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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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GYRE Expedition Provides Opportunity for Marine Debris Research, Wildlife Sightings

Posted On June 11, 2013 by

Nick Mallos and Norseman

Getting ready to board the Norseman


Most people visit the small town of Seward, Alaska, to take a half-day glacier and wildlife cruise through Kenai Fjords National Park. I arrived in Seward to board the R/V Norseman to depart for Expedition GYRE.

Organized by the Alaska Sea Life Center and the Anchorage Museum, our 14-member team comprised of scientists, artists and filmmakers has a shared vision: We want to establish a new dialogue on marine debris from the nexus of science, art and education and devise strategies for disseminating information to broad audiences, globally.

The scale and magnitude of Alaska’s marine debris problem is unlike any other I’ve experienced. The state’s 45,000-mile coastline has myriad coves and pocket beaches that capture massive quantities of debris, underscoring the fact that even the most isolated areas of our planet are not immune to the problems of ocean trash.

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“These Things Are Fun and Fun Is Good”: Dr. Seuss Stamps Celebrate World Oceans Day

Posted On June 7, 2013 by

Trio of World Oceans Day stampsLast week, I had the incredible honor of participating in the NAPEX First Day of Issue Ceremony for the United Nations Postal Administration’s stamp commemorating World Oceans Day 2013.

The U.N. partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to develop the stamps, which showcase the timeless characters of Dr. Seuss’ book, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Celebrating our connection with the ocean, the stamps remind us of how important it is to protect it.

The stamps—issued in three different currencies: U.S. dollars, Swiss francs and euros—are a further representation of the central role the ocean plays in our lives, regardless of what city, state or country we call home. From near to far, from here to there,” as the stamps say, our ocean is everywhere.

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What Does 10 Million Pounds of Trash Look Like?

Posted On May 14, 2013 by

Volunteers mark the data card while throwing away trash at the International Coastal Cleanup at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge in Kahuku, Hawaii. credit — Elyse Butler

Take your pick: 41 blue whales, 10 Boeing 747 jumbo jets, 5,000 tons or 10 million pounds. Whichever one you prefer, that’s roughly the weight of trash that was collected by volunteers during Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 International Coastal Cleanup (Cleanup). More than 10 million pounds of trash – that’s an astounding amount.

Each year in September, citizen scientists around the world mobilize during the Cleanup to remove plastic trash and other debris from the world’s shorelines, waterways and underwater habitats. Tallies of trash recorded by the more than 550,000 volunteers who participated in the 2012 Cleanup are a snapshot of the persistent and proliferating problem of trash on our beaches and in our ocean.

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Volunteers Help Protect Baby Sea Turtles From Ocean Trash

Posted On May 1, 2013 by

baby sea turtle heads toward the surf

Credit: nps.gov

Starting today, hundreds of volunteers will begin heading to the beach every morning just before sunrise in search of tracks left by some exciting visitors: female sea turtles coming ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs.

May 1 marks the start of sea turtle nesting season in the southeast United States; it’s the only time of year when these animals return to dry sand after spending almost their entire lives in the ocean. Female sea turtles tend to return to the same stretch of beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. After hatching, baby sea turtles must dig their way out of the sand and sprint to the surf while avoiding predators ranging from foxes and raccoons to sea birds and ghost crabs.

The dedicated volunteers who walk these beaches every morning look for signs of new sea turtle nests so that they can monitor and protect the nest sites and track how many turtles hatch. Yet on most walks, these volunteers find more trash on the beach than sea turtle tracks.

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“Midway” Film Tells Story of Plastics in Our Ocean Through Plight of Albatross

Posted On March 28, 2013 by

MIDWAY : trailer : a film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

Artist Chris Jordan is best known for his large-scale images that deconstruct huge numbers while making a statement about our mass consumption habits. For example, the tiny pieces of plastic in “Gyre” represent the pounds of plastic that enter the world’s ocean.

Jordan’s latest project, “Midway,” is a feature-length film that expands on the plastic pollution problem by focusing on the plastic fragments that fill up albatross stomachs as they try to feed in the open ocean. Scientists estimate that 4.5 metric tons of plastic arrive on Midway Atoll every year in the stomachs of the albatross.

The trailer includes some disturbing images of dead and dying birds, but as the narrator says, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?” We can only hope the answer is “yes.”

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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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