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.
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.
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.
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.