The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced Jan. 31 that it will list the Atlantic sturgeon in the Delaware River as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, because the species is presently in danger of extinction. The Atlantic sturgeon of the Delaware River are listed as part of the New York Bight distinct population segment, which includes all Atlantic sturgeon that spawn in watersheds draining to coastal waters from Chatham, Mass. to the Delaware-Maryland border on Fenwick Island.
NMFS believes there are fewer than 300 spawning adults in the Delaware River population. Just over 100 years ago there were estimated to be 180,000 spawning adult females. Although NMFS recognizes a number of threats, including fisheries bycatch and degraded water quality, imperiling the Atlantic sturgeon, NMFS explicitly identifies the Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project as a threat to the species—“[T]he location and scope of the project in the Delaware River, coupled with the lack of information on the precise location of spawning and other important habitat in the Delaware River, indicate that the project could be very harmful to the Delaware River riverine population of Atlantic sturgeon.” NMFS also identified the increased risk of vessel strikes resulting from more and/or larger ships on the Delaware River as a factor in its listing decision.
“Experts have identified our Delaware River Atlantic Sturgeon as being genetically unique, found nowhere else in the world but our River,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. “The National Marine Fisheries Services has stated multiple times that the Delaware River Deepening project is a direct threat to their spawning habitat and the species. We used to have so many sturgeon in our river that the Delaware was known as the caviar capital of the nation. Now we risk losing them forever. We simply have too few to spare for a make-work boondoggle like the Delaware River deepening. Morally speaking, extinguishing the Delaware River unique genetic line is wrong. Economically it makes no sense either—if we were to restore the sturgeon population to historic levels, we could generate an estimated $400 million a year of economic income for the region. Why throw our tax dollars at a deepening project that is an economic loser for the region and that the ports don’t need?” van Rossum said.
Jane Davenport, senior attorney at the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said—“As of today, federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as private parties like shipping companies, are on notice that each and every Atlantic sturgeon in the Delaware River will be protected by the ESA’s wide-ranging prohibitions against killing or harming it or degrading its habitat. Congress gave public interest groups like the Delaware Riverkeeper Network the explicit right to enforce these protections through citizen suits in federal court, a right we fully intend to exercise as necessary to protect this ancient fish.”
The Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus, is a large, long-lived, late-maturing, slow-reproducing migratory fish with a distinctive long snout and armor-like plates. It spawns in rivers such as the Delaware and migrates hundreds of miles to the ocean and back again. Mature adults may live as long as 60 years, reach lengths up to 14 feet, and weigh more than 800 pounds. The Delaware River once supported the largest known population of Atlantic sturgeon in the world.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.