There’s no doubt about it: ocean plastic pollution is a big problem. An estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste flow from land into the ocean every year, meaning that by 2025 there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish! And there’s much more to the problem than floating bags, bottles and fishing nets—as many as 51 trillion pieces of microplastic (plastic pieces less than five mm) now circulate in the ocean.
Ocean Conservancy has been fighting back against ocean plastic pollution for the past 30 years. Fortunately, we’re not the only ones worried about ocean plastic pollution. Our corporate partners are helping to bring attention to this immense problem.
This post originally appeared on National Geographic’s Ocean Views blog.
During this bruising presidential campaign, there was an eerie sense that we had moved into a post-truth world, with fake news circulating on Facebook and the veracity of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump continually called into question. In fact, Oxford Dictionaries just declared “post-truth” its 2016 international Word of the Year.
But for me personally, facts really matter. It’s why I’m a scientist.
Over the past several weeks, Ocean Conservancy has received a wave of 2016 International Coastal Cleanup data. Thanks to volunteers from Idaho to Indonesia, data from the 2016 ICC and the Clean Swell app are pouring into our new ocean trash database. The trash by the numbers provides us with a year-by-year snapshot of the top items that plague our waterways and coastlines.
Lately, there’s been some buzz around one top ocean trash item in particular: plastic straws (over 211,000 already logged!). With a debris item that is so easily preventable, and a host of alternatives out there, individuals, organizations and whole communities are now taking action. The most recent success story: Chiles Restaurant Group of Anna Maria, Florida.
Last week, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation approved nearly $370 million in new projects to help the Gulf of Mexico recover from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Among these new projects is Mississippi’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Recovery and Monitoring Program, a nearly $10 million, five-year project. This is the largest sea turtle or dolphin recovery project funded by any one state in the six years since the BP oil disaster began, and Ocean Conservancy is thrilled to see Mississippi investing in the health of the Gulf’s marine life.
Mississippi has a small coast, but it has felt the effects of the BP oil disaster on its shores. From 2010-2014, a record number of more than 1,100 marine mammals were stranded on beaches all across the Gulf Coast. The bottlenose dolphin population in Mississippi Sound is expected to take 40-50 years to recover. And an estimated 61,000 to 173,000 sea turtles were killed during the BP oil disaster. These long-lived species will need the help of projects like Mississippi’s to fully recover.
As we ease into the holiday season, I am grateful to have been part of an amazing event halfway around the world where I witnessed the positive energy and impact that can only arise when we work together. It was a powerful reminder of how our ocean brings us together.
As part of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program, I went to Hong Kong for our first-ever International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Asia Pacific coordinators meeting. As you may know, the International Coastal Cleanup is the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of the ocean and collectively, partners from around the world have kept 100 million tons of trash out of our ocean in the past three decades. The Asia Pacific region is where much of the world’s ocean trash originates, and Ocean Conservancy was eager to learn from our partners on the front lines.
The film crew records an exciting moment on the Miss Britt II.
Last week, two filmmakers and I went to South Florida to document how ocean acidification can touch communities, like Miami’s, that don’t depend heavily on shellfish harvests. Known for its marine life, beaches, coral reefs and sunny weather, Miami and much of Florida rely on these natural assets to drive the local fishing and tourist industry. Coral reefs are the key link, because they provide habitat for vast numbers of fish—including many of the sport fish that make Florida’s charter fishing industry a must-visit for thousands of tourists each year.