Ocean Currents http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 22 May 2015 15:42:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 In Peru, A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Pounds (of Trash) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/22/in-peru-a-pictures-worth-a-thousand-pounds-of-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/22/in-peru-a-pictures-worth-a-thousand-pounds-of-trash/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 12:00:50 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10213

I had the great fortune to head south of the equator last September for Ocean Conservancy’s 29th International Coastal Cleanup. VIDA Peru, Ocean Conservancy’s longtime Cleanup partner in Peru, invited me to participate in a weeklong series of events on ocean trash, culminating with one of their country’s signature Cleanup event at Marquez Beach. Having been my first time to Peru, and South America for that matter, I was uncertain of the beach and waterway conditions I’d find. Unfortunately, as I spoke more and more with folks from VIDA Peru in advance of the Cleanups, my expectations of clean beaches were quickly dispelled.

I asked Arturo Medina, President of VIDA Peru, what the major culprits were for ocean trash in Peru. He noted that “the waste infrastructure is drastically lacking in Peru to handle the increased waste flows. Ultimately, it all ends up in the rivers, on the beaches and flowing into the sea. Legal and illegal dumpsites located directly on the beaches are also a major issue, yielding steady streams of debris into the water.” I witnessed this first hand as one such site was visible on the beach as I sat on my surfboard offshore—dump truck after dump truck offloading rubbish onto the sand.

And while I thought I got a taste of the debris conditions on the beaches in downtown Lima, I was not prepared for what I encountered at the Marquez Beach Cleanup Beach. 50,000 residents live amongst the unacceptable conditions in Marquez, dealing with both debris flowing down the town’s river and the massive accumulations of trash on their beach. Ursula Carrascal, VIDA’s Cleanup Coordinator, explained to me that 30 years ago Marquez residents could clean their clothes and fish in the river. Today, no one would even think of doing such activities.

When the time finally came to roll up our sleeves and clean Marquez, the local community came out in force. Over the course of two hours, 300 volunteers under the direction of VIDA Peru, removed 26,000 pounds of trash from a half-mile stretch of beach. As on other beaches, plastics dominate the rocky shore but truly anything you can imagine can be found on Marquez:  syringes, toy soldiers and vials of blood were all among the items I picked up. In 2013, volunteers found an undetonated grenade on the same stretch where the children of Marquez play daily. And Marquez is just a microcosm of Peru’s countrywide Cleanup effort—in total, more than 18,000 volunteers removed 540,000 pounds of trash from their country’s beaches and waterways during the one-day effort

As I congratulated Ursula on a tremendous event, she tells me in a forlorn voice, “Thanks…but it will all be back in two weeks.” I turn my gaze to the ocean and see exactly what she’s referring to—with each crashing wave new accumulations of trash wash onto the rocky shore. And beyond the physical challenges presented by continuous debris accumulation, Ursula shares with me her frustration and concern for future generations in Peru:

“I’m just frustrated. Most of our children here in Lima have never seen a clean beach. How can we get children to care when a trashed beach is all they know. We need 2,000 people on every beach just to make a dent.”

The situation is not hopeless though. Through the tireless efforts of organizations like VIDA Peru, conditions are changing—slowly, but changing nevertheless. Over the past several years, businesses and residents in Lima have increasingly become aware of the importance of waste management and new recycling systems has yielded a significant reduction in the number of bottles and other recyclable plastics found in Lima and on nearby beaches.

As evident from my time in Peru, the problem in Marquez, and places like it around the world, isn’t as simple as people littering on the beach. It’s about the rivers and streams filled with trash that all funnel into our ocean.

The only way we can stop this vicious global cycle is to stop trash at its source. If we provide the means to establish locally appropriate waste management solutions in the places that need it most, we can stem the flow of plastics into the ocean, ensuring healthier communities and more resilient marine ecosystems.

And whether in Peru, the Philippines, or Pennsylvania, every kid deserves the right to play on clean beach.

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Santa Barbara Oil Spill Jeopardizes the Golden Beaches of Our Golden State http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/santa-barbara-oil-spill-jeopardizes-the-golden-beaches-of-our-golden-state/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/santa-barbara-oil-spill-jeopardizes-the-golden-beaches-of-our-golden-state/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 14:31:14 +0000 Greg Helms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10245

When oil began flowing from a ruptured pipeline along the wild and scenic shoreline up the coast from Santa Barbara, California, the community’s coastal life flashed before its eyes:  thriving fisheries, popular and pristine beaches, teeming populations of whales and marine mammals, and a new network of protected areas set up to safeguard these coastal treasures.  The awful images of oiled beaches and sea life are appearing on our screens at a time when visitors are flocking to the coast for Memorial Day weekend.

Recreational and commercial fishing have been ordered closed in the wake of the spill. Fishing grounds along the rural coast west of Santa Barbara support a good deal of the harvest of some of California’s highest-value fisheries. Spiny lobster, red sea urchin and market squid are harvested along this coastline, and are among the top five commercial fisheries in California, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of fish and providing healthy seafood for local and distant consumers. Recreational fishermen ply these waters for calico bass, white seabass and halibut while enjoying the scenic surroundings and spending dollars locally. Surfers, scuba divers, beachgoers and whale watchers explore, play and spend in even greater numbers.

All these groups recently worked together tirelessly to set up marine protected areas (MPAs) – despite sometimes intense differences – to protect special places along this coast and to sustain the health of the entire California coastline. Two of the new MPAs, enacted in 2012, are within ten miles of Tuesday’s oil spill and stand threatened by the expanding oil slick. Four MPAs are along the 30 mile coast surrounding the oil spill. Among them, Naples Reef State Marine Conservation Area is a regionally unique pinnacle reef system packed with fish, lobster, anemones, and healthy kelp forests. Next closest to the spill is the Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area, established to protect and celebrate the coastal culture practiced by Chumash Indians for millennia. These sites are now at risk of damage from this spill.

Oil and gas development has been active along this coast for decades. About 20 oil platforms pump oil offshore and several more rigs operate along this sensitive and productive shore. Though we are told technology has improved since the massive Platform A blowout in 1969, when three million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean, we notice a steady pattern of oil spills, releases and accidents. The pipeline that ruptured Monday was installed to improve safety in replacing a large industrial oil processing facility nearby. Yet today we are seeing blackened beaches and oiled wildlife. Are we properly balancing the value of energy production with the value of clean beaches, fishing, recreation and coastal views?

We know oil and water don’t mix, so it’s crucial to carefully look at the trade-offs between offshore oil and protecting fish, fisheries and beaches. We want to keep the Golden State golden.  

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The Evidence Mounts: Another Study Links Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf to BP http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/the-evidence-mounts-another-study-links-dolphin-deaths-in-the-gulf-to-bp/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/the-evidence-mounts-another-study-links-dolphin-deaths-in-the-gulf-to-bp/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 12:30:38 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10239

Yesterday, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new results from a series of studies in which they have investigated the unusually high number of dolphin deaths occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2010, scientists have conducted autopsies on dead dolphins to try and understand why they are dying.

They found significantly higher numbers of dolphins with severe lung disease and lesions on their adrenal glands in oiled areas than in non-oiled areas. Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson described the adrenal disease as forcing dolphins to precariously balance on a ledge which cold temperatures, pregnancy and infection can push them off, resulting in death. The lesions observed in dolphins were “some of the most severe lung lesions ever seen in wild dolphins throughout the U.S.” according to lead Pathologist, Dr. Katie Colegrove. NOAA is decisive in concluding that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster caused the dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf: “The timing, location, and nature of the detected lesions support that contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused these lesions and contributed to the high numbers of dolphin deaths within this oil spill’s footprint.”

These new findings are backed up by earlier studies. One publication reported dolphins in Barataria Bay had symptoms consistent with petroleum exposure that were threatening their survival. Another study analyzed where and when dolphins were stranding, and found areas contaminated with oil in 2010 and 2011 also had the highest numbers of dolphin deaths.

As researchers continue to publish the results of studies, we will further understand the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. We will also begin to understand if impacted animals and places are recovering. Bob Spies, former chief scientist for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, recently said “If we care enough to understand impacts, I hope we care enough to understand recovery.” This reminds me that understanding the impacts is only the first step in restoring the Gulf. The people who live in the Gulf will rely on it throughout their lifetimes, and long-term research and environmental monitoring will provide us with the tools we need to continue to not only hold BP accountable, but also restore the Gulf.

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Saving the Oceans from Plastic: A Field Report from Belize http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/20/saving-the-oceans-from-plastic-a-field-report-from-belize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/20/saving-the-oceans-from-plastic-a-field-report-from-belize/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 12:30:52 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10224

Some people would call Belize paradise.  Having recently returned, I can’t say I disagree, but I also saw threats to the beauty on the surface. I spent a week in Belize researching the connection between waste management, plastic pollution and ocean health in this Central American country. As Chief Scientist, I’m working closely with our Trash Free Seas® team to build on our 30-year history of protecting our ocean from the growing threat of ocean trash.

I toured much of the country with independent consultant Ted Siegler from DSM Environmental Services, gaining a firsthand perspective on how recent investments in waste management systems in Belize are improving ocean health but learning how much farther the country needs to go. A former British colony, Belize is frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches and tropical breezes. But Ted and I visited many sights never seen by these outsiders. The upshot? Trash is a major problem in Belize, as it is in many developing countries.  And it is increasingly clear that this has big consequences for the health of the ocean.

My trip came at a key time. Just recently, a groundbreaking study was published in the prestigious journal Science which, for the first time, quantified the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean. A staggering 8 million metric tons of plastic (~ 17 billion lbs) enter the ocean each year, mostly from rapidly industrializing countries where plastic production and consumption is outpacing the ability of local entities to handle the waste. This problem is predicted to double in the next decade unless something is done to stem the tide. These research findings are the result of a working group initiated 3 years ago by Ocean Conservancy at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The findings of the Science paper were brought into sharp focus in Belize.  We learned that the country’s waste management system is similar to that of the United States back in the 1950’s.  Across the country we find open pit, burning dumps. Some are associated with towns like Belize City, Belmopan, Placencia, and Hopkins but smaller, informal dumps also mar the landscape, each a smoldering mass of burning plastics and other materials. Many of these dumps are in low-lying coastal mangroves which are flooded during the rainy season, from king tides, or from storm surge. The most striking example we saw was on the outskirts of Placencia where a vast array of plastics was literally spilling into the coastal lagoon.

The good news is change is coming.  After a massive fire at the Belize City dump in 2009, the government took notice. The fire burned out of control for months, covering the city in dense, acrid smoke and forcing a partial evacuation of the city because of severe air pollution. In response, the International Development Bank (IDB), in collaboration with the central government, co-funded a $14 million US dollar project to develop a formal collection and disposal system throughout the central corridor of the country, where some 50% of the population lives.

Our research expedition to Belize yielded a number of important insights.  It is clear that international collaboration can drive needed infrastructure improvements in developing countries, especially with a strong commitment by the host government and sufficient international financial aid. However, instituting a long-term economic model that makes the system financially self-sufficient is a major challenge. Governments have very limited resources to bring to the table and are buffeted by competing public service demands. Most plastics have limited economic value at present, further complicating the economic calculus. In Belize, as in many developing countries, an informal waste collection community (sometimes called ‘waste pickers’) has formed at the dump sites. Plastic containers for which there is a deposit fee (e.g. some plastic beverage bottles) have the most inherent value and thus are often efficiently recaptured and reused. But large volumes of other plastics, including massive amounts of film plastic (bags, sheeting, wrappers, etc) with little to no value at present is largely ignored by the waste pickers and thus lost to the landfill or disposed in the ocean.

At Ocean Conservancy, we believe we must implement a mechanism to put a larger value on plastics so these materials are recovered and not lost to the ocean. We conclude that the private sector – those that produce and profit from plastics – has a responsibility to help solve the end-of-life problems that we witnessed in Belize. A collection and recycling system that captures all the plastic and is economically sustainable in the long run needs the plastic industry’s ideas, know-how and financial resources.

Government can’t do this on its own. But it is clear that the health of the ocean depends on it.

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The 2014 International Coastal Cleanup Data Are In http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/19/the-2014-international-coastal-cleanup-data-are-in/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/19/the-2014-international-coastal-cleanup-data-are-in/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 12:18:20 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10198

Another year, another incredible volunteer effort—I’m excited to share with you today the findings from last year’s International Coastal Cleanup. In 2014, more than 560,000 people picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash along nearly 13,000 miles of coastlines. Thank you to all the volunteers, Coordinators and partners who participated and devoted countless hours and resources!

Last year’s Cleanup had the largest weight of trash collected during any Ocean Conservancy Cleanup since its inception 29 years ago. Volunteers from 91 countries gathered detailed information from their Cleanups to provide a snapshot of the most persistent forms of trash found along the beaches and waterways that’s impacting our ocean.

This data represents what was found at the 29th Cleanup – each and every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers step up to meet the challenge and help clean up the beaches and waterways in their communities. There’s no doubt in my mind – as the Cleanup report will show you – the unparalleled effort of volunteers around the world results in cleaner beaches, rivers and lakes for all to enjoy.

In order to truly achieve a world with trash free seas though, Ocean Conservancy is expanding its work beyond just Cleanups. We’re working with corporations, scientists, government and other nonprofit organizations to stop the flow of trash at the source, before it has a chance to reach the ocean to entangle dolphins or endanger sea turtles, or ruin our beaches and depress local economies. Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance is one such example, working to identify ways to augment waste collection and management in countries where plastic inputs into the ocean are currently greatest. With improved waste collection comes improved health and sanitation that benefits everyone – and the ocean.

Trash jeopardizes the health of the ocean, coastline, economy and people. It’s in our ocean and waterways and on our beaches—but, it is entirely preventable.

A recent publication in the journal Science shows that approximately eight million metric tons of plastic are entering our ocean annually. We know this input of unnatural material into the ocean is detrimental to wildlife and habitats – animals ingest it and can get entangled in it; it litters our beaches and waterways; and costs communities hundreds of millions of dollars.

If we take action now though, we can stem this tide of plastic pollution for future generations. There is no silver bullet. Everyone is part of the solution:  industry, governments, and other NGOs. And the first step is bringing the most influential players to the table, which is exactly what Ocean Conservancy is doing.

The American Chemistry Council represents some of the world’s largest producers of plastic. We’d like them to acknowledge that plastic in the ocean is a BIG problem AND agree to come to the table with Ocean Conservancy and other industry leaders to engage in an open dialog to pursue real solutions for preventing plastics from reaching the ocean.

Take Action Now: Tell the American Chemistry Council to be part of the solution.

I’m hopeful that together, we can make a difference!

And, don’t forget about this year’s Cleanup! Please mark you calendars and save the date. We’d love it if you could join us for the 2015 Cleanup on September 19. We need more volunteers than ever to join our movement and make a bigger difference.

Here are five things you can do:

    • Be a part of the next International Coastal Cleanup, scheduled for September 19. www.signuptocleanup.org
    • Reduce your purchases of single-use disposable goods. Going reusable ensures throwaway plastics never have the chance to make it to beaches, waterways, or the ocean.
    • Take action and tell the American Chemistry Council to be part of the solution.
    • Check out our Cleanup report!
    • And, really check out the infographics from our Cleanup report and share them with your friends on social media.
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Postcards from Florida http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/15/postcards-from-florida/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/15/postcards-from-florida/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 12:00:29 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10205

In honor of the 5-year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Ocean Conservancy interviewed residents about the spill, its impacts and what the Gulf means to them. Over the next 87 days—the length of the spill itself—we will be releasing “postcards from the Gulf” to share their stories. This blog is the third of a four-part series featuring some of the full-length interviews from our postcards.  Be sure to follow Ocean Conservancy on Facebook and Twitter over the next couple of months to see all of the postcards.

The headlines we often hear about the Gulf of Mexico can get you down, from oil disasters to ocean acidification and coastal pollution. But it gives me hope to see young leaders of the next generation recognize the value of sustaining a healthy Gulf. Cole Kolasa, a high school student on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is one of the young leaders of tomorrow, who I believe embodies the spirit of the next generation that will alter the course of history and begin to restore the actions of the past. This is what he has to say about his Gulf of Mexico. 

Cole Kolasa
Student at Hernando High School and Member of SCUBAnauts International
Brooksville, Florida

What do you love about the Gulf?

I have spent a lot of time on the Gulf, under the water and on the surface. I have done research on corals, sponges, small fish, collected lots of data on environmental parameters, and spent many hours in the water surveying and exploring the reefs.  The one thing I value the most about the Gulf is the education it has given me over the years. I don’t think I would be the same person without it.

How did you feel when the BP oil disaster began?

I remember feeling extremely surprised and helpless. I was shocked that there was a threat of such disastrous proportions towards our ecosystem that we really couldn’t control. I wondered what would happen to the corals, sea turtles, sponges, fish, and other marine organisms in my area. My father was put in charge for the preparations for if or when the oil threatened our area, and I remember watching the news and always discussing what we could do to defend our coastline and reefs from the invading oil. Fortunately for us it never affected our coast, however what if it were to happen again?

What is your hope for restoring the Gulf?

I think that there are endless opportunities for restoration in the Gulf. Over the past few years I have participated in coral restorations in the Keys, local cleanups on our coast, and I’ve even seen abandoned coastal areas turned into fully functioning estuaries blooming with life. Even though we avoided the oil spill in my area, we still are working to fix the damage that humans have done over the past several decades. I think that other communities can still do the same.

More blogs from this series:
Postcards from Alabama
Postcards from Louisiana

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Thanks to the Ocean… It’s Like a Mother to Us! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/10/thanks-to-the-ocean-its-like-a-mother-to-us/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/10/thanks-to-the-ocean-its-like-a-mother-to-us/#comments Sun, 10 May 2015 12:00:33 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10188

Let’s take a moment on Mother’s Day to remember the ocean. Like mothers everywhere, the ocean looks out for us in the most basic ways. It’s easy to take those things for granted. Thanks, Mother Ocean, because you:

Gave us life. Earth scientists believe that the first life on Earth arose in the ocean, which brought together chemicals in a rich “soup” that gave rise to primitive cells. These early life forms evolved and diversified into the myriad organisms that exist today.

Keep us warm. The ocean stores a tremendous amount of heat that regulates the planet’s overall temperature. Ocean currents redistribute heat around the Earth to keep temperatures relatively stable. Not too hot and not too cold, the Earth’s small overall temperature range is critical for our survival.

Keep us fed. 4.3 billion people on Earth get more than 15% of their protein from the ocean. That means that 3-4 servings of protein a week come from seafood for 2 out of 5 humans. Without high-quality protein from seafood, people on every continent would be hungrier and less healthy.

Give us clean water. The ocean stores 97% of the water on the planet. Even though that water is too salty to drink, fresh water evaporates from the ocean into clouds, which release their watery cargo into rivers, lakes and aquifers. This simple process provides the 1% of planetary water that’s fresh and accessible to sustain human life. Without the ocean to bank our water, we wouldn’t have anything to drink or to wash with.

Clean up after us. The ocean sops up about 30% of the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere. It catches our oil spills, holds hundreds of millions of tons of our plastic trash, and sponges up the pollution we dribble into rivers and streams.

Are always there for us. The ocean as we know it has been in place for 3.8 billion years. It’s been a calm, steady presence throughout all of humans’ awkward ages, stages and conflicts. We often turn to the ocean for soothing and relaxation.

But the ocean isn’t going to be able to clean up after us forever. Just as we learned to clean up after ourselves at Mom’s house, we need to take care of our own messes and keep them out of the ocean.

Doesn’t the ocean deserve a hug today? Click here to support Ocean Conservancy’s efforts to keep the ocean clean and healthy.

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