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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

About Nick Mallos

Nick Mallos is a Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist at Ocean Conservancy. His travels take him around the world, showing him the final resting place of trash generated by our disposable culture. Nick is inspired by the ocean and by determined people around the globe working to protect our blue planet. He is also an avid surfer and works hard to catch a wave wherever his travels take him. Follow him on Twitter @NickMallos.

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Say No to Dumping Trash in Arctic Waters

Posted On May 7, 2013 by

Everyone knows dumping trash into the ocean is a bad idea, right? Well, apparently not everyone. At a recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. delegation—led by the U.S. Coast Guard—opposed a proposal to ban the dumping of garbage in the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic is one of Earth’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of the world’s largest seabird populations and iconic wildlife like polar bears, belugas and the extremely long-lived bowhead whale. The unspoiled nature of the Arctic doesn’t mean it’s without threats.

In fact, today the Arctic faces unparalleled challenges from oil and gas development and other industrial activity, increasing water temperatures and climate change impacts—all jeopardizing the integrity of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Adding ocean trash to this list of pressures is simply not acceptable.

Ocean Conservancy is working to help employ science-based solutions that will ensure Arctic waters remain healthy and clean. Allowing vessels to deliberately dump waste into the Arctic just doesn’t fit into the equation for a resilient Arctic ecosystem.

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Japan Tsunami Anniversary: the Journey So Far and What’s to Come

Posted On March 11, 2013 by

Credit: NOAA

Tokyo. Sendai. Kamaishi City. Portland. Honolulu. Hilo. Kahului. Lincoln City. Newport Beach. These are places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit over the past year – for a very unfortunate reason. Two years ago on this very day, the ocean reminded the world of its astounding power when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami devastated the country’s northern coast. While significant recovery work remains to rebuild Japan, an increased focus has been placed on the exorbitant quantity of marine debris generated by the tsunami’s receding waters. At the same time, international entities are collaborating on tsunami debris response measures, while researchers learn a great deal about marine debris in general.

Because we know the precise time at which debris was deposited into the ocean, researchers have had an unparalleled opportunity to examine how debris moves in the marine environment. With each confirmation of tsunami debris washing ashore, oceanographers at University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center have refined their models and are predicting when and where large volumes of tsunami debris will wash ashore with greater levels of confidence. Current predictions indicate significant debris accumulations will commence in June. However, these models are merely predictions and no one can say for certain what we will see or when we will see it. This uncertainty further underscores the importance of remaining vigilant for potential tsunami debris in the coming months.

Last summer in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon, “waves” of similar debris items began washing ashore. This wave was followed by an unusually large number of appliances found on Hawaiian beaches. The three segments of docks that were swept out of Misawa came to rest on the Oregon and Washington coasts over a span of six months. By studying these events, oceanographers were able to determine that the amount of wind affecting debris — better known as “windage” — largely determines the speed at which debris drifts across the ocean. This phenomenon largely explains why we’ve seen these waves of debris.

In November, the Japanese government announced it would donate $6 million to the United States and Canada to help mitigate the costs of tsunami debris response efforts and debris clean up.

This tragic event has engaged a broad network of dedicated responders from both sides of the Pacific, including government representatives at NOAA and the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, NGOs like the Japanese Environmental Action Network and Ocean Conservancy and passionate volunteers. Ocean Conservancy has developed a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that serves as an educational tool for those volunteers along the West Coast.

Today, on the two year anniversary of the tsunami, I board a plane destined for Tokyo where I will meet with the Japanese Ministry of Environment and Japanese and U.S. NGOs to discuss tsunami response efforts to date, and preparations moving forward. During my stay, I will again have the opportunity to tour the coastal towns near Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. And while in my mind I am optimistic that the recovery effort will be near completion, I know the reality is that Sendai — and much of Japan — has a long road to recovery, but physical recovery is only step one. In Sendai, many elementary and middle-aged students have not returned to the beach or ocean since 3/11 because the emotional trauma is too great. For many of them, these places have become synonymous with terror, destruction and death.

The ensuing threat of tsunami debris is great, but we must never forget that the tsunami was first and foremost a human tragedy — unpreventable, unpredictable and unavoidable.

So today, March 11th, 2013, honor the people of Japan with a moment of silence and ask the simple question, “How can we help Japan?”

 

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Ocean Ghosts Are Deadly

Posted On March 7, 2013 by

Entangled Sea Turtle

Credit: NOAA

Yes, there are ghosts in the ocean. Not your typical ghouls, goblins or gremlins; but there are innumerous inanimate creatures posing far greater danger to the underwater realm: ghost nets.

Ghost nets are just one component of the larger issue of derelict fishing gear, which comprises nets, lines, crab, lobster and shrimp pots, and other recreational or commercial fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned or discarded in the marine environment. With the introduction of synthetic gear following WWII, the effectiveness of fishing gear to snag and capture fish has become extraordinary.

Unfortunately, too often this gear becomes lost, abandoned or discarded in the marine environment where it can remain intact for hundreds of years. The same characteristics that make fishing nets incredibly effective at catching fish also create an extraordinary hazard when they go afloat. Once adrift in the ocean, derelict gear can remain intact for years destroying habitat, threatening navigation and entangling fishes, sea turtles, whales and other marine animals; this latter consequence is known as “ghost fishing.”

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One Third of Fish in New Study Contain Traces of Plastic

Posted On January 23, 2013 by

An artist’s rendering of poor cod (Trisopterus minutus), one of the fish species studied.

Here’s some sad news from an article to be published in Marine Pollution Bulletin about fish and microplastics in the English Channel. Of the 504 fish collected, 36.5% had plastics in their gastrointestinal tracts. Inhabitat explains,

Not only is this a problem for those that eat the fish, such as humans, but the research team believe that the accumulation of plastic in fish could block the animals’ digestive systems and even cause fish to stop eating.

In a statement, Richard Thompson from Plymouth University said: “We don’t need to have plastic debris in the sea. These materials are inherently very recyclable, but regrettably they’ve been at the heart of our throw-away culture for the last few decades. We need to recognise the value of plastics at the end of their lives and need help from industry and manufacturers to widen the potential for every day products to be reusable and recyclable.”

Read more from Inhabitat or view the report in full.

Unfortunately, “Junk Beach” Lives Up To Its Name

Posted On January 22, 2013 by

Sand or plastic? At “Junk Beach” on Kamilo Point in Hawaii, it can be hard to tell. Credit: Nicholas Mallos

I’m not a morning person; so 4:30 am wakeups are not my idea of a good time. But increasingly my alarm seems to be going off around this time because tides don’t care about my sleep schedule. Plus, the most severely littered beaches are almost always found on remote coastlines where cleanups cannot easily occur. Kamilo Point, known to many as “Junk Beach,” is perhaps the best example of this in the world.

After a 2 hour drive through the heart of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, we arrived in Naalehu where we were greeted by members of Hawaii Wildlife Fund (HWF). No organization knows about marine debris on the Big Island better than HWF. Funded by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, HWF has spent countless hours removing debris from Hawai’i’s South Point coastline—more than 240,000 pounds since 2003.

From Naalehu, it’s about four miles to Kamilo Point. No problem, right? Not so much…this four mile trip takes about an hour, most of which is spent driving—cautious not to blow a tire or axle—on what is the bumpiest, ruttiest, rockiest road in the world and I challenge anyone to prove me otherwise. A pair of humpback whales spouting off the coast and a green sea turtle spotting made the bumpfest a bit more bearable, but I was delighted to finally arrive at our sandy destination.

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Aloha, Plastics: Ocean Trash Adventures in Hawaii

Posted On January 15, 2013 by

Neither tsunami debris nor marine debris is going away any time soon. Following an August 2012 NGO tsunami meeting and increasing reports of tsunami debris on the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii, concern and interest about tsunami debris in Japan continues to increase. Responding to this interest, the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency of Japan has funded a series of beach site investigations in the United States to convey the present situation of both tsunami and marine debris to Japan officials and the Japanese people. The first stop for these surveys:  Hawaii.

I teamed up with members from Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN), the Oceanic Wildlife Society and the Japan Ministry of Environment tobegin surveys on O’ahu beaches where confirmed and suspected tsunami debris has recently been found . During our first inspection at Hanauma Bay, we examined a rusted Japanese refrigerator that washed ashore on December 20th, 2012, several days before a second fridge was found on Waimanalo Beach. Cleanup volunteers commonly found refrigerator pieces on Kaua’i beaches during this past summer.

Dr. Nikolai Maximenko of the University of Hawaii International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) explained that these different ‘waves’ of alike debris (e.g., oyster buoys, refrigerators, etc.) are a result of how tsunami debris is affected by wind. Because the tsunami debris entered the ocean at the same time, similar items travel at the same speed and will appear on Hawaiian and West Coast beaches around the same time.

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Ask Umbra: Eat a Baby Orange, Kill a Baby Seal?

Posted On January 7, 2013 by

What does citrus have to do with the ocean (besides keeping sailors scurvy-free)? Today, Grist’s “Ask Umbra” blog discussed how clementines, a fruit many people enjoy during the wintertime, could be harming ocean wildlife — that is, if you’re not careful about the packaging.

A reader asked whether the mesh netting used to hold these citrus treats can be harmful to sea creatures in the long run. I was invited to weigh in:

So is mesh the menace you imagine it to be? Well, yes. “Like all forms of plastic debris in the environment, plastic mesh bags can pose harm to marine and terrestrial animals,” says Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and marine debris specialist with Ocean Conservancy. The extent of the mesh threat is unknown, Mallos says, but this graphic from the organization’s annual International Coastal Cleanup gives a good sense of how our wasteful lifestyles affect our aquatic friends.

…Let us turn to our trusty three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. First, try to avoid buying products packaged in excess plastic. Mallos points out that reusable produce bags are a handy alternative, though that will be tricky with your diminutive citrus situation, since mandarins are almost always sold pre-packaged in the U.S. Some municipalities accept these bags for recycling, so be sure to check with yours. You can also reuse the material in all sorts of ways: for household scrubberssachets, or placemats and coastersFinger puppet tutus! Here are even more ideas!

The “Ask Umbra” blog highlights daily challenges we all face while trying to live an environmentally-friendly life. Check out the rest of the blog post here, and don’t forget to download our mobile app, Rippl, for more green tips to help you make simple, sustainable choices.