The Blog Aquatic » Allison Schutes News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Victory for Baby Sea Turtles Wed, 09 Apr 2014 11:00:06 +0000 Allison Schutes

Photo: Ellen Splain

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.

Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, Preserve the Spirit: The Sea Turtle Protection Partnership has been a huge success. We are expanding the pilot program to include beaches in 5 more states. With more volunteers on more beaches, Ocean Conservancy can continue protecting sea turtles and fighting for trash free seas.

Thank you for making endangered sea turtles a priority. We couldn’t have done it without you.

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Helping Sea Turtles Never See Marine Debris Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:48:55 +0000 Allison Schutes

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.[1]

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.[2]

Unfortunately, cleaning up debris throughout the entire ocean is an impractical task—there’s just too much of it! But, don’t despair; we have had success removing ocean debris on our beaches, where the sea turtles hatch from their eggs before crawling across the sand to the sea.

I’m sure you’ve seen trash on the beach. It’s not only unpleasant to the eye, but this waste poses a threat to sea turtles in their nesting habitats. Once a sea turtle hatches from its egg, it needs to reach the ocean as quick as possible—tiny sea turtles look like tasty treats to hungry predators!

In addition to trying to avoid predators, sea turtles also have to avoid the obstacle of marine debris – dodging plastic bags and crawling around bottle caps. If snagged, debris on the beach can entangle or trap emerging hatchlings, preventing them from ever reaching the sea.[3]Adult female turtles can also become trapped by beach debris during their attempts to lay a nest, which increases the difficulty of the already arduous nesting process.[4]

A ray of hope for sea turtles—citizen science has emerged as a vital way to protect our environment and ocean. Volunteers, also known as citizen scientists, have been collecting marine debris data for 28 years as part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Likewise, sea turtle volunteers perform an array of data collection services that directly aid sea turtle conservation, including beach patrols to check for signs of nesting activity, marking new nests and calculating hatch success rate.


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Gulf of Maine Cleanups Show Ocean Trash Is Global Problem With Local Impacts, Solutions Wed, 28 Aug 2013 21:50:18 +0000 Allison Schutes Scientist aboard American Promise empties a net full of marine debris

Photo: Allison Schutes / Ocean Conservancy

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.

Despite traveling to several remote islands off Maine’s rocky coast, we found many of the same items that top our list during the International Coastal Cleanup every year. Items like food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, foam cups and plates, and bottle caps were prevalent on almost every cleanup conducted while sailing through the Gulf of Maine.

These results are not incredibly surprising because we know that trash travels. Whether carried by the wind, current or human hands, everyday trash is able to make its way to even the most remote of places. For example, I pulled a food wrapper, a cigarette butt and a strap for sunglasses out of the water while sailing 50 miles off the coast of Portland, Maine.

Yet during this journey, single use plastic items were not our biggest finds. Fishing gear, including rope, monofilament line, fishing buoys, pots and traps, and lobster claw bands topped our list of items collected through the entire journey. We even found lobster bands, bleach and beverage bottles with French labels and markings, indicating these items may have started their journey in Canada.

All of these data are further indicative that ocean trash is a global problem with local impacts and local solutions. We all have a role to play in combating ocean trash, and joining us for the 28th International Coastal Cleanup is a great place to start.

Want to get started before the Cleanup? Take the pledge to help turn the tide on ocean trash.

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Setting Sail to Search for Marine Debris in the Gulf of Maine Wed, 14 Aug 2013 22:10:09 +0000 Allison Schutes American Promise sailboat

Photo: Rozalia Project

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.

In addition to using nets to gather debris, the Rozalia Project team is also equipped with two remotely operated vehicles that are able to reach depths of up to 1,000 feet. The ROVs will enable us to reach debris otherwise inaccessible to humans due to the depth, pressure or water temperature. The ROVs also allow for zero-impact trash removal, ensuring debris doesn’t drag along the seafloor or have an effect on marine life.

Removing trash from the water isn’t our only task. We will also be conducting beach cleanups on remote islands in the Gulf of Maine. Despite their location and the fact that the islands are relatively uninhabited, I expect to find many of the same trash items that we find during the annual International Coastal Cleanup.

How is that possible? Trash travels, and plastic items such as bottle caps, food wrappers and bags are easily carried by wind or storm water into local waterways and eventually to the ocean.

Throughout this entire journey, I will be collecting data on each item we collect, trying to find out more about that item and where it is from, and then hypothesizing on how exactly it made its way to the Gulf of Maine.

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CVS Volunteers Collect Trash Equivalent of Four Elephants Thu, 18 Jul 2013 14:44:59 +0000 Allison Schutes Kayaker cleaning up at Dallas CVS Cleanup

Credit: Allison Schutes / Ocean Conservancy

Four elephants, 11 tons, 25,000 pounds. It doesn’t matter how you describe the number—it is a lot of trash! Over the past several months, Ocean Conservancy has partnered with CVS Caremark to clean up shorelines around the country, and over the course of five events, volunteers have picked up nearly 25,000 pounds of trash.

I was lucky enough to participate in three of the five CVS events: Elm Fork Trinity River in Dallas, Montrose Beach in Chicago and Colt State Park in Bristol, Rhode Island. Cleanups also took place at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, Florida, and Emerald Hills in San Diego.

With every cleanup I participate in, there is always at least one moment or person that leaves a lasting impact, and the CVS cleanups were no different. As the volunteers arrived at Elm Fork Trinity River for the Dallas cleanup, one came with a kayak in tow. I assumed this volunteer was going to paddle in and out of the river’s shoreline crevices, grabbing what we land-bound volunteers could not reach.

However, he proceeded directly to a small pond adjacent to the river and spent the next two and a half hours removing every piece of trash from the pond, including a 55 gallon barrel, a tire and hundreds of plastic beverage bottles. This one volunteer alone collected over 200 pounds of trash from his kayak; it was absolutely inspiring to witness.

The Dallas cleanup was quite interesting for another reason as well. As I circled around the site speaking with volunteers, they could not believe the materials they had found. While this is a common sentiment—people are often surprised to find immense quantities of straws, cigarette butts or food wrappers—many of the materials at this cleanup were quite different.

Volunteers pulled rolls of carpet from the vegetation lining the river. They collected bricks and mortar in the wooded areas. And they even found an old porcelain bathroom vanity counter—complete with faucet handles—buried in the marsh.

It became more and more clear that this location on Elm Fork Trinity River had been used as a dump site. Illegal dumping is not an uncommon problem facing our waterways. Dumping is more common along inland waterways, such as this site in Dallas, than on beaches because inland waterways can be isolated with few visitors, and the trash appears to “go away” after a decent storm.

However, after 27 years of International Coastal Cleanups, we know that this trash does not just go away. It ends up reappearing on our neighboring communities’ shorelines, in our ocean and on our beaches.

Whether you live inland or on a coast, the importance of clean waterways is vital, and each of us can have an impact. It was exciting to share these experiences with the CVS Caremark colleagues who joined us for these Shoreline Cleanup adventures. Thank you to all the volunteers who took part!

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What Goes Up Must Come Down: Celebrate the Fourth of July with a July 5 Cleanup Tue, 02 Jul 2013 17:00:22 +0000 Allison Schutes fireworks

Credit: Jon Rawlinson via Flickr

Watermelon, baseball, cookouts, beach trips and fireworks: Does it get any better than summer? Summer is my favorite season for many reasons, but sitting in the sand with a warm summer breeze while watching fireworks takes me back to being a kid and the sheer joy summer entails.

The Fourth of July is also a day that unites all Americans. No matter where you live, it’s the perfect day to gather with family and friends, spend time outside and end the evening gazing upward at colorful explosions in sky.

But amid the excitement of finding the perfect perch to watch the fireworks display and the rush to beat the traffic after the show concludes, it’s easy to forget all the small pieces of cardboard and plastic that float back down to the ground after the amazing spectacle in the sky. Unfortunately, this debris can end up in our ocean, affecting the health of people, wildlife and economies.

Even in places where fireworks are not allowed on the beach, July Fourth is one of the busiest days of the entire year for our coastlines. A crowded beach not only means it may be tough to find a spot to set your towel, but it also means more trash.

From food wrappers and plastic beverage bottles to cigarette butts, straws and plastic bags, you name it and we’ve found it on the beach during our annual International Coastal Cleanup. These items may be accidently left behind or they may blow out of trash cans, but ultimately they can end up spending years in our ocean, littering our beaches and endangering marine life.

So this week, I challenge you to spend not only one day, July Fourth, at your local shoreline or park, but spend two! Communities all over the country—from Seattle to San Diego and even Washington, D.C.—host beach, waterway and park cleanups on July 5. Volunteers head to the busiest spots to ensure the remnants of all our celebrations don’t end up in the ocean.

To help Ocean Conservancy marine debris specialists get a snapshot of how many fireworks we are finding on our beaches, we’ve added fireworks to the data card that volunteers use to keep track of what they find during cleanups.

I will be participating in a July 5 cleanup in St. Augustine, Florida, armed with our new data card. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you at the beach!

Let us know in comments if you’re planning to join a July 5 cleanup in your area, and share your tips for keeping Independence Day celebrations trash-free.

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“These Things Are Fun and Fun Is Good”: Dr. Seuss Stamps Celebrate World Oceans Day Fri, 07 Jun 2013 20:19:42 +0000 Allison Schutes Trio of World Oceans Day stampsLast week, I had the incredible honor of participating in the NAPEX First Day of Issue Ceremony for the United Nations Postal Administration’s stamp commemorating World Oceans Day 2013.

The U.N. partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to develop the stamps, which showcase the timeless characters of Dr. Seuss’ book, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Celebrating our connection with the ocean, the stamps remind us of how important it is to protect it.

The stamps—issued in three different currencies: U.S. dollars, Swiss francs and euros—are a further representation of the central role the ocean plays in our lives, regardless of what city, state or country we call home. From near to far, from here to there,” as the stamps say, our ocean is everywhere.

For me, this sentiment is never more true than when we release the data we collect each year during our International Coastal Cleanup. After analyzing more than 10 million pounds of trash collected from beaches and waterways all over the world, our top 10 list includes items we use every day, from cigarette butts to food wrappers to plastic beverage bottles. That means ocean trash is a preventable problem that we can all have an impact in solving.

These stamps are a perfect reminder—especially when we are consumed with the hustle and bustle of our busy lives—that we each play a role in protecting our ocean. So let’s celebrate this World Oceans Day by making a conscious effort to help keep the ocean healthy.

You can start with small steps by downloading Rippl, Ocean Conservancy’s free mobile application that helps you make simple, sustainable lifestyle choices.

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