World Oceans Day: Protecting our oceans

World Oceans Day 2015

 

Each year on June 8, the United Nations pauses to recognize the maritime environment on World Oceans Day. And on this day in particular, there is no better day to reflect on the Coast Guard’s efforts to protect not only those on the sea, but the sea itself.

The Coast Guard remains the primary agency for the at-sea enforcement of all U.S. laws and obligations for the conservation of living marine resources. Both the living marine resources and the marine environmental protection missions of the Coast Guard serve to protect the maritime environment and ensure the safety of life in the depths, at the sea’s surface and in some cases in the skies above.

Since the early 1820s when the Revenue Cutter Service was first tasked with protecting federal stocks of live oak trees, the service has expanded it’s role to safeguarding marine habitats, mammals and endangered species. Looking forward, the Coast Guard is taking steps to carry forward this role safeguarding the maritime environment, launching a climate resilience framework assessing changing environmental conditions and planning for impacts to Coast Guard operations and facilities

Successful maritime stewardship is incremental. The Coast Guard’s most recent work to deliver on the promise of ocean steward, the service’s framework for marine protected resources, include rescue of an endangered sea turtle and the transportation of a Hawaiian monk seal for medical attention.

Recently, the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Thetis was able to rescue an entangled sea turtle, supporting the Coast Guard's maritime stewardship role. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Recently, the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Thetis was able to rescue an entangled sea turtle, supporting the Coast Guard’s maritime stewardship role. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Turtle rescue

While underway recently, Coast Guard Cutter Thetis encountered a large mass of what appeared to be ‘sea junk’ – a collection of plastic jugs entwined with fishing nets and other debris. However, upon a closer look, the crew discovered a debilitated sea turtle tangled in the material and immediately launched a small boat to assist.

In this case, the commanding officer’s decision to intervene proved to be key, and the cutter’s small boat crew was able to free the turtle from the debris and allow it to swim free.

While the general public is not permitted to handle sea turtles, the Coast Guard has special authority under the Endangered Species Act. The act authorizes “designated agents and employees of specified Federal and state agencies” to render aid to “endangered sea turtles, in the marine environment, that are alive but sick, injured, or entangled.”   Another important provision of the Act directs that “The provisions of this [Endangered Species] Act and any regulations or permits issued pursuant thereto shall be enforced by….the Secretary of the Department in which the United States Coast Guard is operating…”

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A crew from Coast Guard Cutter Thetis releases the turtle after freeing him from debris. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Hawaiian monk seal transport

Coast Guard crews recently worked alongside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to transport an injured Hawaiian monk seal from Kauai, Hawaii, to Oahu. The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, their population is declining.

Residents and visitors to Hawaii may be familiar with the plight of the monk seal. In this case, a seal was found to have swallowed a fish hook and in needed medical attention. The Coast Guard was able to successfully transport the injured monk seal to experts that provided the necessary treatment and rehabilitation.

“Coast Guard members in Hawaii take great pride in our unique operational ability to help recover and maintain our nation’s marine protected species,” said Eric Roberts, marine mammal response coordinator for the 14th Coast Guard District.

Lt. Andrew Kauffman, an HC-130 Hercules airplane pilot from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, observes the onload of a Hawaiian Monk Seal in Kona, Hawaii. Coast Guard crew members, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Land and Natural Resources partnered together to transport two rehabilitated Hawaiian Monk Seals to Midway Atoll where they would be transferred via ship to Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.

Lt. Andrew Kauffman, an HC-130 Hercules airplane pilot from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, observes the onload of a Hawaiian Monk Seal in Kona, Hawaii. Coast Guard crew members, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Land and Natural Resources partnered together to transport two rehabilitated Hawaiian Monk Seals to Midway Atoll where they would be transferred via ship to Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.

“The transport of this critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal showcases the multiagency efforts that are being coordinated to ensure this species is around for future generations.”

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world with an estimated population of less than 1,100. Part of the true seal family, they are one of only two remaining monk seal species.

From protecting sea turtles and Hawaiian sea monks to safeguarding our Nation’s maritime resources, the Coast Guard stands ready to ensure our the protection of each and every federal waterway and the natural resources therein.

Want to see the Coast Guard rescues in action? Check out the below video from a recent turtle rescue by crews aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton!

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