Ocean Currents » Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 21 Feb 2017 16:25:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 The Saddest ‘Emoji’ of All http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/03/the-saddest-emoji-of-all/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/03/the-saddest-emoji-of-all/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 19:27:13 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13712 Emoji – “a small digital image or icon used to express an idea, emotion, etc., in electronic communication.”

But for veterinarians and staff at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida, Emoji was so much more.

Emoji was a two-week old orphaned Florida manatee that was found 15 pounds underweight when Zoo staff rescued him separated from his mother in October. Despite being underweight, Emoji was found with a full belly. Unfortunately, it was plastic bags and debris that filled its stomach, while other trash protruded out the back side of Emoji’s digestive system.

For three months, staff at Lowry Park Zoo provided Emoji top notch care and worked to rehabilitate the manatee. In spite of their heroic efforts however, Emoji finally succumbed to its injuries this past Monday.

Dr. Ray Ball, a senior veterinarian at the Zoo, noted that it’s not unusual for manatee calves to ingest plastics and other debris. And sadly, this tragic event is not an uncommon occurrence in our global ocean. It’s estimated that 52% of the world’s remaining sea turtles have eaten plastics and 62% of sea birds have plastics in their guts. Whales that wash ashore dead have been discovered with massive accumulations of fishing nets and other debris in their stomachs, and increasingly widespread contamination of plastics in fish and shellfish is being documented by scientists.

“Now more than ever, we must hold ourselves accountable, whether that’s keeping trash and plastics out of our waterways or being more mindful of potential consequences of propeller strikes on wildlife while boating,” said Ball.

We are saddened by Emoji’s story. But, here at at Ocean Conservancy we try very hard to make sure stories like these become fewer and fewer by working every day to stop plastics and debris from entering the ocean. We continue to work very closely with Loggerhead Marinelife Center and other sea turtle organizations to keep trash off nesting beaches and help monitor trends in the trash collected.

For 32 years, Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), has helped keep trash off our beaches and out of the ocean! Volunteers from states and territories throughout the U.S. and more than 150 countries come together each year and participate in an ICC event on their local beach or waterway.  Three decades of Cleanups have yielded more than 220 million pounds of trash being collected and saved from polluting our ocean, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of over 12 million volunteers.

Reading stories like this one of Emoji may make you feel sad and helpless—but there are actions in your daily lives that you can take to help make a positive difference in the community around you. You can take the ocean oath—and join Ocean Conservancy. It’s our goal to generate 100,000 actions during the first hundred days President Trump is in office.

So while it may seem tough at the moment, we can all celebrate Emoji by committing to a clean and healthy ocean free of trash for generations of humans and manatees to come.

 

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Exploring the Remote Midway Atoll http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/02/exploring-hawaiis-midway-atoll/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/02/exploring-hawaiis-midway-atoll/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:00:29 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12761

Just last week, President Obama announced that he will quadruple the Papahānaumokuākea Hawaii Monument—creating the world’s largest protected marine area. At 582,578 square miles, Papahānaumokuākea will be nearly four times the size of California and 105 times larger than Connecticut. This is huge news for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, sharks and more that call this uniquely biodiverse seascape home.

Nicholas Mallos, Director of our Trash Free Seas program, traveled to Papahānaumokuākea in 2010 to see first-hand the beauty—and the dangers—in this spectacular ecosystem.

Setting foot on land more than 1,000 miles from your nearest neighbor, one might suspect to find themselves in an unspoiled environment with little or no sign of human presence. Unfortunately, on Midway Atoll, this is not the case. Part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Midway is at the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, roughly equidistant from Asia and North America.

Midway is truly “out there.” The atoll’s nearest population center is Honolulu, which is 1,311 miles to the southeast and a five-hour trip by plane. Having reviewed the literature, perused the photos and watched the films, I thought I was prepared for my 2010 research trip to the Atoll. But I was not.

Lying literally in the middle of nowhere, Midway is a beautiful and deeply surreal place, mystical and transformative. At night, Bonin petrels, small nocturnal seabirds, flock the skies in the hundreds of thousands, emitting shrieks eerily synonymous with their avian counterparts in Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds.” During the day, petrel shrills are replaced by the relentless chatter of more than one million Laysan and black-footed albatross. Midway is the largest nesting colony for Laysans and the second largest for black-foots. Offshore, the roar of the ocean is equally sonorous with a monster swell that breaks over the atoll’s fringing reefs.

Seventy years ago, Japanese and U.S. military forces pummeled these islands with artillery during the Battle of Midway, one of the most important naval battles of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. But despite decades without troops or thunderous artillery, these islands remain endangered by a far more persistent threat manufactured by humankind: plastics.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands act like a filter in the North Pacific, ensnaring large amounts of drifting fishing gear and debris on its fringing reefs and sandy shores. The daily accumulation of large debris on Midway’s shores—almost entirely plastics—threatens the monk seals and sea turtles that haul out on its beaches and forage in the atoll’s shallow waters. With only 1,200 monk seals remaining, the loss of even a single animal can substantially impact the species. Entanglement in debris and ingestion of plastics is also a serious concern for Hawaiian green turtles, a subspecies that is genetically distinct from all other green sea turtles found throughout the world.

But seabirds, most notably albatross, incur the greatest impact from plastic debris. Each year, approximately 4.5 tons (nearly 10,000 pounds) of plastics are brought to Midway not by currents or wind, but in the stomachs of the birds themselves. Mothers and fathers forage at sea for weeks in search of fish eggs, squid and other prey in hopes of nourishing their newly hatched chicks that wait anxiously hundreds or even thousands of miles away. All too often, adult albatross return to Midway and regurgitate offerings more reminiscent of a convenience store than that of a natural albatross diet. Plastic bottle caps, cigarette lighters, fishing floats and great quantities of plastic fragments are now part of the albatross diet. Unlike their parents, Laysan chicks do not possess the ability to regurgitate; once consumed, these plastics are often fatal to chicks through a variety of mechanisms including starvation, stomach rupture or asphyxiation.

I witnessed the unintended consequences of plastics on Laysan and black-footed albatross firsthand during a two week stay on Midway in 2010, where my colleagues and I completed a preliminary assessment of plastics’ impacts on marine wildlife. Trekking around the islands, it was impossible to avoid plastics—colorful shapes and sizes speckled the ground while other types of plastic protruded from the guts of recently perished albatross chicks.

By analyzing the stomach contents of a deceased chick found lying on the old airstrip amid the sprouting grass, I further deconstructed the plastics-albatross relationship. Finding a specimen was not difficult; hundreds of options were available on that same runway. The stomach contents of my single albatross included nine plastic bottle caps, two strands of dental floss, one five-inch orange fishing float, 103 miscellaneous plastic pieces, six pumice stones and 60 squid beaks—the latter two items being the only naturally occurring components of a Laysan’s diet. While this was only a single sample, the total mass of the synthetic stomach contents was roughly 100 grams, about the same as a quarter-pound hamburger.

The magnificent albatross on Midway Island are more than just birds. As part of our natural world, they are an object lesson in how we are treating our planet. Albatross, along with the other inhabitants of Midway, are the recipients of the collective impacts of the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that permeates our global society. While I have been fortunate to visit these animals in this far off world, one need not travel to Midway to witness the persistence and proliferation of marine debris. The ocean plastics crisis is just down the road or over the nearest sand dune.

Take a moment to say mahalo (thank you) to President Obama for creating the world’s largest protected marine area.

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San Francisco Bans Polystyrene Foam http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/07/san-francisco-bans-polystyrene-foam/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/07/san-francisco-bans-polystyrene-foam/#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2016 17:30:38 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12400

Great news from the west coast! Last week, the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a ban on the sale of polystyrene foam. Foam packing, cups and mooring buoys will be prohibited starting January 1, 2017. This is a major win for the health of our ocean and marine life!

As you may already know, the problems associated with expanded polystyrene (foam) products is that they often fragment into small pieces once in the ocean, where fish, sea turtles or seabirds can mistakenly eat the tiny plastic bits. Nearly 425,000 foam cups, plates and food containers were removed from beaches by volunteers during the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup alone. And even more astounding are the more than 950,000 pieces of foam volunteers found on beaches around the globe during the 2015 Cleanup.

The ban in San Francisco is another step towards trash free seas! We continue to see dirty beaches and debris floating on the ocean’s surface. That’s why my colleagues and I are committed to continuing to work to stop the flow of trash at the source, before it has a chance to reach the water to choke and entangle dolphins or endanger sea turtles, or ruin our beaches and depress our local economies.

Will you help to stop the flow of trash into the ocean? I have two quick ways that you can join us to help keep beaches and the ocean free of debris.

  1. Join a global movement to keep beaches, waterways and the ocean trash free. Head out to your favorite beach and use Ocean Conservancy’s brand-new app to easily record each item of trash you collect. Then share your effort with family and friends.
  2. Sign up to cleanup this September! For nearly three decades, volunteers with Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup® have picked up everything imaginable along the world’s shorelines: cigarette butts, food wrappers, abandoned fishing gear and even automobiles and kitchen appliances. Join us this September!

I applaud the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors for taking bold action to stem the tide of foam polluting our beaches and waterways. And, I applaud the many volunteers who come out daily, weekly or yearly to keep our beaches trash free. I hope to see you at a Cleanup in the near future!

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A Fashionable Way to Combat Ocean Plastic Pollution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/08/a-fashionable-way-to-combat-ocean-plastic-pollution/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/08/a-fashionable-way-to-combat-ocean-plastic-pollution/#comments Wed, 08 Jun 2016 15:00:04 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12219

There’s no doubt about it: ocean plastic pollution is a big problem. An estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste flow from land into the ocean every year, meaning that by 2025 there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish! And there’s much more to the problem than floating bags, bottles and fishing nets—as many as 51 trillion pieces of microplastic (plastic pieces less than five mm) now circulate in the ocean.

Big problems call for creative solutions. To truly make an impact in the problem of ocean plastic pollution, we have to attack it from multiple directions. This includes minimizing the amount of plastic waste we create, managing our waste to prevent plastic pollution from leaking into the ocean and mitigating the existing marine debris through active cleanup and restoration efforts.

Ocean Conservancy has been fighting back against ocean plastic pollution for the past 30 years. Last year alone, more than 18 million pounds of trash—equivalent to the weight of over 100 Boeing 737s—was collected by nearly 800,000 volunteers during our 2015 International Coastal Cleanup.

Fortunately, we’re not the only ones worried about ocean plastic pollution. Socially conscious enterprises are developing innovative solutions to bring attention to this immense problem and create financial incentives for keeping plastic debris out of the ocean.

One standout is eyewear company Norton Point, which is launching a new line of sunglasses that will be made from ocean-bound plastics collected, in partnership with The Plastic Bank, from communities and beaches where plastic waste is overrunning local capacity to manage it. Creative efforts like this help bring attention to the growing problem of plastic debris while expanding the market for recycled plastics. With their new line, Norton Point is creating greater economic incentives to clean our beaches.

We’re happy to be Norton Point’s charitable partner for their Ocean Plastic Collection. Norton Point will reinvest 5% of net profits from this line back into improving global clean-up efforts and toward stemming the tide against ocean plastic.

Business models like this just go to show that there are many ways to join in the fight against ocean plastic pollution. Whether it’s skipping the straw, joining a local cleanup or buying a pair of recycled, ocean-plastic sunglasses; every sustainable choice helps move us towards a healthier, happier ocean.

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Standing Before the Senate to Address the Ocean Plastics Problem http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/17/standing-before-the-senate-to-address-the-ocean-plastics-problem/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/17/standing-before-the-senate-to-address-the-ocean-plastics-problem/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 15:25:15 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12073

Earlier today, I testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the problem of ocean plastics and how it negatively affects ocean animals. Ocean plastics are a problem that affects us all. From our fisheries to our beaches to our protected environments—ocean plastics are a cause of concern for all Americans.

The growing tide of ocean pollution is a problem for sea turtles that ingest plastic, sea birds that get tangled in fishing lines and marine mammals that wash ashore with belly’s full of trash.

I’m grateful to the Senate for passing the U.S. Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act of 2006, which authorized the creation of the Marine Debris Program (MDP) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA MDP has been instrumental in informing and catalyzing marine debris research and solutions in the United States and abroad.

In order to stem the tide of ocean plastics, however, more action is required by Congress. In my testimony before the Senate, I urged Congress to:

  • Increase funding for independent research on ocean plastics; and
  • Identify opportunities to partner with industry for sustainable solutions.

I commend the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for having this public testimony and bringing sorely needed attention to this issue. We hope that this hearing will be just the beginning of concerted action against the problem of ocean plastics, and that together we can work toward a future of trash free seas.

Thank you to the more than 11,000 ocean advocates who joined Ocean Conservancy’s call to action—and sent in letters to their Senators. I was able to deliver YOUR letters to the Senate during my testimony. It was nice knowing that I wasn’t alone, but that all of you were standing with me as I testified before the Senate. Thank you!

Together, with scientists, governments, businesses and YOU—we can push for real solutions that help reduce marine debris and save countless animals that depend on a healthy ocean for their very survival.

 

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How Dangerous is Ocean Plastic? Insights From Global Experts on the Greatest Threat to Marine Wildlife http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/12/how-dangerous-is-ocean-plastic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/12/how-dangerous-is-ocean-plastic/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 20:00:53 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11233

By George H. Leonard, PhD and Nicholas J. Mallos MEM

Over the course of the 30-year history of the International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers have removed over 200 million items from beaches and waterways around the world.  The top-ten list of items removed includes items like plastics bottles, plastic bottle caps, aluminum cans, cigarette butts, derelict fishing gear and a range of disposable plastic goods and food packaging. The scientific literature is replete with anecdotal information of marine wildlife impacted by these marine debris items. Indeed, over 690 species (from the smallest of plankton to the largest of whales) have been documented to be negatively impacted by marine debris.

But until now, the consequence of different marine debris items to populations of these animals – and the mechanism by which they do so – has been far less clear. Experimentally testing the impact of plastic items to whole populations of marine wildlife is technically challenging (if not impossible) and for species that are of threatened or endangered status, legally prohibited as well as morally questionable. But we have just published a paper in Marine Policy along with our colleagues Drs. Chris Wilcox and Denise Hardesty at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia that uses elicitation techniques to overcome these challenges. Our analysis provides key insights into the relative threat of different debris items to a healthy ocean that should provide additional impetus to decision makers to tackle this growing problem.

Elicitation is a widely used technique to rigorously quantify the professional judgement of a community of experts on a specific issue. It has been used to evaluate threats to endangered sea turtles as well as provide insights into coastal risk management under changing climate conditions. In today’s connected world, we used the worldwide web to reach out to a large number of experts around the world that had professional experience with marine debris, its interactions with marine wildlife, or had undertaken taxa-specific research on sea turtles, marine mammals, or seabirds. Using a detailed survey instrument, we asked them to use their professional judgement to estimate the likelihood that different taxa would encounter specific products in the ocean, estimate the severity of the impact of those encounters, and allocate this impact among three types of threats (entanglement, ingestion or chemical contamination). Applying a statistical model allowed us to rank order the relative impact of 20 different marine debris items on seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles.

Our results are striking and provide key insights into policy needed to address impacts to wildlife.  Derelict fishing gear, including nets, fishing line, traps and buoys were found to pose the greatest overall threat to all types of marine wildlife, largely through entanglement. Given that fishing gear is purposefully designed to catch animals, this result isn’t surprising but it does suggest that focused attention is needed to reduce the threat of derelict fishing gear on marine species. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative is an innovative approach to confronting this problem and Ocean Conservancy is proud to be an active member of this effort.

Among the other items tested, plastic bags emerged as the next most impactful item for marine wildlife. Experts highlighted the tendency of animals like sea turtles to mistake them for food.  Disposable plastic bags have long met the ire of environmental activists and numerous efforts around the world have successfully banned them in some locales. In the United States, California became the first state to outright ban plastic bags. Our findings suggest that the policy attention plastic bags have received is scientifically warranted given the product’s large relative impact on ocean wildlife.  But other everyday items were near the top of the list. These include plastic utensils and balloons, the latter of which often have a length of twine attached which can entangle wildlife. Only non-plastic items were found at the bottom of the list.  These include glass bottles and paper bags, products that global experts ranked as relatively benign to seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals.

Our results, however, suggest something more than a product-by-product approach to reducing plastics impacts in the ocean is vitally needed. A whole host of products (from caps to foamed packaging to straws and stirrers) were found to have at least some population impact. Science published earlier this year showed that upwards of 8 million tons (nearly 17 billion pounds) of plastics may flow into the ocean each year. That staggering number, combined with our new results on the relative impact of these products, suggest that a mechanism to prevent the full suite of plastic items found in oceans and waterways from ever reaching these habitats in the first place is critical to protect the majority of marine wildlife from plastic contamination.  In short, we must attack the totality of plastics in the ocean if we truly hope to protect the ocean’s health.

Much like the findings from our study, no single entity can solve our ocean plastics problem alone. It requires collective action from individuals and NGOs, to governments and the private sector to stem the tide of plastics.

Our new paper shows just how important this will be to the wildlife that calls the ocean home.

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Victory! Microbeads Banned in the U.S. http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/08/victory-microbeads-banned-in-the-u-s/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/08/victory-microbeads-banned-in-the-u-s/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 15:00:54 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11315

2016 has barely started, and we can already share a huge win for our ocean. Thanks to the support of ocean advocates like you, Congress has backed a bill banning the use of microbeads in personal care products. And just this week, President Obama signed this bill into law.

Microbeads might be tiny, but this legislation is huge. The new law means companies will phase out the sale of products containing microbeads over the next two years, and stop making personal care products with microbeads altogether by July 1, 2017.

These small plastic particles have been a staple ingredient in everyday products we use like body washes, facial scrubs and toothpastes. Since they’re too small to be filtered out by water treatment plants, they flow straight from our sinks to the ocean and into the mouths and gills of sea creatures around the world.

The ban on microbeads is a big step towards stopping plastics from entering our ocean.

This new legislation shows a growing bipartisan dedication of lawmakers to create a more sustainable ocean—a mission we can all get behind. We are proud of those who served as a voice for our ocean in Congress, and we hope this is just the start of more ocean legislation to come.

Let’s take this opportunity to thank our lawmakers for their support of this bill, and remind them how important it is to keep pushing for a healthier, more resilient ocean.

Thank you for your support. Here’s to many more ocean victories in 2016!

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