News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Allison Schutes
Allison is the Manager of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program, based in Washington, D.C. Her passion is teaching people of all ages about the ocean, the amazing animals who call it home and what individuals can do to help conserve and protect this incredible ecosystem. Having landed in D.C. from Florida, when Allison isn’t working, she can be found exploring the city and searching for the nearest shoreline.
What’s haunting our ocean? Ghost crabs or witch flounder? What about devil rays or goblin sharks? Sure, there are tons of monsters and ghouls hidden beneath the waves, but like in any scary movie, the most dangerous villains may be the least obvious.
Let’s take cigarette butts for example. When you think of the ocean, they’re probably not the first thing or even among the top ten things you think of. Yet, they’re the most common specter we find on our beaches year after year. In 2013, volunteers collected over 2 million cigarette butts.
Food wrappers are other trolls lurking around our beaches. International Coastal Cleanup volunteers removed more than 1.6 million of them last year alone.
The 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup is tomorrow! I’m extremely excited to see the amazing impact volunteers will have – and I can only image all the weird items we’ll find on our beaches.
Marine debris isn’t an ocean problem – it’s a people problem. That means people are the solution. More than 648,000 volunteers cleaned almost 13,000 miles of beaches and shorelines last year alone. That massive effort collectively removed 12.3 million pounds of trash worldwide!
You can be part of this marine debris solution by joining us tomorrow! A great way to turn the tide on trash is to sign up to clean up your local beach, shoreline or park as part of this year’s International Coastal Cleanup. Preventing the trash we find on beaches and shorelines from ever entering the ocean isn’t the only way of making our seas trash free. However, it’s an important step to protecting endangered animals that are threatened by marine debris.
Thanks to a group of fifth grade students who care passionately about the environment, Dunkin’ Donuts has agreed to stop using foam cups at all their store locations. These young students researched the problems associated with foam cups and were really upset to learn that foam products fragment into the ocean, where fish, sea turtles, or seabirds can mistakenly eat the plastic bits. Nearly 350,000 foam cups, plates and food containers were removed from beaches by volunteers during the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup alone.
The students launched a petition on Change.org asking Dunkin’ Donuts to stop using foam cups and have had an amazing show of public support more than 272,000 people signed on to their petition!
Ocean Conservancy wants to thank Dunkin’ Donuts for committing to making these changes. Dunkin’ Donuts has already launched in-store foam recycling pilot projects and are working to introduce an improved reusable cup program in the next 6-12 months.
In December, we told you about the launch of an exciting new pilot program called Preserve the Spirit: The Sea Turtle Protection Partnership. The program helps endangered sea turtles to thrive in the Atlantic, around the coast of Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
During the four month pilot project, volunteers in Wrightsville, N.C. cataloged and removed trash from the beaches that serve as critical nesting habitat for sea turtles. Turtle volunteers removed a total of 7,209 items of trash across six sea turtle nesting zones. The information they collect helps us to better understand the threats faced by sea turtle hatchlings in order to help come up with solutions that will help them survive.
Let’s face it, sea turtles could use a helping hand.. Did you know that most species of sea turtles are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)? Marine debris is a major threat to sea turtle’s survival. Mistaking trash for food, sea turtles are known to eat plastics and other buoyant debris. Trash can also hinder sea turtles ability to swim, and they’re prone to getting entangled in abandoned lines and netting.
Young sea turtles are especially vulnerable to marine debris. The turtle hatchlings quickly drift in the open sea where they mistake lines of floating debris for seaweed.
200 miles, 7 beaches, 4 islands and over 7,500 pieces of trash: These numbers can be used to describe my time with Rozalia Project in the Gulf of Maine. But they don’t tell the whole story. Instead “inspiring” seems to capture most of my emotions.
Incredible scenery and wildlife served as the backdrop for the long days we spent collecting and removing trash while living aboard American Promise. Not only were we surrounded by a large pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins as we sailed south from Hurricane Island, but we also had a finback whale come within 5 meters of the boat at sunset. We saw the spouts of another whale in the moonlight reflecting off the ocean, and we observed harbor porpoises and seals, a pair of bald eagles and even an ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, in Gosport Harbor.
Our crew of 10—eight people and two dogs—were united with one goal: to remove as much trash from the shoreline and ocean surface as possible while recording data about each and every item we removed. Sailing from Bar Harbor to Kittery, Maine, we conducted seven shoreline cleanups on four different islands, and aboard American Promise, we performed three Neuston net tows and multiple dip-net sessions—all resulting in the collection of a lot of trash.
This week, I’m sailing with Rozalia Project as a guest scientist onboard American Promise. I joined the crew in Bar Harbor, Maine, and I’m spending seven days sailing south through the Gulf of Maine with our journey concluding at the ship’s home port of Kittery, Maine.
My home away from home is Rozalia Project’s “mother ship,” American Promise. Not originally meant to be a garbage-hunter, American Promise has a storied past. She was designed by America’s Cup champion Ted Hood to sail around the world in record time. From November 1985 to April 1986, American Promise did just that when Dodge Morgan became the first American to sail around the world alone in record-breaking time.
One of the main goals of this sail will be to remove as much trash from the water as possible. Much of our work regarding marine debris is centered around the items found along our coastlines and floating on the surface of coastal and inland waterways. However, we know marine debris comes in all shapes and sizes and is present throughout the water column.