I had the great fortune to head south of the equator last September for Ocean Conservancy’s 29th International Coastal Cleanup. VIDA Peru, Ocean Conservancy’s longtime Cleanup partner in Peru, invited me to participate in a weeklong series of events on ocean trash, culminating with one of their country’s signature Cleanup event at Marquez Beach. Having been my first time to Peru, and South America for that matter, I was uncertain of the beach and waterway conditions I’d find. Unfortunately, as I spoke more and more with folks from VIDA Peru in advance of the Cleanups, my expectations of clean beaches were quickly dispelled.
I asked Arturo Medina, President of VIDA Peru, what the major culprits were for ocean trash in Peru. He noted that “the waste infrastructure is drastically lacking in Peru to handle the increased waste flows. Ultimately, it all ends up in the rivers, on the beaches and flowing into the sea. Legal and illegal dumpsites located directly on the beaches are also a major issue, yielding steady streams of debris into the water.” I witnessed this first hand as one such site was visible on the beach as I sat on my surfboard offshore—dump truck after dump truck offloading rubbish onto the sand.
When oil began flowing from a ruptured pipeline along the wild and scenic shoreline up the coast from Santa Barbara, California, the community’s coastal life flashed before its eyes: thriving fisheries, popular and pristine beaches, teeming populations of whales and marine mammals, and a new network of protected areas set up to safeguard these coastal treasures. The awful images of oiled beaches and sea life are appearing on our screens at a time when visitors are flocking to the coast for Memorial Day weekend.
Recreational and commercial fishing have been ordered closed in the wake of the spill. Fishing grounds along the rural coast west of Santa Barbara support a good deal of the harvest of some of California’s highest-value fisheries. Spiny lobster, red sea urchin and market squid are harvested along this coastline, and are among the top five commercial fisheries in California, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of fish and providing healthy seafood for local and distant consumers. Recreational fishermen ply these waters for calico bass, white seabass and halibut while enjoying the scenic surroundings and spending dollars locally. Surfers, scuba divers, beachgoers and whale watchers explore, play and spend in even greater numbers.
Yesterday, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new results from a series of studies in which they have investigated the unusually high number of dolphin deaths occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2010, scientists have conducted autopsies on dead dolphins to try and understand why they are dying.
They found significantly higher numbers of dolphins with severe lung disease and lesions on their adrenal glands in oiled areas than in non-oiled areas. Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson described the adrenal disease as forcing dolphins to precariously balance on a ledge which cold temperatures, pregnancy and infection can push them off, resulting in death. The lesions observed in dolphins were “some of the most severe lung lesions ever seen in wild dolphins throughout the U.S.” according to lead Pathologist, Dr. Katie Colegrove. NOAA is decisive in concluding that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster caused the dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf: “The timing, location, and nature of the detected lesions support that contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused these lesions and contributed to the high numbers of dolphin deaths within this oil spill’s footprint.”
Some people would call Belize paradise. Having recently returned, I can’t say I disagree, but I also saw threats to the beauty on the surface. I spent a week in Belize researching the connection between waste management, plastic pollution and ocean health in this Central American country. As Chief Scientist, I’m working closely with our Trash Free Seas® team to build on our 30-year history of protecting our ocean from the growing threat of ocean trash.
I toured much of the country with independent consultant Ted Siegler from DSM Environmental Services, gaining a firsthand perspective on how recent investments in waste management systems in Belize are improving ocean health but learning how much farther the country needs to go. A former British colony, Belize is frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches and tropical breezes. But Ted and I visited many sights never seen by these outsiders. The upshot? Trash is a major problem in Belize, as it is in many developing countries. And it is increasingly clear that this has big consequences for the health of the ocean.
Another year, another incredible volunteer effort—I’m excited to share with you today the findings from last year’s International Coastal Cleanup. In 2014, more than 560,000 people picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash along nearly 13,000 miles of coastlines. Thank you to all the volunteers, Coordinators and partners who participated and devoted countless hours and resources!
Last year’s Cleanup had the largest weight of trash collected during any Ocean Conservancy Cleanup since its inception 29 years ago. Volunteers from 91 countries gathered detailed information from their Cleanups to provide a snapshot of the most persistent forms of trash found along the beaches and waterways that’s impacting our ocean.
This data represents what was found at the 29th Cleanup – each and every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers step up to meet the challenge and help clean up the beaches and waterways in their communities. There’s no doubt in my mind – as the Cleanup report will show you – the unparalleled effort of volunteers around the world results in cleaner beaches, rivers and lakes for all to enjoy.
In honor of the 5-year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Ocean Conservancy interviewed residents about the spill, its impacts and what the Gulf means to them. Over the next 87 days—the length of the spill itself—we will be releasing “postcards from the Gulf” to share their stories. This blog is the third of a four-part series featuring some of the full-length interviews from our postcards. Be sure to follow Ocean Conservancy on Facebook and Twitter over the next couple of months to see all of the postcards.
The headlines we often hear about the Gulf of Mexico can get you down, from oil disasters to ocean acidification and coastal pollution. But it gives me hope to see young leaders of the next generation recognize the value of sustaining a healthy Gulf. Cole Kolasa, a high school student on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is one of the young leaders of tomorrow, who I believe embodies the spirit of the next generation that will alter the course of history and begin to restore the actions of the past. This is what he has to say about his Gulf of Mexico.
Let’s take a moment on Mother’s Day to remember the ocean. Like mothers everywhere, the ocean looks out for us in the most basic ways. It’s easy to take those things for granted. Thanks, Mother Ocean, because you:
Gave us life. Earth scientists believe that the first life on Earth arose in the ocean, which brought together chemicals in a rich “soup” that gave rise to primitive cells. These early life forms evolved and diversified into the myriad organisms that exist today.
Keep us warm. The ocean stores a tremendous amount of heat that regulates the planet’s overall temperature. Ocean currents redistribute heat around the Earth to keep temperatures relatively stable. Not too hot and not too cold, the Earth’s small overall temperature range is critical for our survival.