A conversation between Ocean Conservancy’s CEO Andreas Merkl and Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and navigator of the iconic Hōkūle‘a, as Hawaiʻi hosts the IUCN World Conservation Congress.
With a shared passion for our ocean, Merkl (@AndreasMerkl) and Thompson spoke about experiencing unparalleled beauty on the water, the plague of plastic pollution in our ocean and the importance of bringing people together to find solutions.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society and Ocean Conservancy will be part of an International Coastal Cleanup organized by the U.S. Department of State in James Campbell Wildlife Refuge on September 9, 2016. For over 30 years, Ocean Conservancy has rallied the world’s biggest single-day volunteer effort on behalf of the ocean through the International Coastal Cleanup. (Please click here if you’d like to sign-up to cleanup on September 17, 2016.)
Photo: Susan White / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Written byTori Glascock
Before there was a waste collection system in place on land, trash was left in the streets and disease was rampant. Similarly, the trash we are dumping into the ocean is having catastrophic effects on the animals that call the ocean home and the people who rely on oceanic ecosystems to sustain their livelihood.
Chief among the problems that ocean trash presents is the inability of ocean animals like sea turtles, seabirds and seals to distinguish what is food and what is trash. First and foremost, these animals should not have to make this distinction as there should not be such an abundance of our trash in the ocean—but we are passed that point and now must find ways to combat this issue.
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.
Each year an estimated 8 million metric tons, or 17 billion pounds, of plastic flows into the ocean. Enough is enough.
First and foremost, an endless flow of trash into the ocean will affect the health of humans and wildlife alike as well as compromise the livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean. Trash and debris such as fishing gear, straws, and plastic bags pose a deadly threat to marine life. Fishing gear can trap helpless sea turtles and cut through flesh of whales, while plastic bags are easily mistaken as food and consumed by animals. Straws can be hazardous in that they can get stuck in a nostril, a blowhole, an eye, or even a throat.
Every 60 seconds, what amounts to roughly a garbage truck full of plastic makes its way into the ocean. That means that over the next year about 8 million tons of plastic will enter the ocean, creating a massive amount of marine pollution.
It’s estimated that if we don’t do anything to address this source of pollution, there will be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean by 2025.
Preventing further damage to our oceans will require a coordinated global effort, and the United States has a vital role to play in leading this charge.
The Olympics is a special time when people from all over the world gather together to cheer on their country’s top athletes in an amazing array of sports.
I can’t help but think of the similarities between the Olympics and Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup. They both span the globe in participation, bring people together, and are very competitive (I always try to pick up more trash than my friends, and I know you do too!)
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.