The Blog Aquatic » Trash Free Seas http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:53:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 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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What’s Needed to Put an End to Ocean Cleanups http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/21/whats-needed-to-put-an-end-to-ocean-cleanups/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/21/whats-needed-to-put-an-end-to-ocean-cleanups/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 20:07:27 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8352

This week Ocean Conservancy is releasing its yearly data report highlighting the efforts of the nearly 650,000 dedicated volunteers who removed over 12 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the world during the recent International Coastal Cleanup. The release of these data is a great opportunity to celebrate the success of this event, but let’s also use this occasion to highlight the fact that much more needs to be done if society is ever going to rid the ocean of trash. It’s time to shift the emphasis from cleaning up to stopping trash from ever reaching our coasts and waterways in the first place.

Accomplishing trash free seas can’t be done by any one sector of society, but individuals must first embrace their responsibility to keep our ocean clean. Ocean Conservancy data show that personal behavior is behind much of the trash found on our coasts and in our oceans and waterways. Topping the list each September are cigarette butts, bottles, cans, caps, bags, food wrappers and cutlery, much of this left behind by careless beachgoers.  Strange finds, like mattresses, car parts and even a loaded handgun, show that many still view the natural world as an acceptable place to dump unwanted possessions. The vast amount of trash we collect each year highlights the need for a much greater respect of our natural places and all that they provide to our communities and economies.

Read more at National Geographic’s NewsWatch >>

 

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My Labor of Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/21/my-labor-of-love/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/21/my-labor-of-love/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 13:30:41 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8307

Colleen Rankin is a debris cleanup veteran. She lives in Blue Fox Bay, Alaska. Colleen regularly hauls debris from miles away back to her home, where she re-uses whatever she can and stores the rest for eventual disposal.

I am fortunate to live in one of the most remote locations on Earth. I have one seasonal neighbor 5 miles away and another family 25 miles from there. The closest town is 40 miles from us. All of us live on different islands separated by the powerful waters of the Gulf of Alaska. To live here is to witness the rhythm of the interdependent cycles of life on these beaches  ̶  the sea depositing kelp and seashells on the shorelines, creating what I call the line of life. We see bears, birds and other animals foraging in them. We call it the ocean’s gift of nutrition.  I have felt a part of an ancient world. But that is changing. And even here on the coast of Alaska, I’m surrounded every day by reminders of people from far away places.

That’s because the beaches near my home are literally covered in plastic, trash and netting. I take my skiff out and fill it with debris, stopping only because the boat is full to capacity. The beaches are accumulating trash at an alarming rate, and I am giving back to this beautiful place that has enriched my life so much in the most obvious way I can. And that is cleaning the beaches, sometimes the same beach over and over.

I separate the debris so that records can be kept to find out what the trash consists of. The largest growing category is plastic. Almost every piece of plastic debris I find that can fit in a bear’s mouth has bite marks on it – the bears and other animals are fascinated with plastic, and they chew it.

Every time I see a plastic bottle lying on the beautiful beach, I wonder how many of these one-use items do we use in a year? It’s a real chance for us to look at our lives as a species and ask, “What are we gaining by their use? Is it to save time? And are we actually improving our lives with that time we think we are saving?”

That’s why I think it’s so important that you and I pledge to reduce our use of plastic every day.

I used to feel like it was impossible to conquer all of this plastic and trash in the ocean, but now I’m amazed by what I’ve seen happen in the last year with the increase in awareness and the motivation of people like you to reduce the amount of plastic you use every day.

I know now that I’m not alone. Last year, 648,015 people like you volunteered at International Coastal Clean-up events across the country, and cleaned 12,329,332 pounds off of 12,910 miles of coast.

Ocean Conservancy has just released its latest Data Report, and you’d be surprised by what they’ve found! Items like straws, bottle caps and plastic bags are among the items you’ll find in the Top 10 List, and they’re all things that you and I can reduce.

I hope you’ll join me in the fight to prevent plastic pollution in our ocean. I know firsthand that every one of us can make a difference – from my home in Alaska to your town.

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Join Us for an Ocean Google Hangout http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/join-us-for-an-ocean-google-hangout/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/join-us-for-an-ocean-google-hangout/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 18:00:11 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8335

You’re invited! Join Ocean Conservancy for an online video conversation about trash and the ocean on May 21 at 2pm EST. Trash has infiltrated all reaches of our ocean, causing negative impacts on ocean life and coastal communities. The problem can seem overwhelming, but it’s preventable.

We’ll talk about the ‘just-released’ findings from Ocean Conservancy’s 2013 International Coastal Cleanup. And we’ll hear from a leading scientist and waste management expert about the impacts of trash on our ocean and where the solutions to this problem lie. You’ll learn what we’ve discovered, what it all means and what we can do next.

Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist, George Leonard, will moderate our Google Hangout. I’m in good company with fellow-speakers Dr. Chelsea Rochman and Ted Siegler. Dr. Rochman is currently researching the fate and toxicity of plastic debris in freshwater and marine habitats, and Ted has 40 years of experience working on solid waste management issues.

 I really hope you can join us! The Google Hangout is an online video chat that is going to be informative and interactive. You can submit your questions ahead of time by tweeting with the hashtag #TrashFreeOC.

You won’t be able to RSVP if you don’t have a Google account. But don’t worry, you’ll still be able to attend!

I’ll ‘see’ you there.

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Deep-Sea Survey Reveals the Mysteries of the Deep: Trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/09/deep-sea-survey-reveals-the-mysteries-of-the-deep-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/09/deep-sea-survey-reveals-the-mysteries-of-the-deep-trash/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 14:53:24 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8228

Photo: Angel Valentin/Aurora Photos

Covering over 70 percent of our planet, the ocean is still largely unexplored. Sailors and explorers have been traversing the seven seas for centuries, but we’ve barely scratched the surface. In fact, more people have been to the moon than have visited the ocean’s abyss, which is why a recent scientific paper from the journal PLOS ONE is so  disconcerting.

In one of the largest scientific seafloor surveys to date, scientists used remotely-operated vehicles and trawl nets to examine 32 deep-sea sites in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. The astonishing part—they found plastic bottles, fishing gear, and other man-made debris in all of them. Some of the debris items found had traveled more than 1,200 miles from the shore—most of it settling in remote, deep-sea caverns.

Most scientists who have worked in the deep-sea environment or on marine debris issues are not surprised by the findings presented in this paper. We have seen evidence of this problem time and time again on shorelines close to urban population centers as well as those located thousands of miles from coastal towns. What we have not seen however, is conclusive evidence of the ubiquity of plastics and debris on our ocean’s seafloor.

In a few weeks, Ocean Conservancy will release its 2013 Trash Free Seas data report. It contains all of the data collected by International Coastal Cleanup Volunteers around the world. For three decades, this information has highlighted the most persistent items of debris littering our beaches, waterways and the ocean. At a time when scientists are just beginning to understand the very real impacts plastic debris has on marine animals and habitats in coastal and shallow water ecosystems, we must now conjecture the potential harm these materials may pose to deep-sea environments. We should not and cannot wait to determine what these impacts may be; the time is now to take aggressive action on halting the flow of trash at its source.

And I am optimistic.

Solutions are at hand. If  we build on the actions of individuals, companies and elected officials, all that remains is simply the will to build a collective movement to make a lasting difference. Doing so will not be easy, but enhanced individual responsibility, new industry leadership, innovative science and smart public policy represent the comprehensive solution to the ongoing challenge of marine debris.

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Searching for a Missing Plane in an Ocean of Trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/31/searching-for-a-missing-plane-in-an-ocean-of-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/31/searching-for-a-missing-plane-in-an-ocean-of-trash/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 17:30:00 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7956

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has scientists worldwide poring over blurry satellite images of remote portions of the Indian Ocean. While some of these photos may provide promising leads, others highlight a different problem: There is a lot of “stuff” in our ocean that doesn’t belong there.

As a marine debris specialist for Ocean Conservancy, I’ve witnessed the problem of ocean trash firsthand. I’ve traveled to the North Pacific Gyre, where large concentrations of plastic debris collect in the middle of the swirling ocean. I’ve cleaned up trash, from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, along the coast of Alaska. I’ve also joined thousands of volunteers in Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.

I do not wish to overshadow the tragedy of the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner by placing the focus on marine debris. However, ocean trash is a topic that is relevant to the ongoing search. Close examination of marine debris and what we already know will hopefully bring search teams one step closer to finding the missing plane. Additionally, the false positives of debris that plague search and rescue operations daily underscore the fact that marine debris not only threatens ocean wildlife, habitats and economies; it also jeopardizes maritime operations and safety.

Unfortunately, it is not surprising that satellites are finding images of large pieces of debris floating in the ocean. Virtually any type of trash you can imagine has been found floating at sea—plastic bags, mattresses, derelict fishing gear, refrigerators and even entire piers.

These out-of-place items complicate matters for the people in charge of the search. For every possible lead, searchers will likely be stymied by dozens of dead ends.

While the sheer amount of refuse in our ocean may seem overwhelming, we can use our existing data to give insight to search teams. Some have suggested using data and statistics “to focus on the probable and rule out the implausible.

It is this small possibility that gives me hope during such a tragic event. Hopefully, data from marine debris research efforts can bring search teams one step closer to ruling out red herrings and finding the missing plane.

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