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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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.
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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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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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 scrubbers, sachets, or placemats and coasters! Finger 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.
Wherever my travels take me, my coffee order always remains the same; but the local coffee shop “dialect” always varies: red eye, shot in the dark, dark roast with a shot, etc. Fortunately there is one standard that has trickled its way through coffee shops and that’s the discount java heads get for bringing in their own mug. And just this week, Starbucks took the reusable mug concept to another level when they introduced their $1 reusable cup.
It’s yet another step Starbucks is taking toward making its brand more sustainable and “eco-friendly”—neither terms of which I’m particularly fond. Along with the new cup, the iconic coffee brand seems keen on advertising the 10 cent discount consumers have been able to cash in on for years. Although 34 million Starbucks beverages were served in reusable mugs in 2011, that represents only 2% of Starbucks total sales.
The new cup, combined with an increased awareness of the existing 10-cent discount is a savvy move in terms of both business and sustainability.
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A powerful reminder of what was lost during Sandy; no words necessary. Photo by Nick Mallos
Superstorm Sandy was an unpreventable and unavoidable natural disaster that left in her wake a trail of devastation both physical and emotional that will require not months, but likely years to repair. The total cost of Sandy’s destruction may exceed $50 billion. Beach Cleanups alone certainly will not repair the damage that was done by Sandy; in fact, it’s likely that it will barely scratch the surface. However, each of these small actions taken collectively has major implications for the recovery of New Jersey and New York shores.
So there we were—Ocean Conservancy—at a desolate Jones Beach State Park on Long Island, NY equipped to do what we’ve been doing for over 25 years—clean up the beach. The cleanup was just one of many going on throughout the day along devastated beaches in New York and New Jersey as part of an effort called “Waves of Action,” which aims to help with coastal recovery efforts. Conditions were less than ideal: cloudy with light drizzle, 45 degrees, and an ocean breeze that had it feeling much colder We were nervous—would our list of attendees brave the weather and make it out? But just as volunteers do each September during the International Coastal Cleanup, on this chilly December morning more than 70 volunteers—most of whom were Long Island residents—put aside their Christmas shopping to lend a hand for a beach and community they love. In fact, many New Yorkers changed their plans that morning as they heard of the event via WCBS 880’s live radio coverage from Jones Beach.
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