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Executive Summary for May 25th

In this week’s update, we report on progress for U.S. offshore wind, a push to ban reef-harming sunscreens and new marine protections in the Philippines.

Published on May 25, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Offshore Wind Speeds Up in United States

After years of lagging far behind Europe, the United States is now making big moves to develop offshore wind capacity. This week, two states selected developers for groundbreaking commercial projects. The northeast’s commercial fishing industry, however, has concerns.

To achieve renewable goals set out in a 2016 state law, Massachusetts selected the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind proposal to be built 15 miles from Martha’s Vineyard. By 2027, the state wants to bring online 1,600 megawatts, enough to supply 11 percent of the state’s electricity demand. Rhode Island also announced this week it would award a 400 megawatt project to Deepwater Wind, the same developer that runs the nation’s only offshore wind project, a far smaller demonstration plant.

Overall, costs for building offshore turbines are coming down and pressure to generate more renewable energy – especially in New England, where there’s little suitable land for onshore projects – is growing. Other states in the region, including Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, are also working on their own plans.

However, while recreational fishers have seen a boon of more fish attracted to the nation’s only running offshore wind project near Rhode Island, the commercial industry has worried that major projects dotting the coast will put swaths of fishing area off-limits and impede ship navigation. In New York and New Jersey, a coalition forming the Fisheries Survival Fund, has filed a federal lawsuit to stop leasing plans there.

Group Urges Nationwide Ban on Reef-Harming Sunscreens

In May, Hawaii set a global precedent by banning the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals that harm coral reefs. Now an environmental group has filed a legal petition to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do the same.

Most sunscreens in use today contain two chemicals of concern: oxybenzone and octinoxate. With countless beachgoers slathering them on before entering the water, they can damage coral DNA and increasing a reef’s vulnerability to bleaching, studies have found.

The petition, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, notes that the FDA has the “legal duty” to protect corals in Florida and the U.S. Caribbean islands and urges the agency to review the issue under national environmental laws. While there are many threats to coral reefs, including climate change, pollution and disease, Center for Biological Diversity attorney Emily Jeffers said getting rid of harmful sunscreens is “something we can do right now.”

But a consumer product trade group feels the science, based mostly on laboratory studies, isn’t yet strong enough to support a ban, according to the Orlando Sun-Sentinel. In Hawaii, doctors have also opposed the ban.

Philippines Creates New Marine Protections for Vibrant Seamount Area

The Philippine government recently announced a new 3,000 square kilometer (1,160 square mile) marine protected area – a region full of corals, whales, dolphins and rays – in an area dubbed the the Benham Bank, the conservation group Oceana said.

A 2016 Oceana expedition in the area of extinct undersea volcanoes documented large predators, more than 200 species of fish and deep sea corals that could serve as refuges for resilience as oceans warm and acidify. A majority of the area will still allow limited fishing, but there will be a small region with complete protection.

The larger area of ocean, called the Philippine Rise, is controversial, serving as a point of tension between the Philippines and China. According to Oceana, the Benham Bank area’s outer section was recognized as the Philippines’ newest territory in 2012 by the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

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