World Oceans Day celebrated as Florida oil drilling amendments are announced
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06/08/09 Seán Kinane
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The United Nations has designated today, June 8, 2009 as their first official World Oceans Day. At least two celebrations of the day are occurring around the Tampa Bay area. Meanwhile, a group plans to ask voters to amend the state’s constitution to lift the ban on drilling off the Florida coast.

Amy Fraenkel is the North America regional office director of the United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP. She says that in the past, World Oceans Day has been informally celebrated by many countries of the world.

Fraenkel says that oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the surface of the earth, “are critically important,” for example to the climate and as a source of food.

On Monday UNEP released a report called Marine Litter: A Global Challenge about the millions of pieces of plastic garbage that are being added to the world’s oceans. The Florida Aquarium in the Channel District of Tampa has celebrated World Oceans Day since the weekend. As a green sea turtle snacked on lettuce leaves floating on the surface of a tank, a Florida Aquarium dive master, Pam Hughes, prepared to give a special World Oceans Day presentation to visitors. Additional information about their Florida Keys coral restoration program has been added because, Hughes says, “people take care of what they love.”

After petting starfish and stingrays, aquarium guests could visit tables with information about recycling, litter, and other topics important to protecting oceans. Several people attending The Florida Aquarium say that it’s necessary to protect oceans and to commemorate World Oceans Day.

One Florida organization says it’s time for the state to lift a ban on drilling and generate revenue by drilling and pumping oil from the Gulf of Mexico. Bradenton’s Don Baldauf has started a website, FloridaOil.org, to try to get two amendments to the Florida constitution by presenting them to voters on the 2010 ballot.

Much of the area Baldauf proposes to open up is now under federal jurisdiction, but he says a 1953 law, the U.S. Submerged Lands Act, would allow the state to wrest control from the feds if the Florida constitution is amended.

But the Ocean Conservancy’s regional director, David White, isn’t so sure it would be that easy.

“I think it’s a big ‘if’ that they get this on the ballot.”

White says the public will need time to debate how drilling will affect tourism and he remains unconvinced that a spill would not affect Florida beaches.

FloridaOil.org’s Don Baldauf says he needs to collect about 700 thousand signatures before February 1st in order to get the issues on the ballot. That type of campaign is expensive and he hopes to get individual donations as well as support from the fossil fuel industry.

Baldauf is attempting to pass two related ballot initiatives at once. One would allow oil drilling off the state’s coast. The other would require Florida to actively pursue an oil refinery, which he hopes would be in Port Manatee. Baldauf predicts the effort to get a constitutional amendment allowing drilling off of Florida’s coast will be a “landmark, history-making case.” He was surprised to learn that Monday is World Oceans Day.

As part of World Oceans Day, there will be a film screening and panel discussion about ocean acidification beginning at 6:30 tonight in St. Petersburg. It will be at the Florida Wildlife Research Institute at 100 8th Ave S.

U.N. World Oceans Day

Ocean Conservancy

Florida Oil.org

The Florida Aquarium

UN Environment Programme

UNEP report - Marine Litter: A Global Challenge

film: A Sea Change: Imagine a World Without Fish

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