On Monday and Tuesday, I witnessed something inspiring. I watched my Secretary of State, John Kerry, passionately and forcefully address the pressing ocean issues of our time. I watched leaders from around the world come together and commit to protecting the ocean—the precious resource that, as my fellow panelist Carol Turley said, “Is what makes Earth different from all other planets.”
Above all, I listened and watched as ocean acidification, an issue I have been passionate about for years, became a focal point of dialogue on ocean conservation. President Obama and Secretary Kerry spoke strongly, and did not try to weasel their way around the issues at hand. Sir David King, Special Representative for Climate Change in the United Kingdom, said, “Climate change, together with ocean acidification, represents the greatest diplomatic challenge of our time.” Secretary Kerry called for a change in politics, saying “Energy policy is the solution to climate change.”
Photo: Kelly the Deluded via Flickr Creative Commons
As we watched the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster unfold on beaches and in bays of the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, we wondered, too, about the impacts beyond what we could see on shore. Some of the answers to that troubling question are rolling in. We previously learned about damage to fish embryos, and the latest news involves mahi-mahi, or dolphinfish. These fast-growing, colorful predators are a favorite target of recreational fishermen and restaurant-goers alike across the Gulf, and despite their savage speed, it seems they could not outrun the impacts of BP’s oil.
A new study from the University of Miami last week demonstrated that even “relatively brief, low-level exposure to oil harms the swimming capabilities of mahi-mahi, and likely other large pelagic fish, during the early life stages.” And while it’s troubling to hear that oil reduces the fish’s ability to swim fast – a necessity for finding food and evading predators –the more disturbing revelation is how little oil exposure it takes to cause this damage to such an economically important fish.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently hosted the Our Ocean Conference at the Department of State earlier this week. Secretary Kerry invited world leaders, scientists, activists, and ocean lovers to come together to learn more about overfishing, marine debris and ocean acidification. The conference didn’t just focus on the problems of today. Governments, nonprofits and private businesses all offered solutions for tomorrow.
Ocean Conservancy was honored to attend and participate in the conference. Andreas Merkl, our president and CEO, spoke on the panel about marine debris. He echoed the threats plastic poses to marine life and how we can work together to make our seas trash free. Alexis Valauri-Orton, an intern for our ocean acidification program, presented on her travels and how ocean acidification could potentially affect coastal communities all over the world. And I was lucky enough to live tweet all the excitement from the front row of the main room! Below are the major takeaways from the Our Ocean Conference.
Governor Quinn’s strong stance against microbeads in cosmetics has major implications for the health of our ocean. All too frequently, these plastic bits find their way into the ocean where they pollute the water and are accidentally ingested by fish. Banning their manufacture and sale brings us one step closer to the trash free seas (and lakes) we deserve.
Plastics are everywhere. And by that I don’t just mean in the physical sense, but also in terms of the media. Everywhere I look lately newspaper and blog headlines are focused on the increased pervasiveness of plastic pollution in our ocean.
Plastic in our ocean — I think we can all agree this isn’t a good combination. The question is what do we do about it? This year, Ocean Conservancy and our partners collected the largest amount of trash in the 28-year history of our International Coastal Cleanup. In that time, volunteers have removed more than 175 million pounds of trash, much of it plastic, from beaches and waterways around the world. From this first-hand experience, we know the problem is getting worse, and it goes deeper than you might think. The good news is this is a problem we can fix. It will require a new approach to how we deal with plastic pollution, but it is a global issue we can and must solve. Let’s consider the facts. In the next 25 years, ocean plastics could grow to 300-500 million tons, or about one pound of plastics for every two pounds of fish in the sea. So where does it all go? We can’t yet say for sure, but when plastic fragments into smaller, bite-sized pieces, we do know that it is being ingested by fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and a host of other ocean creatures. Because plastic particles adsorb pollutants in concentrations that can be 100,000 to 1 million times greater than that found in surrounding seawater, the implications to the health of marine life are profound and deeply troubling.