Looking for some extra motivation to keep that resolution to go to the gym? How about saving the planet? It’s easy to incorporate small changes into your workout routine that will actually benefit our ocean’s health.
Here are four ways you can help keep the ocean healthy while working toward a healthier you: Continue reading »
A powerful reminder of what was lost during Sandy; no words necessary. Photo by Nick Mallos
Superstorm Sandy was an unpreventable and unavoidable natural disaster that left in her wake a trail of devastation both physical and emotional that will require not months, but likely years to repair. The total cost of Sandy’s destruction may exceed $50 billion. Beach Cleanups alone certainly will not repair the damage that was done by Sandy; in fact, it’s likely that it will barely scratch the surface. However, each of these small actions taken collectively has major implications for the recovery of New Jersey and New York shores.
So there we were—Ocean Conservancy—at a desolate Jones Beach State Park on Long Island, NY equipped to do what we’ve been doing for over 25 years—clean up the beach. The cleanup was just one of many going on throughout the day along devastated beaches in New York and New Jersey as part of an effort called “Waves of Action,” which aims to help with coastal recovery efforts. Conditions were less than ideal: cloudy with light drizzle, 45 degrees, and an ocean breeze that had it feeling much colder We were nervous—would our list of attendees brave the weather and make it out? But just as volunteers do each September during the International Coastal Cleanup, on this chilly December morning more than 70 volunteers—most of whom were Long Island residents—put aside their Christmas shopping to lend a hand for a beach and community they love. In fact, many New Yorkers changed their plans that morning as they heard of the event via WCBS 880’s live radio coverage from Jones Beach.
Just over a month has passed since Hurricane Sandy rattled the Northeast, and locals are still feeling its dramatic impact. Between devastated shorelines, homes and businesses along the East Coast, Sandy continues to affect millions of Americans.
It’s impossible not to be if you work in the ocean trash world. Every year International Coastal Cleanup volunteers pickup more cigarette butts off our beaches than any other item by an order of magnitude. Since the Cleanup’s inception in 1986, cigarette butts have been the number one item on Ocean Conservancy’s annual Top Ten list, which highlights the most persistent items of ocean trash found globally. And while 2012 Cleanup data are still being compiled, I suspect cigarette butts will retain their title for another year.
What’s the big deal you might ask? Well inside each of those butts is a filter—unfiltered cigarettes excluded—made of cellulose acetate, a slow-degrading plastic. These plastic fibers are packed tightly together to create a filter, which often resembles cotton in appearance. So even though Cleanup volunteers have kept more than 55 million cigarette butts off beaches and out of the ocean over the years, the ultimate fate of these tiny plastics is still the landfill because there’s simply no value in a butt…or is there?
I recently started writing about ocean views over at the National Geographic News Watch blog. My first post explores the trash we found during this year’s International Coastal Cleanup and what we learned during a subsequent research project dubbed “Trashlab.” As you might expect, the things we leave behind on the beach reveal a lot about our society as a whole. As I write in my post:
Bags from some of the beaches were bursting with bottles and cans of every variety. Beaches in the more rural northern portion of Santa Cruz County are well known by locals as “party beaches” and the trash left behind certainly confirms it. Beer is the clear beverage of choice but interestingly, brews range from the cheapest of swill to the finest of local microbrews. It appears that beer drinkers are equal-opportunity litterers. I expected beaches in the more populated areas, frequented by families and tourists might be cleaner, but only the nature of debris, not quantity, changed. Food wrappers of all types – from fast food takeout containers to every possible variety of potato chips, cracker, candy and other snack food were plentiful. It was clear – folks don’t come to the beach to eat health food.
After we removed and weighed these and the other obvious items, a mass of unidentifiable junk, including large amounts of plastic fragments, remained. The conclusion was apparent: pretty much anything you can imagine will, unfortunately, be found on the beach.
How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.
Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.
But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”
The coast of southeast Alaska is renowned for its stunning beauty, and the pocket beach outside the town of Sitka was no exception: dark sand piled with tangles of storm-tossed logs and fringed with emerald grass. From a distance, the beach looked pristine.
But as our boat pulled closer, we began to see what we had come for: trash. Chunks of polystyrene foam, plastic bottles, lengths of line, bits of faded blue tarp and pieces of netting were wedged in the piles of driftwood and strewn in the beach grass. It was time to get to work.
I was in Sitka to take part in a series of beach cleanups that brought together staff from Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation and the Sitka Sound Science Center, along with volunteers from Allen Marine and Holland America Line. Together, we set out to find and remove marine debris that had washed up on the shores of nearby islands.