The Blog Aquatic » Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Plastics Are a Whale of a Problem for Our Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/26/plastics-are-a-whale-of-a-problem-for-our-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/26/plastics-are-a-whale-of-a-problem-for-our-ocean/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:35:37 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9123

Photo: Eric Patey via Flickr Creative Commons

Sei whales are majestic animals and I’ve had the great fortune of witnessing their grace and splendor in the open ocean. Last week, however, a 45-foot sei whale washed up on the shores of the Elizabeth River in Virginia. An 11-foot bruise above her left jaw and two fractured vertebrae led the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team to believe she was killed by blunt force trauma following a collision with a ship.

However, a necropsy revealed that the whale also had “a large sharp piece of rigid, black plastic” roughly the size of a standard index card lodged in her stomach.

In the days leading up to her death, the Virginia Aquarium team said that she “was thin and its movements were not indicative of a healthy whale.” They believe that the plastic in the whale’s stomach prevented her from feeding normally. This likely weakened the whale and could explain why she swam up the Elizabeth River.


Unfortunately we cannot dismiss this as a tragic, isolated incident. Plastic pollution in the marine environment has become a persistent and proliferating threat to our ocean. Plastics pose a great threat to the animals that live in and around the ocean, and our fight for a clean ocean is just as much for them as it is for us.

While there is no “catch all” solution for ocean trash, you can join the fight for a healthy ocean. This September, Ocean Conservancy is hosting its 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup. The Cleanup will not eradicate the perils of plastics in the ocean, but it can eliminate the chance that items littering our beaches and waterways ever find their way into our marine environment.

Join us, and you can help make a difference for our ocean.

 

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You’re Invited http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/25/youre-invited/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/25/youre-invited/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 13:49:07 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9085

 

It’s time to make a difference!

On Saturday, September 20th, Ocean Conservancy is hosting the International Coastal Cleanup. Volunteers around the world are gathering to remove trash from their beaches and waterways. And you’re invited!

The Cleanup is so important for a healthy ocean. Last year, volunteers collected a record-breaking 13.6 million items of trash. With your help, we can collect even more.

But having more trash on our beaches to pick up is not a thing to celebrate. The sad truth is that our beaches and waterways are polluted and littered with trash. This summer as millions of Americans head to the beach, they’ll encounter plastic bottle caps, straws, cigarette butts and more.

That’s why we need to work together to stop the flow of trash before it has a chance to reach the water to choke and entangle dolphins, endanger sea turtles, ruin our beaches, and depress our local economies.

Tell us you’ll join us at this year’s International Coastal Clean Up.

Once you’ve registered, you’ll be directed to our Cleanup map, where you can find the details for a cleanup near you.

I can’t wait to see you at the International Coastal Cleanup this September!

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The Five Myths (and Truths) About Plastic Pollution in Our Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/17/the-five-myths-and-truths-about-plastic-pollution-in-our-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/17/the-five-myths-and-truths-about-plastic-pollution-in-our-ocean/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:00:39 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8754

Photo by John Kieser

As the Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program, I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who care about the ocean and are making a difference for the communities that depend on it. However, I’m always surprised by the number of misconceptions about ocean plastics.

With many people visiting the beach this summer, not to mention all the coverage that ocean plastics has received recently, it’s a great opportunity to clear up some of these myths:

  1. Myth: There are floating islands of plastics in every ocean.
    Fact: Only a small percentage of ocean plastics float at the sea surface.Most plastics are dispersed throughout the water column, resting on the seafloor, trapped in Arctic ice, or inside ocean animals. The plastic gyres you hear about in the news are primarily composed of tiny plastic particles that are the degraded fragments of their original form (i.e., bottles, containers, toys)—many are the size of a grain of rice. 
  2. Myth: Ocean plastic primarily comes from ocean dumping and industry, such as cruise ships or container ships. .
    Fact: Most of the plastics in the ocean come from items we use every day—bags, bottles, caps, food containers, etc. By limiting single-use plastics in our everyday lives and disposing of these items properly, we can reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean. 
  3. Myth: Ocean trash gyres, large areas of the ocean where currents concentrate trash, can simply be cleaned out of existence.
    Fact: While some surface trash can be cleaned, many plastics break down and become dispersed. Only a small percentage of total ocean plastics inputs rest at the surface. The rest is distributed throughout the ocean or winds up inside animals. We don’t have a realistic, efficient way to remove these plastics from the system (yet).
  4. Myth: Ocean plastics are just a trash problem.
    Fact: Plastic particles are now found inside animals and throughout the ocean food chain—from mussels to fish to turtles to whales. 
  5. Myth: There is one, simple solution capable of solving our ocean plastics problem.
    Fact: Bans, fees, recycling nor product redesign alone can fix this. The ultimate solution is a combination of all of these and more. The biggest impact will come from stopping the massive amounts of plastic litter before it travels over land, and into our waterways and ocean.

With all this in mind, you might be thinking—what can I do to make a difference? You can sign up to clean your local beach or waterway by joining Ocean Conservancy in the International Coastal Cleanup on Saturday, September 20. You’ll be among hundreds of thousands of volunteers working towards a cleaner ocean.

Cleanups alone can’t solve this problem, but volunteers are instrumental in helping us assemble our Ocean Trash Index. This provides us with a snapshot of what’s trashing our ocean so we can work towards preventing the most abundant and problematic items of trash from reaching the water in the first place.

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Declare Your Independence from Plastic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/03/declare-your-independence-from-plastic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/03/declare-your-independence-from-plastic/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:00:17 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8705

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

Trash has infiltrated all reaches of our ocean from our coastlines to the deepest depths. This Fourth of July, declare your independence from plastic and help reduce marine debris! Here are 10 easy ways you can free yourself from unnecessary plastics:

  1. It’s easy to skip the straw when you’re at a sit down restaurant. By simply asking your waiter to hold the straw, you can prevent another piece of plastic from ending up on our beaches or in the ocean
  2. When you throw away (or preferably recycle) a plastic bottle, keep the bottle cap on. This prevents it from escaping the bin and ending up in the ocean. Bottle caps are buoyant plastics that can be consumed by seabirds, marine life and other animals.
  3. Plastic bags pose a serious threat to ocean wildlife. Sea turtles can mistake them for jellies, their favorite snack. Bring a reusable bag with you whenever and wherever you go shopping.
  4. Try only using trashcans and recycling bins that are sealed or have a top. Don’t let the wind blow away your green deed of the day.
  5. Use a reusable mug or bottle when you’re on the go. Some coffee shops will even fill it for a discount. Save some cash by saving the ocean.
  6. Cigarette butts have been the most common item of trash found on beaches every year since the International Coastal Cleanup began in 1986. Volunteers collected over 2 million in 2013 alone. If you need a smoke break while on the beach, be sure to take your butt with you and dispose of it properly once off the sand.
  7. Ask your favorite to-go place to leave the bag, plastic utensils and napkins behind. And give those food containers a second life by storing all the random stuff you have but don’t know where to put.
  8. Check out some Pinterest DIY tips or YouTube tutorials on how to turn extra plastics into your favorite accessories or decorations.
  9. Take part in the International Coastal Cleanup to rid your local beach,  shoreline or waterway of trash.
  10. Share this with your friends to help them declare their independence from plastic!
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Where Has All the Plastic Gone? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/02/where-has-all-the-plastic-gone/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/02/where-has-all-the-plastic-gone/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 17:11:07 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8698

Photo: Thomas Jones

We live in a society of plastics, no doubt about it. And as our insatiable appetite for plastics has increased year after year, so too has the quantity of plastics flowing into our ocean. The magnitude of this input and the ultimate resting place of ocean plastic pollution, however, remain up for debate.

In a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Dr. Andres Cozar and his colleagues estimate the total amount of floating plastic debris in the ocean is several orders of magnitude less than the 1 million tons extrapolated from data published by the National Academy of Sciences in the 1970s.

The question that emerges from this study is one that Dr. Richard Thompson posed in 2004: “Where is all the plastic?”

Just as there are many ways for plastics to enter the ocean, there are also many “sinks” to which plastics can find their way. Cozar notes another probable explanation for the missing plastics is micro-algae attaching to the plastics surface and causing it to sink below the surface, and wind acting on the sea surface can push plastics deep down into the mixed layer.

Another increasingly supported hypothesis is that a sizeable portion of the missing plastics could be inside marine biota—ranging in size from copepods to fishes to sea turtles to marine mammals. The ingestion of these materials is particularly troublesome since plastics adsorb contaminants from the surrounding seawater onto the sea surface, posing a toxicological threat to the organism. This, of course, is in addition to the physical blockage or piercing of animals’ digestive systems. Recently, researchers showed that arctic sea ice could be holding up to 1 trillion pieces of plastics that will become bioavailable as the ice melts over the next decade.

Regardless of where these missing plastics may rest, the solution is simple:  stop these materials from flowing into the marine environment. This means looking to rapidly industrializing nations where increasing populations and affluence are fueling a yearning for the single use disposable plastics that have been a part of our society for decades. Unfortunately, in most of these developing geographies the most basic of waste management infrastructure does not yet exist. Moreover, we must work with the most qualified and sophisticated corporations on this planet to create public-private partnerships to remedy these basic waste management needs.

There’s no single solution to ocean plastics; everyone has a role to play. I encourage everyone to join Ocean Conservancy and be part of the solution with us by participating in the International Coastal Cleanup on September 20.

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Washington, DC: “Farewell Foam… Hello Clean Water!” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/01/washington-dc-farewell-foam-hello-clean-water/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/01/washington-dc-farewell-foam-hello-clean-water/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 13:56:08 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8680

Volunteers cleanup plastic-foam along the Anacostia River in Washington, DC.

July 18, 2014 update: Our nation’s capital has banned plastic-foam food containers!

As a conservationist, ocean lover and resident of Washington, DC, I have some exciting news to share! Last week, lawmakers in our nation’s capital voted to ban the use of plastic-foam food and drink containers throughout the District by 2016. This is a fantastic step for the health of the Anacostia River and a major step towards trash-free seas!

Each year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, we see massive quantities of foam polluting beaches, waterways and coastlines—1.2 million items of foam during the 2013 Cleanup alone. And foam doesn’t just disappear. A best-case scenario would have a single plastic-foam cup fully “biodegrading” in 500 years; however, it’s likely that these plastics will never truly go away. Foam is lightweight and brittle, fragmenting into small pieces at the slightest touch. These properties are the very reason it disperses so easily and widely on beaches and into rivers and marine environments.  With each piece of foam that fragments into waterways or the ocean, the likelihood that fish, sea turtles, or seabirds will mistakenly eat those plastic bits increases, threatening the health animals and our oceans.


While ocean cleanups help to lessen the problem – they are not the long-term solution. Cities and communities banning products like foam and encouraging fewer single-use products with actions like bag taxes, along with the production of fewer disposable goods are key in preventing trash from reaching the water in the first place.

But, before this new legislation becomes law, there will be a second and final vote on the bill this summer. We’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of this bill and hope that DC joins the ranks of Seattle, San Francisco and many other cities that have banned foam containers.

And, don’t forget—YOU can make a difference. Take the pledge to turn the tide on ocean trash and fight for a healthy ocean.

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Illinois Takes a Big Stand on Tiny Plastics http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/17/illinois-takes-a-big-stand-on-tiny-plastics/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/17/illinois-takes-a-big-stand-on-tiny-plastics/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 15:10:38 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8565

© Peter Hoffman / Aurora Photos

Last week, Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn signed state-wide legislation banning the manufacture and sale of cosmetic products containing synthetic microbeads. This legislation made Illinois the first state to take action against the harmful plastics, which are used as exfoliants in many personal care products including soaps, toothpastes and cleansers.

Governor Quinn’s strong stance against microbeads in cosmetics has major implications for the health of our ocean. All too frequently, these plastic bits find their way into the ocean where they pollute the water and are accidentally ingested by fish. Banning their manufacture and sale brings us one step closer to the trash free seas (and lakes) we deserve.

The Illinois microbead-ban isn’t in full effect until 2019, though several companies are working to phase out the tiny plastic particles before then. Until that time, consumers wishing to purchase products without microbeads should avoid items containing “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” in the ingredients list.

Illinois’ legislation is part of a greater trend towards limiting our consumption of single-use plastics. Four other states are considering similar bills, and several other states and cities have successfully implemented bag-bans/bag-taxes.

These policies are important for helping to regulate how much plastic we use, and subsequently how much plastic ends up in the ocean. I’m thrilled to see leaders in public office taking a stand against ocean trash, and I look forward to seeing a future where less plastic enters our ocean.

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