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Executive Summary for June 22nd

In our weekly roundup, we report on President Trump’s new ocean order, the effect of China’s plastic recycling import ban and new protections for deep-sea corals.

Published on June 22, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Trump Revokes Obama’s Ocean Plan

Former president Barack Obama’s National Ocean Policy, a document 10 years in the making when issued in 2010, is now on the scrap heap. Donald Trump’s executive order on Tuesday replaced it with a new ocean strategy that values resource extraction over conservation and climate change adaptation, and weakens ongoing regional ocean planning efforts.

“In one stroke of the pen, we have gone from hard-earned, responsible stewardship of the ocean to short-term, reckless, blind pursuit of a buck and a vote,” Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under Obama, wrote on Twitter.

Obama’s policy had intended to bring disparate agencies and states together to cohesively manage the ocean, with a focus on conservation and sustainability. Yet Republican opponents in Congress had long criticized Obama’s strategy as bureaucratic and last week celebrated Trump’s new order.

Writing on Oceans Deeply, former Obama oceans adviser Whitley Saumweber and Roberta Elias, deputy director for ocean policy at World Wildlife Fund U.S., said that the new policy is a step in the wrong direction. They proposed that today’s conservation laws work in tandem to help the nation adapt to warming and changing oceans.

China’s Global Plastic Bailout Is Over

Increasing recycling rates will not solve the growing ocean plastic pollution crisis – especially not if China is done playing along.

Since 1992, China has imported 45 percent of the world’s plastic recycling waste. Now, with a new policy banning most plastic waste imports, that door is shut. Researchers have just published a study in the journal Science Advances estimating that by 2030 the policy will displace 111 million metric tons of plastic, the large majority of which is disposable food packaging originating in high-income countries in Europe and North America.

The study notes that some plastic may be sent elsewhere, but there is not enough infrastructure to handle such volumes. What will happen to the waste – whether it ends up in landfills or litter on the street or in the ocean – is hard to predict. Currently an estimated 4 million to 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually – perhaps a quarter of it from China’s own coasts, the study noted. Jenna Jambeck, a study author from the University of Georgia in Athens, said the calculations underscore the need for “bold new ideas and system-wide changes.”

Protection for Deep-Sea Corals in Gulf of Mexico

Fisheries managers in the United States voted to restrict the deployment of damaging fishing gear, including traps, trawls and longlines, to protect deep-sea corals over an area of nearly 1,300 square km (500 square miles) in the Gulf of Mexico.

Deep-sea corals reefs are slow-growing ecosystems that harbor unique biodiversity that is distinct from shallower areas. They also provide a breeding ground for snapper, grouper, crabs and other commercially valuable species, but are vulnerable to pollution and climate change.

The plan, approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council after public hearings and comments, now awaits approval by the federal government. The council designated 21 sites – named Habitat Areas of Particular Concern – but, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, 47 coral “hot spots” have so far been identified. The group said it hopes protective plans can eventually cover all of them. The government is also now considering expanding the Gulf’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to further protect deep-sea corals.

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