While 2014 had its setbacks – the increase of Greenland's whaling quota, the critical status of yellow fin tuna and BA's refusal to drop its partnership with Sea World – the year brought us all kinds of positive developments, ranging from corporations tackling unsustainable practices to successful petitions, from the setting up of vast marine reserves to heartwarming stories of enthusiastic and passionate individuals working for healthier oceans…
21 JANUARY: War on styrofoam
After learning about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the health and environmental hazards of Styrofoam, a group of 10- and 11-year-old schoolchildren (with help from a teacher) started a change.org petition to ask Dunkin’ Donuts to stop using Styrofoam cups by 22 April, 2015. What were you doing for the environment when you were 10?
6 March: Iraq reef discovery
Scientific Reports published a paper on the discovery of Iraq’s first known coral reef last year. German and Iraqi researchers founds several species of corals, sponges and stars in the reef which spans 28 square kilometres and is located in turbid waters whose temperatures range from 14 to 34°C.
8 april: ocean research
China deployed the first research ship in line with its five-year Western Pacific Ocean System (WPOS) project to study how the western Pacific Ocean affects the global climate. With roughly 1.2 billion Yuan (£124m) spent on ocean research over the last three years and another US$165 million (£105m) in funding for the WPOS programme, this is China’s biggest investment in understanding the importance of the deep seas surrounding it.
23 April: MArine Park for new caledonia
The Natural Park of the Coral Sea (also known as Le Parc naturel de la mer de Corail) was created. Located in the French territory of New Caledonia, it encompasses nearly 1.3 million square kilometres of protected waters – that’s almost twice the size of France – including the whole of New Caledonia’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, plus islands and islets managed by the local government.
14 May: Sea World attendance drops
SeaWorld highlighted a ‘record total revenue per capita’ in its first-quarter financial report, but that’s not the most interesting part. Compared with the first quarter of 2013, attendance fell 13 per cent – from nearly 3.5 million to just over 3 million – and revenue dropped by 11 per cent.
SeaWorld blamed the decline in ticket sales on ‘a shift in the timing of Easter into the second quarter of 2014, which caused a shift in the Spring Break holiday period for schools in many of the company’s key source markets’ and ‘adverse weather, particularly above average precipitation in the Florida market as well as below average temperatures in the Texas market for the first quarter of 2014’. Right!
21 May: Ocean Clean-up
Ocean Conservancy released the official figures for the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup: 5,592,491 kg of trash was collected by 648,015 volunteers from 20,058 km of coastline and 732 km of water. Whoa! The items retrieved included enough furnishings for a flat – yes, including a bed with mattress, a TV and a DVD player.
25 may: Brits say no to cetacean captivity
A survey carried out by Censuswide on behalf of responsibletravel.com and the Born Free Foundation, asked the same question at the start and end of the survey: Did Brits want to visit entertainment parks to see whales and dolphins while on holiday overseas? Of the 2,050-strong sample, 61 per cent immediately said no – 75 per cent of whom said they felt it was ‘wrong to keep whales and dolphins in small tanks’. The survey included a brief statement about whales and dolphins in captivity, then asked respondents again whether they wished to visit an overseas marine park. This time, 86 per cent of respondents took a negative stance.
9 June: Microbeads banned
Illinois became the first US state to ban microbeads by adding a section titled ‘Microbead-free waters’ to its Environmental Protection Act. The amendment will ban microbeads in personal care products by 2018 and in over-the-counter drugs by 2019. Representing manufacturers in talks, the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois agreed to work on possible solutions, citing the availability of substitute ingredients as one of the factors that led to successful negotiations.
16 June: Turtle migration record
A 53-kilogram green sea turtle named Sanjay completed a 14-day migration from the Cocos Island Marine National Park in Costa Rica, where he was tagged, to the Galapagos Marine Reserve in Ecuador. Researchers from Turtle Island Restoration Network and PRETOMA have tagged more than 100 turtles in since 2009 in an effort to understand sea turtles’ migratory patterns and their use of marine protected areas, but Sanjay was the first to move from Cocos Island to the Galapagos.
16 June: No more fishing in kiribati
Commercial fishing will be banned in Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) effective 2015, announced President Anote Tong at the Our Ocean conference in Washington. Spanning nearly 410,000 square kilometres, PIPA is among the world’s biggest marine protected areas, as well as one of the Pacific’s most pristine reef archipelagos.
7 July: pilot whales refloated
About 100 locals came together to rescue a pod of pilot whales that were live stranded in Donegal, Ireland. Four didn’t make it, but nine were refloated. The community used ropes to pull the whales from the sand into shallow waters; once the whales were in the water and slowly reviving, the locals stayed with them and guided them out to sea.
24 July: Family rescue
Finlay Meakin, 13, spotted dolphins very close to shore while on a family holiday in Lochbuie on Scotland’s Isle of Mull. He called his mother, Madge Meakin, and uncle, Simon Lane, and upon closer inspection it became apparent that the pod of 19 dolphins were beached and stressed. The family immediately came to the dolphins’ rescue, even using luggage straps to lift the heavier ones. After two hours of heroic effort, particular by Mr Lane, who carried some of the cetaceans to neck-deep waters, all 19 dolphins were able to swim back to safety.
24 July: Scottish waters protected
Scotland designated 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – 17 in Scottish territorial waters and 13 in offshore waters, which meant 20 per cent of Scotland’s seas are now protected.
31 July: Bad times for seaworld
Southwest Airlines announced that it was parting ways with Sea World after 25 years. Although the two companies, in a joint statement, cited business-related ‘shifting priorities’ as the reason for their mutual parting of ways, this development came in the wake of backlash from the documentary film ‘Blackfish’ and pressure on Southwest from activists, including a change.org petition backed by 32,467 people.
‘We are currently in a multi-year contract with SeaWorld, and we are not contemplating changes to that at this time,’ SeaWorld spokeswoman Marilee McInnis had written in January in response to the petition. ‘We are engaged with SeaWorld related to the recent concerns being raised. We are in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen.’
The petition author, Robin Merritt, told a newspaper, ‘I’d like to think they made the compassionate choice.’
SeaWorld shares took a 33 per cent nosedive after it published second-quarter sales figures and said it expected a 6 to 7 per cent decline in revenue for the full year. For the first time, SeaWorld implicitly acknowledged that business was hurt by ‘the Blackfish effect’, saying, ‘the company believes attendance in the quarter was impacted by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California’. This legislation was Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s Orca Welfare and Safety Act, which would ban the captivity of killer whales for entertainment. Inspired by Blackfish – Bloom even appeared with director Gabriela Cowperthwaite in a press conference – the bill was eventually shelved until 2015.
5 September: blue whales bounce back
Currently at 97 per cent of their historical levels, blue whale populations in California are recovering from seven decades of whaling, according a study published in Marine Mammal Science. Researchers pegged their numbers at 2,200 – just for reference, about 3,500 were hunted in the area from 1901 to 1971 – and concluded that ship strikes, while still occurring, are not an immediate threat.
1 September: ocean plastic clothes
Musician and fashion designer Pharrell Williams officially launched 'RAW for the Oceans', a collaboration between Williams’ Bionic Yarn, which recycles plastic into fabric, and Dutch clothing company G-Star. RAW for the Oceans is a denim collection specifically made from plastic retrieved from the sea. Do your jeans help reduce ocean pollution?
21 September: Drum lines dropped
The authorities in Western Australia dropped the controversial cull of sharks using baited drum lines. The chairman of the local Enivronmental Protection Panel, Dr Paul Vogel said a 'high degree of scientific uncertainty' remains about the impact the cull on great white shark populations. The programme was initiated earlier this year in response to seven fatal shark incidents which had occured off WA beaches between 2010 and 2013.
24 September: World's largest reserve
US President Barack Obama created the world’s largest marine reserve by making the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument six times bigger. The Monument now covers 1,269,094 square kilometres where commercial resource extraction, including commercial fishing, is forbidden.
6 October: Flights halted
United Airlines stopped transporting live dolphins and whales. First reported by the Cetacean News Network and confirmed by the Oceanic Preservation Society, this change in policy came after Voices of the Sea’s petition for United to become a ‘dolphin-safe airline’ garnered more than 6,000 supporters.
13 October: Seaworld takes another dive
Virgin America severed ties from SeaWorld by dropping the park from its Elevate rewards programme, which allows customers to earn travel points when they spend money at partner establishments.
17 october: £1.3m for oceans
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the brainchild of the eponymous actor and environmental activist, awarded a $2 million (£1.3 million) grant to Oceans 5 for projects to combat overfishing and establish marine reserves.
28 October: Hawaii clean-up
A team of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) specialist divers returned from a clean-up mission during which they removed a staggering 57 tons of marine debris from Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The clean-up took 17 divers more than a month to finish.
12 November: more bad news for Sea world
SeaWorld’s stocks took a 9.4 per cent plunge after the company reported a 28 percent fall in net income in the third quarter, compared with the same period last year. Blackfish continued to affect attendance and profit: from June to August – the summer period, notably – attendance was 8.4 million versus 8.9 million in the same period in 2013, and revenue was $495.8 million versus $538.4 million.
‘The Company believes the decline results from a combination of factors including negative media attention in California along with a challenging competitive environment, particularly in Florida,’ the report said. ●
Panama Jack announced it would end its partnership with SeaWorld beginning 28 February, 2015. The Orlando-based sunscreen brand, which has been selling its products at SeaWorld parks for over three decades, has already removed SeaWorld’s logo on its website.
12 November: IUNC World parks congress
On the first day of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, the Republic of Gabon announced plans to create a marine protected area covering more than 46,000 square kilometres. President Ali Bongo Ondimba said the network of marine parks will comprise about 23 per cent of its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, making Gabon the first Central African nation to establish a marine protected area network.
13 November: big win for mantas
A UN conference on the world’s migratory species agreed 31 proposals to add species to international protection including 21 species of sharks, rays and sawfish. Particularly important was the inclusion of reef mantas which are under increased threat from a new fishery targeting their gill rakers which are sold for so called traditional Chinese medicine remedies. Also covered was the Cuvier's beaked whale and Pacific loggerhead turtle.
19 november: IUNC: Promises for ocean protection
The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 concluded with ‘The Promise of Sydney’, a compendium of pledges from governments, non-profits, even individuals, to safeguard the world’s natural resources, in line with the global target to protect at least 10 per cent of oceans and 17 per cent of land by 2020. Just to name a few of the commitments concerning marine protection: Bangladesh pledged to create its first marine protected area, South Africa promised to triple ocean protection in the next decade, and Russia vowed to increase its marine protected areas by 28 per cent.
24 November: Hong Kong loses appetite
According to WWF Hong Kong, the volume of shark fins served in Hong Kong restaurants has halved. The survey of 35 Hong Kong caterers was conducted between April and September 2014 and found that the shark fin consumption volume dropped by 47 per cent in 2013 when compared to 2012.