Ocean Currents http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 06 Oct 2015 19:15:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Parlez vous oysters? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/06/parlez-vous-oysters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/06/parlez-vous-oysters/#comments Tue, 06 Oct 2015 19:15:54 +0000 Ryan Ono http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10829

© YLM Picture

“Although each of the world’s countries would like to dispute this fact, we French know the truth: the best food in the world is made in France. The best food in France is made in Paris.” That is how “Ratatouille,” one of my favorite movies, begins. Now I don’t want to pick a fight over what city has the best food, but I think we can all agree that Paris has made a name for itself as a food destination and taste exporter. This December, Paris might become world-renowned for exporting something else that has a big impact on food: a global carbon pollution agreement.

For over twenty years, world leaders have struggled to tackle this problem that is ultimately caused by cars, airplanes, agriculture, factories, power plants and other sources at local levels. These leaders will soon meet again in Paris to negotiate a deal that holds countries accountable for their carbon emissions. This is a good thing for we know too well that carbon pollution in the atmosphere hurts the health of people, plants and animals, including the shellfish in our ocean. At Ocean Conservancy, I spend a lot of time thinking about how carbon dioxide emissions drives ocean acidification, and how increasingly corrosive seawater is impacting oysters and the whole ocean food web.

Seafood is an important part of food culture around the world, and it’s also a vital source of protein and jobs in many places. As a result, more and more people are talking about and taking action to tackle ocean acidification. Earlier this month I was in France talking with some of them at an oyster trade show. I was joined by US oyster growers and a US scientist to talk with members of the French oyster farming industry and research community about environmental threats such as acidification and disease. We told of the American experiences of mass die-offs, ongoing research, and work being done to limit the losses.

While the American oyster growers from the Pacific Northwest have certainly seen some of the most surprising and worst impacts of acidification so far, that doesn’t mean other growers are safe, and the East Coast and French growers are certainly starting to pay attention. The French especially have good reason — their industry is worth nearly $1 billion per year, employs thousands of people and supplies about 75% of all of Europe’s oysters. There’s a lot at stake, and there simply isn’t much data or monitoring available to determine when ocean acidification will impact them and how bad it will be.

Others around the world are trying to get a better handle on acidification as well, and as part of the “Pathway to Paris” movement to get a comprehensive international carbon emissions deal, acidification is getting more attention. On Monday during the second Our Ocean Conference in Valparaiso, Chile, the international community committed to expanding the network of marine sensors to better monitor and understand acidification.

The conversations between the American and French oyster growers and scientists were very promising, and as they continue, these individuals can help support the efforts of government officials working to reduce carbon emissions and protect their industry and our ocean. Let’s hope this progress on the ground sets off a groundswell of action to protect shellfish and other food sources worldwide this winter in Paris.

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Recycling: Bali Style http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/06/recycling-bali-style/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/06/recycling-bali-style/#comments Tue, 06 Oct 2015 14:10:24 +0000 Eric DesRoberts http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10818

We have a clear choice when it comes to plastic in our ocean. If we do nothing, plastic production will double in the next 10 years, and so will the amount that enters our ocean. If we act now, we can cut the amount of plastic entering our ocean by nearly half. The solution is clear: implementing waste management infrastructure in countries where the economic growth is outpacing the ability to manage waste.

As we researched our new report, Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean, we stopped in Indonesia and met with Olivier Pouillon, Founder of The Bali Recycling Company to talk about his insights about waste management and recycling in the region.

Below is a Q&A between Emily Woglom, Vice President, Conservation Policy and Programs and Olivier Pouillon, Founder of The Bali Recycling Company.

Q: What inspired your passion for recycling and waste issues?

A: I first got into this work back in 1991 when I was in school in Indonesia. I had to do an independent report and I was trying to figure out what topic to focus on. Waste was becoming a big issue here because plastic bottles were just starting to come into Bali and there was pretty much zero waste service.

“Since there wasn’t a lot of plastic at first, everyone just threw it over their wall or into the river as they would with organic waste. Before plastic, everything was wrapped in a banana leaf or some other biodegradable thing. It didn’t matter where you threw it when you were done.”

My second major push was back when they had the climate conference here at the end of 2007. I spoke with a lot of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who were visiting for the conference, telling them about the waste problem and asking them to use their presence to catalyze awareness and possibly influence the hotels they were staying at. It was really frustrating because no one wanted to bring up the issue. They were worried about getting into trouble. That really showed an incongruity, where you had these folks and they didn’t understand that the waste issue was really connected to the climate change issue, especially in Indonesia.

“Waste is a pervasive, ubiquitous problem in our own backyards. Everyone deals with it, from the richest person to the poorest person.”

If your point is to get people to understand environmental issues and the bigger climate issue, you have to start with basics. If you can’t solve the waste problem, which, if compared to the climate issue is a piece of cake, we’re in trouble.

Q: What are your main goals for the Bali Recycling Company?

A: The first objective was to prove that you could actually set up a waste management and recycling company and operate in a green way. We created a viable business that cleans up the island and deals with the waste. The next phase is about how to scale it. Indonesia is growing fast and adopting new technologies like mobile phones. The mobile phone, especially the smart phone, has become a basic tool in doing just about everything here. It’s become a really good platform to tell people about recycling and trash management.

“There are many countries around the world that don’t have an adequate waste system. How do we make a platform where people can plug in and solve their trash problem?”

So we’re hoping to take our app, “CashforTrash [1],” and have people use it in Indonesia and beyond. The app’s goal is to streamline material interactions from use through disposal, and has two main functions. One is to serve as a platform to get people information on what they can sell for recycling and what the current market price is for these materials, since prices often change. The second part of the app helps connect the user with the people and places that will either buy the waste or help properly dispose of it.

“We offer collection services. Cities and towns don’t force residents to pay for waste services; it’s more voluntary here. There’s no system that we can draw from when asking for an increased waste management budget.”

Many people are still paying around 50 cents/month for waste collection and that hasn’t changed in 10 years. CashforTrash was designed to lead to a “fair trash” system, much like the fair trade moniker. We know how to recycle some low value materials, but it can be hard to get to people to collect these items. We can encourage people to donate for example $1 for collection of 1 kilogram of waste, and then we can add “fair trash” labels to upcycled bottles. We would then create a market for these bottles and can recover the investments back through the marketable upcycled products.

Q: What are some of the Bali Recycling Company’s major accomplishments?

A: Our major accomplishment has been turning this idea into a profitable business in a very difficult environment. I got some inspiration from Silicon Valley’s Steve Blank, and adopted tech startup concepts to the waste problem. With internet-based businesses, you can tweak things daily to respond to new ideas and issues. With waste in Indonesia, it can take weeks if not months, but the startup concepts can be applied.

The hotels that we’ve worked with that have changed their practices and incorporated it into their budget realize quickly that this system is better. Hotels know how much they spend on employees, electricity, water, food and how much revenue they collect from guests, but when it came to waste, they have no idea what their actual losses looked like. Though the hotels saw an initial jump in their monthly costs, they realized they were actually saving money once they took into consideration all of the secondary costs that they hadn’t been considering before, like lost cutlery and other value materials that ended up in the waste stream.

Q: What hurdles have you encountered in your work?

A: There are so many hurdles. Just dealing with logistics can be very complicated. But one of the biggest hurdles remains how the waste problem is perceived. Often people think it’s all about education. The reality is that without an infrastructure system to backup what you’re telling people, you’re wasting your time. You can tell people to sort and recycle, and they can listen to you, but if there’s no system to plug into it’s of no use.

Q: Do you have any thoughts or recommendations for lifting the profile and importance of recycling and waste management in Indonesia and other rapidly developing economies?

A: Waste management work, especially in the informal waste sector, generally has a negative perception. But CashforTrash adds technology―which is trendy―to the job which can help raise its profile.

Waste isn’t really a priority among citizens or the governments in many emerging economies. Among the general public, people don’t really want to think about it. As you move up in economic level, you can pay someone else to deal with it so you don’t have to. Even if you see it outside your walls while driving, as long as it’s off your property it’s not your problem.

It’s really just about changing the collective mindset to view waste as a resource that has to be reallocated. Waste is a completely man -ade concept. We’re the only thing on the planet that creates trash. Every other organism’s “waste” is food for something else, or the start of another process. And that’s how we have to think.

Q: Do you see a connection between work and ocean health?

A: Absolutely. There is a lot of focus on cleaning up the beaches and oceans, but that’s more about dealing with the symptoms than the cause. The waste doesn’t magically appear in the ocean; it’s land-based. The reason it’s ending up in the ocean is because there isn’t a land-based system to handle it. People will clean up one day, but it will accumulate on the beach again by the next morning. In the U.S., a beach cleanup may keep the beach clean for a good amount of time. But here, by the next morning it can look like nothing was done the day before.

Q: Anything else you want people to know?

A: Through this work, we’ve discovered that to make anything environmentally sustainable, it also has to be economically sustainable. It’s necessary to create solutions that produce jobs as well as clean up the environment. Solving a problem is all about utilizing different perspectives to find the best solutions for the problem.

It’s important to know what your “customer” wants. You have to get out of the building and talk to the people living this life. Understanding what hurdles they are facing and what they see as answers can be very informative.

[1] The app will soon be renamed “Gringgo”

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How One City in the Philippines is Setting an Example for the World http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/05/how-one-city-in-the-philippines-is-setting-an-example-for-the-world/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/05/how-one-city-in-the-philippines-is-setting-an-example-for-the-world/#comments Mon, 05 Oct 2015 14:34:30 +0000 Eric DesRoberts http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10808

As much as eight million metric tonnes of plastic leak into the world’s ocean every year and the amounts continue to grow. Without concerted global action, there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, leading to massive environmental, economic and health issues. One city in the Philippines isn’t standing by and waiting for help. They’re taking action.

Below is a Q&A between Emily Woglom, Ocean Conservancy’s Vice President of Conservation Policy and Programs and Belen Fernandez, Mayor of the city of Dagupan, a coastal community in the Philippines.

Emily: To start off, for those who aren’t familiar with Dagupan, what would you tell people about the city and its people?

Belen: We’re a happy city and a happy people. More importantly, we’re resilient. We’re doing what we can to get wi-fi into our schools to help our students and also working to improve health care. As a city, we’re always looking to improve the quality of life in our city and our families. One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as mayor – as it relates to improving the quality of life for our people – is our waste problem.

Emily: Please tell us more about the problem you’re facing with waste in your city.

Belen: Well, the ocean and our waterways are very important to us. Fishing is a huge aspect of our livelihood and is how many people put food onto the tables for their families. I’ll always remember the stories from our fishermen, spanning the past couple years as mayor. They talked to me with such sadness about how their incomes were decreasing due to waste in our waterways, and how it’s impacting their ability to feed their families. It was one of the first times I realized I needed to make waste management a priority in Dagupan.

Emily: You’re doing a lot of work to improve waste management. Tell us a little bit about what the problem really looks like in Dagupan.

Belen: Dagupan has a 50 year-old garbage problem. For more than 50 years, people have been using our beach as a dump site. It’s been impacting the health of our citizens, and we know that needs to stop. We’ve established strong partnerships with industry that have allowed us to secure the resources we need to help tackle these issues. We know we can’t do it alone, and it’s probably the same around the world. It’s so important that you have a dedicated group of passionate people and organizations to help tackle the issue

Emily: You’ve made fixing the waste problem a priority. Why is this your #1 priority?

Belen: As far as waste is concerned, it’s one of the hardest issues to solve. When you think about it with respect to healthcare, you have a system – the doctors, the facilities and the tools. In education, you have the teachers, the schools and the supplies. Without the technical solutions to help fix a 50-year problem, it’s hard to know where to start. We’ve been working hard with government officials to start identifying the right approaches and implement solutions.

Emily: Do you have any advice or recommendations for other mayors who may be having a similar problem with waste?

Belen: I’ve met with mayors across our country – many that have waste issues just don’t have a solution. Much like our situation a few years back, they don’t have the resources needed to help fix the problem. Hopefully, once we have worked out a system here in Dagupan, others can use what we have been doing as a model for their own success. The tough part about combating waste is that even if we can do our job and clean up our rivers, unless those upstream are also tackling the issue, our rivers won’t remain clean for long. This needs to be an ongoing effort.

Emily: Do you find it helpful that officials such as Secretary John Kerry and those in the U.S. State Department are making ocean pollution such a priority?

Belen: I’m very happy that Secretary Kerry and the State Department have made this such a global priority. There are a lot of people around the world who don’t know how big of an issue this is, but hopefully the attention they’re giving to this issue will help people  realize that this is something we need to take action with. Without everyone becoming aware of how significant this issue is, the problem will only continue to grow and have severe environmental and economic impacts across the world.

For more information about ocean plastic, please see Ocean Conservancy’s global report, Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean. This new report outlines a path forward to reducing ocean plastic waste by 45 percent by 2025.

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We Can Solve the Ocean Plastic Problem http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/30/we-can-solve-the-ocean-plastic-problem/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/30/we-can-solve-the-ocean-plastic-problem/#comments Wed, 30 Sep 2015 23:24:41 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10799

Today, Ocean Conservancy released a major report: Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean. We think it’s a big deal. It squarely addresses one of our biggest worries: the avalanche of plastic that cascades into the ocean every year.

It’s getting really bad. Practically every kind of animal, from plankton to whales, is now contaminated by plastic. It’s in the birds, in the turtles, in the fish. At the current rate, we could have 1 ton of plastics for every 3 tons of fish by 2025.

This is nobody’s plan. It’s not the plan of the plastics industry, it’s not the plan of the consumer goods industry and it’s certainly not the plan for those of us who love and need the ocean. Nobody wants this.

The problem is born on land. Most of the plastic originates in rapidly industrializing countries whose waste management infrastructure is lagging behind. This is a typical phase of development that all countries go through. The problem is simply that the enormous utility of plastic, combined with the explosive economic growth of Asia and Africa, combine to yield an enormous flow of unmanaged plastic waste into the ocean.

This was originally posted on Huffington Post. To read the rest of this blog, please click here.

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Go Behind the Scenes in the Philippines http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/29/go-behind-the-scenes-in-the-philippines/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/29/go-behind-the-scenes-in-the-philippines/#comments Tue, 29 Sep 2015 16:49:53 +0000 Eric DesRoberts http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10787

ZSL staff and volunteers before this year’s International Coastal Cleanup Day.

A Look Back and a Sneak Peak Forward

We’ve been working behind the scenes for a more than a year, working on solutions to plastic pollution in the ocean. Tomorrow, we’ll reveal our new report, Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic free ocean. Before we reveal our next steps, we wanted to take a look back over the last 30 years of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), and the partners who have made the work possible.

We recently traveled to the Philippines to attend a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and sat down with longtime ICC volunteer coordinator Amado Blanco, the Project Manager (Net-Works) at Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in the Philippines.

The Philippines are one of five countries we’re focusing on as a solution to plastic pollution, so we wanted to get a better idea of what is actually happening on the ground. Amado has worked with us for more than 15 years, and provides some great insights.

Q: Amado, tell us about the main goals and objectives of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – Philippines, and some of your marine debris initiatives.

A: ZSL envisions a world where animals are valued, and their conservation is assured. Its mission is to promote the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL recently embraced its 2026 Mission Targets, which includes the following:

  • Define and monitor the status of the world’s protected areas and at least 20,000 species
  • Improve the status of at least 100 of the world’s most threatened and distinct species
  • Protect and restore at least 1 million km2 of coastal and marine habitat and ½ million km2 of terrestrial habitat
  • Ensure best practice for natural resource use in at least 1 million km2 of priority production landscapes

Over the years, ZSL has actively promoted and supported the annual International Coastal Cleanup.  While we have helped catalyze the annual participation of partner communities and local governments in the ICC, we have also developed our Net-Works banner initiative, directed at finding more sustainable, broad-based, and innovative solutions to addressing instances of dumping or abandoning fishing nets in our ocean. Abandoned nets are disastrous to both people and environment, and they result in a phenomenon known as ghost fishing. With fisheries declining globally, we cannot afford to set up ghost traps.

Q: You mentioned that ZSL has led International Coastal Cleanup events in the past. After your 15 years of clean ups, tell us how you think the ICC is connected to your work?

A: Over the years, our organization has actively promoted the ICC and trained a network of partner communities. I am proud to say many of these communities can now host ICC events independently.  This year, ZSL Philippines organized a cleanup in Guindacpan Island in Danajon Bank primarily to mobilize in-house divers and local fishers to collect discarded nets, test if we can tap our partner community bank as a buying station of other recyclable plastics, and generate funds internally to enhance management of existing marine protected area through a match funding scheme whereby Net-Works matches every peso that is generated from the sale of nets and other plastics collected on community cleanup day.

Q: Tell us about the hurdles to your work? If so, how were you able to overcome them?

A: The first major hurdle we had to grapple with was choosing the right community-level social infrastructures for Net-Works. Initially, we only had resources to implement the proof of concept phase for six months.  My UK based manager and I explored local and international community-banking experiences, which eventually led us to the works of Feed The Children Philippines and World Vision Philippines on community banking.

I think what allowed us to overcome our dilemma was the approach of scanning and tapping into what already existed on site and our willingness to embrace new approaches. Community banks are now primarily driving collections of nets for recycling.

We are still trying to figure out how to deal with waste  from plastics produced internally and exported by sea currents to island villages and isolated mainland coastal communities. Perhaps this is something that we could work with Ocean Conservancy on.

Q:  Since 2012, your work has focused on fishing gear that would otherwise clog our waterways – describe the changes and impacts that you’ve seen.

A: As of August 2015, Net-Works has shipped 51,934kg (114,495 lbs.) of net out to Aquafil in Slovenia – bringing communities into a mainstream supply chain for nylon yarn. Gross value of the volume of nets collected is US $63,653, of which $26,626 represents direct community income and the rest is infused into the local economy via baling labor, porterage, transport service fees, and export facilitation.

Net-Works now operates in 22 collection sites in two regions in central Philippines. It has set up 15 community banks that serve as on-site buying stations of used nets and platforms for village-level conservation education and actions. The community banks are self-generating their own social funds, which extend modest financial support to members in case a family member needs to be taken to a hospital or buy medications. It has now gone global with the establishment of the project in four villages in the Lake Ossa region of Cameroon, West Africa.

Q: We’re about to release a new report that focuses on the importance of implementing waste management infrastructures in rapidly industrializing countries – what would that mean to you in the Philippines?

A: I think the success of solutions rests heavily on communities, industry support, and an ecological governance platform supported by strong political will. In countries with population nearing or already past explosion levels, like the Philippines, households and communities are the biggest producers of plastic wastes. Hence, genuine and sustained participation of communities is very crucial.

Industry has the flexibility and resources to support both research and development of innovative approaches, and create market value and a strong supply chain for recyclable plastics. The income communities derived by tapping the industry-linked supply chain provides long-term motivation for waste recycling. For instance, Interface provided ZSL resources to undertake a short proof-of-concept project, which essentially involved assessing the viability of partnering with community organizations as social infrastructures for net recycling and developing and testing the Net-Works business model. And, through dialogue with another industry player (Aquafil), Interface set up a secure market for nets collected by community organizations ZSL Philippines helped catalyze.

Government should elevate ecological governance to a new height. This governance should go beyond mere passage of ecological waste management policies and programs, procurement and installation of stand-alone garbage bins and materials recovery facilities. Setting the standards for long-term compliance and eventually molding the societal norms on how wastes should be managed should drive the strict implementation of these policies and programs. Governments can also provide incentives to industries that invest on capital intensive waste recycling ventures (e.g. waste to power or waste to fuel).

Q: Tell us about the success of your partnership with Interface.

A: In 2011, Interface convened two workshops with ZSL, yarn supplier Aquafil, and experts from business and conservation. The workshops allowed attendees to share their goals and interests and the ultimate result was a pilot of Net-Works in the Danajon Bank in 2012.

For ZSL this was an opportunity to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets and work with communities to protect the ecosystem, improve their livelihoods and harness the benefits of partnering with a corporate. For, Interface, the company has a goal to source 100% recycled material for its carpet tiles by the year 2020, and the nets represented a perfect feedstock.

Q: What do you think about the importance of recycling and waste management in the Philippines and other rapidly developing economies?

A:  I think with the current educational level of our people, the majority or people understand why we should not throw wastes indiscriminately as flooding and inland water bodies, will eventually transport wastes to the sea. In populous countries like the Philippines, managing wastes at source points (i.e. households and communities) is vital to reducing the volume of waste that end up in the sea.

Translating understanding into sustained practice is about eliminating barriers and providing incentives. It is very important that household and community level waste management initiatives are linked to effective waste collection systems, which should be the primary responsibility of our state institutions, especially local government units. Nobody likes to live in a dirty environment and living in a healthy community is in itself an incentive. With Net-Works, we have demonstrated that waste management can be made more compelling when participation can also mean immediate economic and social incentives. In coastal villages where Net-Works operates, fishers are no longer throwing away used fishing nets because we have set up community associations (which act practically like garbage receptacles) that buy their discarded nets at compelling prices.

Q: What suggestions or tips would you give to people who want to reduce their waste footprint?

A: We should rethink and alter our consumption patterns. A person’s consumption pattern determines the potential volume of wastes. In populous countries like the Philippines, the family is the best place to inculcate and demonstrate positive consumer values and discipline.

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Victory in the Arctic: Shell Terminates Drilling Activities in the Chukchi Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/28/victory-in-the-arctic-shell-terminates-drilling-activities-in-the-chukchi-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/28/victory-in-the-arctic-shell-terminates-drilling-activities-in-the-chukchi-sea/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2015 19:17:23 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10779

Early on Monday morning, Shell announced that it would no longer pursue oil-drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. Shell’s announcement has been a long time coming, and marks a major victory for all those who have opposed Arctic drilling as too risky and too much of a threat to the Arctic ecosystem and the planet’s climate.

Shell purchased its Chukchi Sea leases in 2008, but was precluded from drilling on its leases for many years. Among other things, legal challenges exposed flaws in the government’s environmental analyses and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in a temporary restriction on Arctic drilling. In 2012, Shell finally received the green light to drill in the Chukchi Sea, but the company was woefully unprepared for the challenge: vessels were not ready, spill response equipment failed under testing, equipment spewed air pollution in violation of standards and one of its drill rigs was swept ashore in a storm on the way back to Seattle. In the end, Shell failed to complete a single well in 2012.

This year, when Shell finally returned to the Arctic, it did so under intense scrutiny. Government regulators ensured that Shell conformed to rules designed to protect vulnerable species like Pacific walrus. This meant that Shell could only operate one of its two Arctic drilling rigs and could only drill for a short window of time during the ice-free summer season. Activists protested the presence of Shell’s Arctic vessels in in Seattle and Portland, highlighting the risk of an oil spill in icy and remote waters—and the risk to the planet’s climate if Shell found and developed a massive oil reservoir in the Arctic Ocean. And Shell encountered at least one problem reminiscent of its failed 2012 season when one of its ice-breaking vessels struck an uncharted object, opening a gash in its hull.

Despite these challenges, Shell persisted with its efforts to complete an exploration well in the Chukchi Sea. But when the company final did so earlier this summer, it found that there was not enough oil to justify additional exploration at the prospect. In a press release, Shell announced that it would “cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.” In addition to the sub-optimal results from the exploration well, Shell cited high costs and challenging regulations as reasons for giving up.

Shell’s decision to retreat from the Arctic Ocean is great news for the bowhead whales, walruses, ice-dependent seals and other wildlife species that could have been devastated by an oil spill in this remote region. Local communities depend on marine mammals like these to support a subsistence way of life that stretches back for thousands of years.

Shell’s decision to leave the Arctic Ocean should be viewed as an affirmation of all those who joined together in opposition to Shell’s risky drilling schemes. Now that the immediate threat of oil drilling has ended, we can focus on crafting sustainable solutions for long-term health in this rapidly changing region.

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Another Brick in the Wall: Plastics in the Seafood We Eat http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/24/another-brick-in-the-wall-plastics-in-the-seafood-we-eat/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/24/another-brick-in-the-wall-plastics-in-the-seafood-we-eat/#comments Thu, 24 Sep 2015 21:50:31 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10770 Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore.

Photo: Susan White / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

If you have been reading my recent posts, you have noticed that I have been discussing the emerging science on plastic pollution in the ocean and exploring what we need to do to stem the tide. It started in February, when a groundbreaking study showed that 8 million tons (nearly 17 billion pounds) of plastic flows into the ocean each year, mostly from a small number of Asian nations where local waste management can’t keep up with rapidly growing plastic use. Then scientists estimated that nearly all the worlds’ seabirds will be contaminated by plastics by 2050 unless conditions don’t change.  And a study published only days later showed that half the globe’s sea turtles are likely to suffer the same fate. Today, we need to think carefully about the latest study, showing that plastics can be found in many of the fish that we eat. We don’t yet know if eating plastic-laden fish negatively impacts our health, but today’s study is another brick in the growing wall of scientific evidence that demonstrates that plastics are a major threat to the global ocean and ultimately, ourselves.

Roughly a quarter of fish sampled from fish markets in California and Indonesia contained manmade debris—plastic or fibrous material—in their guts, according to a new study by Dr. Chelsea Rochman from the University of California, Davis and colleagues from Hasanuddin University in Indonesia. The study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, is one of the first to directly link plastic and man-made debris to the fish on consumers’ dinner plates. The researchers sampled 76 fish from markets in Makassar, Indonesia and 64 from Half Moon Bay in California. All of the manmade fragments recovered from fish in Indonesia were plastic. In contrast, 80% of the debris found in California fish was fibers while not a single strand of fiber was found in the Indonesian fish.

These patterns appear to be related to differences in waste management in the two countries. Indonesia has little in the way of landfills, waste collection or recycling, and large amounts of plastic are tossed onto the beaches and into the ocean and waterways. Meanwhile, the U.S. has relatively advanced systems for collecting and recycling plastics. Indonesia ranks second for mismanaged waste globally, producing ten times more mismanaged waste than the twentieth ranked United States. In contrast, most Californians wash their clothing in washing machines, the concentrated wastewater from which then empties into the ocean from more than 200 wastewater treatment plants along the coast. Rochman theorizes that fibers remaining in sewage effluent from washing machines were ingested by fish swimming offshore of the state.

So now we know that plastics are in the fish that we eat, fish like anchovy, rockfish, striped bass, Chinook salmon, sanddab, lingcod and oysters. What we don’t yet know is whether this puts our health at risk. But there is growing cause for concern. Scientists have shown that plastics contain a range of hazardous chemicals that are used during their production and also adsorb toxic chemicals once they reach the ocean. There is evidence that some of these chemicals can become bioavailable to a range of species from lugworms to seabirds to fish. Rochman and her colleagues conclude that “chemicals from anthropogenic debris may be transferring to humans via diets containing fish and shellfish, raising important questions regarding the bio-accumulation and bio-magnification of chemicals and consequences for human health.” Clearly more research is needed to quantify these risks and weigh any risk against the other well-known benefits of consuming seafood.

At Ocean Conservancy, we are committed to stopping plastics from getting into the ocean in the first place. If we can keep the ocean clean, we can keep plastics out of our seafood – and ourselves.

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