, estuaries, Great Lakes, and coastal waters, these systems form a nationwide structure for real-time data, tidal predictions, data management, and operational modeling.
Promoting Responsible Coral Reef Etiquette in the Florida Keys
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation established the Blue Star Program to recognize dive and snorkel businesses that promote responsible and sustainable practices. The 25 businesses that voluntarily participate in the program train their staffs on the importance of coral reef ecosystems, diving and snorkeling etiquette, and sanctuary rules and regulations. The operators, in turn, conduct on-board educational briefings with clients about coral reef ecosystems and how to practice responsible reef etiquette. Clients who dive with Blue Star operators are 2.5 times less likely to impact the reef as compared to those who dive with other operators. Proprietors acknowledge that a healthy reef attracts visitors, and that reef-friendly business practices are part of the solution to protecting the Keys’ natural and cultural resources.
Canadian Geodetic Survey Representatives Visit NOAA
Representatives from the Canadian Geodetic Survey (CGS) visited NOAA to discuss logistics associated with the replacement of U.S. reference frames (datums) in 2022. NGS has worked with its Canadian counterpart for more than 20 years to ensure that consistent reference frames are maintained across the two nations. NGS and CGS discussed coordination of International Global Navigation Satellite System Service activities in North America, maintenance of the Canadian equivalent to the U.S. North American Datum of 1983, and logistics associated with updating the International Great Lakes Datum of 1985 once the 2022 North American-Pacific Geopotential Datum is implemented.
Esteemed Scientific Journal Focuses on Research Reserves
The January 2018 issue of Estuaries and Coasts, a scientific journal with broad international readership, focused heavily on research and monitoring conducted within the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) System. The cover featured a coastal marsh in New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau NERR, and seven papers in the issue were authored by reserve staff members. Among the articles were an analysis of marsh vulnerability to climate change; an evaluation of the performance of wetland restoration projects using the reserves as reference sites; and a study of the effects of hypoxia on fish survival and oyster growth. Publication in the journal is expected to increase visibility of the research reserves and the scientific research that NOAA supports.