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The National Marine Sanctuaries Forever Stamp collection celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Sanctuary System. United States Postal Service

The National Marine Sanctuary System was established on Oct. 23, 1972 with the signing of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act. That means the network – which includes 15 national marine sanctuaries and 2 marine national monuments –  turns 50 this year. Now, they’ve got a 16-stamp set to celebrate!

On Aug. 5, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will release a new series of Forever stamps that celebrates the rich diversity and beauty within our sanctuaries and the marine ecosystems they protect. The collection commemorates the 50th anniversary of the sanctuary system.

The National Marine Sanctuary System was established on Oct. 23, 1972 with the signing of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act. That means the network – which includes 15 national marine sanctuaries and 2 marine national monuments –  turns 50 this year. Now, they’ve got a 16-stamp set to celebrate!

On Aug. 5, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will release a new series of Forever stamps that celebrates the rich diversity and beauty within our sanctuaries and the marine ecosystems they protect. The collection commemorates the 50th anniversary of the sanctuary system.

Marine sanctuaries protect the ecological, cultural and historical inheritance of the American people and balance those against their rights to recreate and enjoy these resources. They preserve critical habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife and safeguard the ancients ites and living traditions of Indigenous peoples who have inhabited these regions for millenia. Sanctuaries are also critical in the fight against climate change, to protect biodiversity and to meet the goals of protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030.

“The National Marine Sanctuary stamp series is a colorful acknowledgment of our 50th anniversary and a reminder of the beauty, abundance, and diversity of our nation’s most iconic underwater places,” said John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “As these stamps show up in mailboxes across America, we hope they’ll inspire everyone to celebrate, discover, explore, and enjoy the unique wonders of the National Marine Sanctuary System.”

According to USPS senior public relations representative Kim Frum, the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee evaluates and selects stamp subject matter each year from up to 30,000 possible subjects. They chose the sanctuaries, and the postmaster general made the final decision. 

Images include iconic and diverse species such as elkhorn coral, humpback whales, jellyfish and sea otters. These represent the more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters that make up the sanctuary system – an area nearly the size of Alaska that stretches from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific, and from the Florida Keys to the Pacific Northwest. An illustrated map of the entire sanctuary system is printed on the back panel.

“The U.S. Postal Service celebrates the nation’s underwater treasures with the release of the National Marine Sanctuaries stamps,” Frum said.

Avid diver and underwater photographer Daryl Duda captured the image of a friendly-looking balloonfish in the Florida Keys. He said, “They are probably my favorite fish to photograph as they always seem to have a smile on their face. I am honored to have one of my photos in this National Marine Sanctuary [collection].”

Greg McFall photographed a solitary sand tiger shark at Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. The late photographer’s family is touched that he lives on through his underwater photography, now immortalized in this national stamp.

“I am thrilled that our nation is celebrating the underwater treasures protected by national marine sanctuaries through this collection of stunning images,” said Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary superintendent Sarah Fangman.

“The National Marine Sanctuaries give us hope to help save our oceans and natural American bodies of water,” Duda emphasized.

The National Marine Sanctuaries Forever® stamp series to be released on Aug. 5. will cost $.60 each, and come in a sheet of 16 for $9.60. Forever stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price. Orders can be made online at usps.com/stamps or by calling 844-737-7826. Frum estimates that roughly a year’s worth of the series will be printed. 

Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, which supports the efforts of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, added, “For half a century, our sanctuaries have protected these treasures for all of us to enjoy, explore, and discover. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Sanctuary System, we must recommit to saving these spectacular places and protecting their splendor for generations to come.”

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Pride Month Is Over. Now What?

Lessons from LGBTQIA+ environmentalists to keep with us throughout the year.

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JD Reinbott brings his Pride flag to his favorite place: the ocean. JD Reinbott

Just because it's July, doesn't mean we stop celebrating diversity, learning from each other and amplifying LGBTQIA+ voices in the field. Rather, we at EcoWatch, believe in taking what we learn every June during “Pride Month” and applying it to create a more vibrant world view year-round. Therefore, we're proud to highlight some important lessons on environmentalism and diversity from our favorite queer environmentalists and allies that we strive towards no matter the month.

“The stronger genetic diversity within a species, the healthier the population, and the more biodiversity within a forest, the healthier the ecosystem,” explained queer scientist and National Geographic explorer Callie Veelenturf (she/her). “There is a role, a place, for everyone. The more unique individuals that comprise our whole, the more we can grow and develop, expanding our knowledge along the way. Let’s celebrate our human diversity, the same way we celebrate biodiversity.”

Just because it’s July, doesn’t mean we stop celebrating diversity, learning from each other and amplifying LGBTQIA+ voices in the field. Rather, we at EcoWatch, believe in taking what we learn every June during “Pride Month” and applying it to create a more vibrant world view year-round. Therefore, we’re proud to highlight some important lessons on environmentalism and diversity from our favorite queer environmentalists and allies that we strive towards no matter the month.

1. Diversity Matters. Different Viewpoints Result in New Ways of Thinking.

“The stronger genetic diversity within a species, the healthier the population, and the more biodiversity within a forest, the healthier the ecosystem,” explained queer scientist and National Geographic explorer Callie Veelenturf (she/her). “There is a role, a place, for everyone. The more unique individuals that comprise our whole, the more we can grow and develop, expanding our knowledge along the way. Let’s celebrate our human diversity, the same way we celebrate biodiversity.”

Callie Veelenturf measures a Hawksbill sea turtle that was caught as fishing bycatch in the Pearl Islands, Panama. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels

The reason that diversity in people and experiences allows for diverse thinking is because of lived experience. Leslie Nguyen (she/her), a biracial marine scientist and the mastermind behind a recent panel on diversity within marine science, explained: “With people coming from all walks of life, everyone offers their own individual set of experiences that they carry with them. These experiences shape who we are and how we see/understand the world, meaning that everyone has something different to offer in a field of science where our understandings are constantly changing.” 

For some LGBTQ+ scientists, their experiences may have taught them to “think outside of a binary,” added Annabel Gong (they/them), a queer, non-binary, Asian-American scientist and Research & Community Coordinator at the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative. “A binary doesn’t really exist, and we bring that type of thinking into science. That can mean looking at animal behavior in a different way that may be overlooked by a straight scientist. For a gay scientist, it may look very natural. So inclusion brings different perspectives to science,” they said. 

Because of this, “We must work towards maintaining a diverse pool of people in STEM, especially those from BIPOC communities,” Nguyen emphasized.

2. Collaborations Lead to New Solutions.

J.D. Reinbott (he/him), a cis-gender, openly gay marine biologist and environmental event planner agrees. Encouraging more collaboration, he said, “As environmentalists, we face dynamic challenges that need dynamic responses. Diverse voices and viewpoints bring about new ideas that can help shift our thought processes and in the end, come up with unique solutions.”

JD Reinbott is an ocean and LGBTQIA+ rights activist. JD Reinbott

Veelenturf feels much of the same, saying, “The more diverse voices, perspectives, identifies, experiences and backgrounds, the more creative solutions we can create to combat the many societal problems we face today.”

The inclusion of diversity of all types allows for more nuanced, multi-faceted discussions and science to take place. This is the idea behind cross-pollination, which allow for new hybrids, ideas and solutions to emerge. 

“But we won’t have the opportunity to hear these ideas if we don’t push for further diversity within our field,” Reinbott warned.

3. These Issues Are Complex and Intersectional.

Our human identities don’t exist in a vacuum. 

“I just want to emphasize how important intersectional advocacy is,” Gong told EcoWatch. “My identity as an Asian American is not isolated from my queer, non-binary identity. They all work together to shape how society perceives me, and it is important to look internally at the privilege and oppression you hold in different spaces.” They appreciate organizations and spaces where they and other minorities feel uplifted to advocate for their entire “holistic sel[ves].”

 As co-host of LGBTQ+ STEM Cast, Annabel Gong strives to create a safe space for queer sharing and stories. Annabel Gong

In the same way, we must respect the deep interconnectedness and intersectionality that exists in environmental work. Fighting climate change isn’t just an environmental justice issue, it’s a social justice one, too. The World Economic Forum has stated that women have the most to lose from the climate crisis, and an EPA report found that environmental racism is real, the Atlantic reported. Indigenous stewardship of our lands and waters, long excluded from decision-making, must also factor into future plans for how we interact with our planet. 

We cannot meaningfully address the climate, extinction, biodiversity, and any other environmental crisis without acknowledging that women and people of color will be the first and worst hit, and without pushing for more equitable policies.

4. Imperfect Action Beats Perfect Inaction.

When asked how we can continue to support LGBTQIA+ individuals beyond pride month, Reinbott said, “I think a lot of people get caught up in this question and allies feel like they need to be perfect in order to support this community. But, honestly, this is the furthest thing from the truth. Start small and work your way up.”

Mckensea Margarethe founded “LGBTQ in Stem” in response to harassment that queer folks faced in the field. Mckensea Margarethe

This could look like a variety of actions, including: 

  • Being open to “uncomfortable” conversations and listening to queer friends/coworkers when they speak.
  • Ensuring your organization is being “effectively progressive.”
  • Establishing and supporting workplace protocols/procedures that protect LGBTQIA+ individuals. 
  • Putting your pronouns in your email signature. 
  • Removing anyone causing harm.
  • Speaking out against homophobic viewpoints, comments, and rhetoric. 
  • Remaining mindful of social issues happening outside that company can weigh heavily on marginalized individuals.
  • Providing resources and mental, emotional, therapeutic, financial and physical support for team members year-round.
  • Providing gender-affirming gear, uniforms, facilities, etc. and/or separate facilities for privacy.
  • Spotlighting queer team members outside of the month of June and giving them the microphone even when it doesn’t position your company as “inclusive.” 

Mckensea Margarethe, marine science communicator and founder of the “LGBTQ in Stem” Instagram community, concluded, “I honestly love it when companies/organizations celebrate the LGBTQ+ community during pride. I think the rainbow logos are actually kind of sweet. But are those places upholding what that stands for all throughout the year? Because that’s what’s important.”

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During a five day expedition, seven to eight adult vaquitas and one to two calves were spotted. Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Mexican Government are tentatively celebrating the initial success of their enhanced partnership to protect the critically endangered vaquita. The long-term effectiveness of the program is still to be seen.

The vaquita is an endemic species that exists only in a small region of Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. According to Sea Shepherd, scientists estimate that fewer than 20 vaquitas remain. Some reports, which are a few years old, put that number closer to ten.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Mexican Government are tentatively celebrating the initial success of their enhanced partnership to protect the critically endangered vaquita. The long-term effectiveness of the program is still to be seen.

What Is the Vaquita and Why Is It Endangered?

The vaquita is an endemic species that exists only in a small region of Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. According to Sea Shepherd, scientists estimate that fewer than 20 vaquitas remain. Some reports, which are a few years old, put that number closer to ten.

The smallest of all living cetaceans, the vaquita often gets caught as bycatch in gillnets set to catch totoaba fish. Totoaba, another endangered marine species, is a fish hunted for its swim bladder. It sells on the black market in China for thousands of dollars. Due to entanglement in totoaba fishing gear, the vaquita population has dropped 99 percent over the last decade

History of Protective Measures

Because of this drastic decline, Operation Milagro, which means miracle, was established as the collaboration between Sea Shepherd and various Mexican government agencies and researchers to prevent and remove illegal fishing gear from within the refuge. Since 2015, Sea Shepherd’s fleet has removed over 1,000 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the refuge. In 2017 the Mexican government banned totoaba fishing and the use of gillnets inside the Vaquita Refuge, the UNESCO-recognized and federally protected area where vaquitas live. Furthermore, the government established a Zero Tolerance Area (ZTA) over 225 square miles within the Vaquita Refuge where scientists and conservationists believe the remaining vaquita population is located. This makes it a high-priority area. 

Despite this policy progress, lack of patrol and enforcement caused some to say that the porpoise is still “doomed.” For a period in 2020 and 2021, Sea Shepherd suspended protection efforts due to coronavirus, and Mexico opened up vaquita habitat to fishermen.

New Protocol

Is the tide turning? Slowly, perhaps, but both Sea Shepherd and the Mexican government are hopeful. During a five-day expedition in October and November 2021, scientific surveys in the ZTA revealed seven to eight adult vaquitas and one to two calves, Sea Shepherd Chairman of the Board Pritam Singh said in an April 2022  press conference. Unfortunately, the survey also identified a lot of fishing pangas and nets within the same protected areas. 

Due to this, since November 2021, Sea Shepherd and the Mexican Navy have been jointly patrolling the ZTA of the Vaquita Refuge. In January 2022, the “enhanced Operation Milagro partnership” began and is giving the vaquita “a significantly improved chance for survival,” Sea Shepherd said in a press release. 

New reporting and response protocol in the ZTA has led to a substantial reduction in the number of fishing vessels in the area, Sea Shepherd reported. In the past, Sea Shepherd would identify nets in the water and pull them out – sometimes with local resistance. Under the new protocol, Sea Shepherd spots nets and vessels and reports those sightings to the Navy. The latter then moves the pangas out of the ZTA and pulls nets where necessary. The governmental body provides coordination and security and also has more authority than Sea Shepherd to take action, Sea Shepherd representatives reported. 

Sea Shepherd called the new protocol “extraordinarily effective” within the ZTA to reduce illegal fishing. Their ships report what they see hourly. During the first three days of the protocol being in place, Sea Shepherd ships spotted 58, 35 and 27 illegal fishing vessels in the ZTA. In the three days before the press conference, there were 2, 3 and 1 vessels. 

Sea Shepherd CEO Chuck Lindsey said, “I can say with absolute confidence that our partnership with the Mexican Navy works. Our collaboration is real, it’s effective and, together, we are reducing illegal fishing within the ZTA and improving the vaquita’s chance of survival.”

Long-Term Success?

While positive, the results of the protocol only hold for the ZTA, where efforts have been focused. Fishing levels in other areas are not being monitored as closely or reported on. 

Additionally, to prevent illegal fishing, fishermen are supposed to undergo a government inspection before launching their boats. However, as Reuters reported, when the news agency visited the ZTA, fishermen were seen entering the sea in places where they could avoid inspection. 

“Sea Shepherd… is saying there has been a significant improvement in their work with the Navy since January of 2022,” DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute, told Reuters.

“The problem is… as long as there is still illegal fishing, it does not help the vaquita. They have to stop illegal fishing completely and permanently in order for the vaquita to have a chance of recovery,” he added, the news report said.

Finally, when asked if any vaquitas had been seen in 2022, Sea Shepherd representatives said none had, but that the creature was “famously shy” and that they “keep hoping.”

Tiffany Duong is a writer, explorer and inspirational speaker. She holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. As a contributing reporter at EcoWatch, she gives voice to what’s happening in the natural world. Her mission is to inspire meaningful action and lasting change. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram/TikTok @tiffmakeswaves.

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