While many were being inspired by the excellent ocean events in D.C. as part of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW), I was being inspired in a different way by the ocean activities of several COL member institutions and associates in British Columbia and Alaska (including Ocean Networks Canada, the Alaska Ocean Observing System, the North Pacific Research Board, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks). The exceptional work being performed at these organizations is impressive, to say the least. I believe establishments such as these, working through initiatives and partnerships with members of our consortium and beyond, are a necessity to increase our capability and capacity to observe and better understand the complex dynamics of our changing ocean (an undertaking that faces significant hurdles related to technical feasibility and cost). Thank you for your selfless dedication to a larger mission of ocean research and education.
The ocean perspective in the state of Alaska is particularly interesting and compelling, as it may well represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of challenges driven by rapidly-changing ocean characteristics amid economic, technological, industrial, and social change. With a total population of just under 750,000 (many of whom reside in deeply rural communities) Alaska has roughly a third of the U.S. coastline, is responsible for around 60% of total seafood produced in the U.S., and has extensive offshore petroleum resources (including those in the Arctic). This great frontier state faces significant economic concerns associated with the global oil market and fishery declines that are not dissimilar from other states and regions in the U.S. and around the world. However, these concerns are perhaps more intense given the population, social dynamics, and logistical difficulties related to its remoteness and its association with the most rapidly changing ocean region on our planet – the Arctic.
I believe Alaska is also at the forefront of embracing new economic opportunities in maritime industry and resources. It is a gateway to the opening Arctic, a geometric nexus for access to polar orbiting satellites, and a node for a future undersea trans-Arctic fiber-optic cable. Combining these new opportunities with the willingness and ability to sustainably access traditional energy and seafood products presents a glimpse into what may be the shining “northern light” example for the rest of our nation and planet.
One example of efforts by our members that inspires optimism for Alaska and our overall ocean interests is work by Esri. At CHOW, Esri was awarded the first-ever Conservation Innovation Award, which is presented to a company or foundation whose support of “science, exploration, policy-making, advocacy, and/or innovative partnerships” has contributed to the conservation of the ocean and Great Lakes. I ask you to join me in saluting Esri and committing to bring our collective intellectual and advocative resources to bear on these challenges and opportunities for Alaska and its neighboring ocean communities around the world.
RADM Jonathan W. White, USN (ret.)
President and CEO
Consortium for Ocean Leadership
Toxic Mercury Levels Are Actually Declining In Alaskan Polar Bears—But That’s Not As Great As It Sounds
In a recent study in Polar Research, scientists at the University of Connecticut and the United States Geological Survey found that mercury levels measured in Southern Beaufort polar bears’ hair have actually declined significantly in recent years, particularly in male polar bears. Surprisingly, despite worries about increasing pollution, mercury levels dropped by about 13 percent per year in samples collected from 2004 to 2011. At first glance, this is promising; after all, mercury is toxic and can cause problems in the brain, kidney, liver, and immune system. And since mercury is found in power plant emissions, man-made pollution has been causing spikes in environmental levels. But don’t get too excited—these declines are not necessarily due to environmental clean-up.