Throughout the month of February, developments in conservation policy and research have brought hope to marine ecosystems and coastal communities. In this issue of the RCC Coasts and Oceans Observer, dive into stories from across the country covering efforts to conserve fish populations, challenges with sea level rise, and how communities combat climate change.

In California, a degraded estuary has rebounded thanks to an important predator. When sea otters repopulated the ecosystem, they ate marsh crabs, which consume plants that stabilize the marsh soil, slowing the rate of erosion.

Research into marine species and ecosystems has further illuminated the need for ocean conservation. Whales, beyond being important components of marine ecosystems, also play a major role in mitigating climate change. Their bodies store carbon and their movements in the ocean facilitate nutrient cycles that support the growth of photosynthetic plankton.

Ocean conservation often evokes images of whales, dolphins, and other large, majestic animals. However, smaller species that often go unnoticed are also critical to marine ecosystems. Fish like sardines and anchovies are a major food source for sea birds and other fish species. For this reason, they have recently garnered more attention from fisheries managers and environmental groups.

Recent fishing regulations in Louisiana have made strides toward protecting prey fish. This month, the state’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission expanded the no-fishing buffer zone for the industrial harvest of menhaden. This move not only protects the fish, but also the coastal communities that have faced negative environmental impacts from the menhaden fishing industry.

Maintaining the ocean’s ecosystems and ability to sequester carbon will only become more important as climate change accelerates across the globe. Rain has become much more common in the Arctic due to warming temperatures. This warming, which has led to melting ice sheets and glaciers, also contributes to global sea level rise.

Sea level rise has hit the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the U.S. Cities across the East Coast are sinking into the ocean, while piers of historical and cultural significance in California have suffered damage from higher sea levels and more intense storms.

Sea level rise on the Gulf Coast has also devastated natural ecosystems, especially in Louisiana. At the current rate of sea level rise, the state is expected to lose most of its current wetlands in the next ten to twenty years.

Rising sea levels are already displacing communities in the U.S. The Quinault Indian Nation in Washington State is trying to move inland to avoid the risks of high tide flooding and coastal storms.

Advancements in renewable energy are crucial to mitigating climate change and its impacts on coastal ecosystems. However, the development of these projects must consider the needs of the communities in which they are located. Plans for an offshore wind project in Oregon were approved without adequate input from the local Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. The proposed sites for the development include ancestral territory and important fishing sites. Without proper consultation of communities most impacted by climate change, mitigation measures stand to do more harm than good.

The news coming out of this month has shown that, although climate change has caused severe harm to our coasts, successful conservation projects and improved policy provide hope for combating these threats facing coastal communities.


Emma Brentjens - RCC National Environment Leadership Fellow (Presidential)
Emma Brentjens is the co-lead of the RCC Coasts and Oceans program. She is a Master of Environmental Management student at Duke University studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation and Community-based Environmental Management.

As Sea Otters Recolonize California Estuary, They Restore Its Degraded Geology

In the several decades since sea otters began to recolonize their former habitat in Elkhorn Slough, a salt marsh-dominated coastal estuary in central California, remarkable changes have occurred in the landscape.

Erosion of creekbanks and marsh edges in areas with large otter populations has slowed by up to 90%, at a time when rising sea levels and stronger tidal currents should be causing the opposite effect.

Whales and Carbon Sequestration: Can Whales Store Carbon?

Whales can help mitigate climate change impacts by storing carbon in their bodies and transporting nutrients that benefit ocean food chains. The ocean captures about 31 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, removing carbon from the atmosphere that would otherwise continue to trap heat and increase temperatures. Blue carbon, or carbon captured by ocean ecosystems includes: Carbon absorbed by aquatic plants, algae, and phytoplankton; Carbon stored in the bodies of living animals; Carbon sequestered in deep-sea sediments.

We All Know We Should Save the Whales. What About the Sardines?

Last fall, I found myself on a whale watching tour of the waters around New York City. The trip, which employed guides from Gotham Whale and was hosted by the storied nonprofit Riverkeeper, could be seen as a kind of victory lap for the clean water org. After half a century of advocacy—a period that saw the watchdog group win David vs. Goliath legal battles against giants such as Con Edison, General Electric, and the Army Corps of Engineers—the Hudson River and nearby waters are cleaner than they’ve been in the memory of anyone alive today.


Fishing Regulators Say No to Catching More Elvers, A Most Valuable Species

The baby eels are harvested from rivers and streams in Maine, sold to aquaculture companies and raised to maturity, then resold as food.

Fishermen who harvest one of the most valuable marine species in the U.S. hoped for permission to catch more baby eels next year, but regulators said Monday the tight restrictions that have been in place for several years are likely to stay the same.


Louisiana Issues Regulations to Protect Nearshore Habitat from Menhaden Industry

Louisiana’s coastline, gamefish, and recreational angling opportunities will now receive greater protections from the industrial menhaden fishery, after the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission approved a revised Notice of Intent (NOI) at a Special Commission Meeting today in Baton Rouge. The NOI expands the current ¼-mile no-fishing buffer zone, which prevents industrial menhaden harvest near the coast, to ½-mile coastwide, with a broader 1-mile buffer added off Holly Beach.

5 Ways the Ocean Justice Strategy Will Improve Conservation

The Biden administration’s Ocean Justice Strategy will serve ocean conservation, and broader conservation efforts, by elevating the importance of ocean justice within the federal government.

On December 8, 2023, the Biden administration announced the first-ever U.S. Ocean Justice Strategy (OJS). Building upon the White House’s Ocean Climate Action Plan (OCAP), released earlier in 2023, the OJS is the first federal policy to define ocean justice.


How a Northwest Tribe is Escaping a Rising Ocean

In a mossy stretch of forest on Washington state's outer coast, streets and sidewalks have appeared in recent weeks, representing the future of the Quinault Indian Nation. The coastal tribe has spent a decade trying to move its villages out of reach of a rising Pacific Ocean and its tsunamis. It's an approach many communities might need to embrace as Earth's climate keeps warming and seas keep rising.


‘Pineapple Expresses’ and Rising Seas Are Battering California’s Piers, Threatening Iconic Landmarks

More storms, rising seas and huge waves are taking their toll on California’s iconic piers that have dotted the Pacific coast since the Gold Rush, posing the biggest threat yet to the beach landmarks that have become a quintessential part of the landscape. At least a half dozen public piers are closed after being damaged repeatedly by storms with multiple atmospheric rivers hitting the state over the past year. Repair costs have climbed into the millions of dollars.


The East Coast's Slow Descent Into the Ocean Intensifies Threats From Sea Level Rise

A recent study highlights the increasing peril to coastal communities from land subsidence and sea level rise, exacerbated by groundwater depletion.

The slow encroachment of the sea, coupled with sinking land, poses a silent but escalating threat to infrastructure, homes, and emergency routes along the East Coast. Vulnerable populations with nowhere to go are likely to suffer the most.


A ‘collapse’ is Looming For Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands, Scientists Say

Scientists say the overwhelming majority of the state’s wetlands — a natural buffer against hurricanes — are in a state of ‘drowning’ and could be gone by 2070

Rapidly rising seas are wreaking havoc on Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, and could devastate three-quarters of the state’s natural buffer against hurricanes in the coming decades, scientists found in a study published Thursday.


Saving Salt Marsh a Team Sport

In Maine, today’s meadow is tomorrow’s marsh

Rachel Carson Refuge staff and their partners turn their attention to marshes that can migrate

You don’t need to tell Karl Stromayer climate change is the existential threat of our time; he lives that reality every day. As manager of Maine’s Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, he’s watching as the sea creeps up on the refuge’s salt marshes. And he's taking action.

Lawmakers Move to Ban Release of Balloons, But Bill Limiting Regulation of Plastics is in Jeopardy

Environmental advocates are pleased with the developments

Environmental advocates on Thursday say they’re optimistic about legislation that relates to removing litter from our waterways and oceans, including balloons.

First, a House committee approved a proposal (HB 321) that would ban the intentional release of balloons.

Category 6-level Hurricanes Are Already Here, A New Study Says

A super-hurricane is brewing in the Atlantic Ocean in the opening pages of The Displacements, a novel by Bruce Holsinger published in 2022. “This is the one the climatologists have been warning us about for twenty years,” one character declares. Forty pages in, so-called Hurricane Luna makes a surprise turn for Miami and ends up demolishing Southern Florida with a wall of water, buckling skyscrapers, leveling wastewater plants, and filling the Everglades with contaminated silt.


‘Green colonialism’: Tribes Disappointed With Offshore Oregon Energy Plans

The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians are “extremely disappointed” after federal plans were finalized to build two offshore energy projects, the Tribe said in a press release.

The Tribe’s reaction comes after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced their plans were finalized to build offshore Wind Energy Areas near Coos Bay and Brookings.


Rain Comes to the Arctic, With a Cascade of Troubling Changes

Rain used to be rare in the Arctic, but as the region warms, so-called rain-on-snow events are becoming more common. The rains accelerate ice loss, trigger flooding, landslides, and avalanches, and create problems for wildlife and the Indigenous people who depend on them.

In August of 2021, rain fell atop the 10,551-foot summit of the Greenland ice cap, triggering an epic meltdown and a more-than-2,000-foot retreat of the snowline.


The Rachel Carson Council Depends on Tax-deductible Gifts From Concerned Individuals Like You. Please Help If You Can.


Sign Up Here to Receive the RCC E-News and Other RCC Newsletters, Information and Alerts.

8600 Irvington Avenue 
Bethesda, MD 20817 
(301) 214-2400 

Follow Us

Having trouble viewing this email? View it in your web browser

Unsubscribe or Manage Your Preferences