The Blog Aquatic » debris News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 One Endangered Species We’d All Like to See Go Extinct Fri, 28 Feb 2014 21:23:40 +0000 Nick Mallos

“THANK YOU.” For years, these infamous words have been seen all too frequently on the plastic bags found floating around pasture lands, city streets, beaches and in the ocean. The elusive plastic bag continues to be at the core of the ocean trash dialogue and California legislators will once again try to pass a statewide ban this year that would prohibit its distribution in the state–cleaner beaches and cityscapes being the primary justification. Last year, the attempt failed to pass by only a handful of votes.

People around the world are all too familiar with these items; volunteers for Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup have picked up more than 10 million plastic bags off beaches and other landscapes over the past three decades. In 2012 alone, the number was 1,019,902 to be precise. We know because we work with volunteers to count every last one. Ten million bags require more than 1,200 barrels of oil to produce. And once in the environment, a diverse array of animals, both in the ocean and on land, ingest these items with detrimental impacts on their health as a result.

Don’t get me wrong. Plastics are a remarkable material. They protect valuable products in transit, save thousands of lives in hospitals and provide safe access to food and water following natural disasters. But not all plastics are created equal. There are some applications–like plastic bags–where we must acknowledge that the negative impacts of their use far outweigh any benefits we accrue during their momentary use.

For those products for which suitable alternatives exist, they no longer need to be a part of our daily lives. Disposable grocery bags are one of them. And while some claim that bag alternatives are only “supposedly” reusable, I can personally attest to the durability of the “free” reusable bags I’ve been using for five years.

To meaningfully reduce the global input of plastic waste into the ocean each year, we need a much broader, more systemic approach than bans on single products. But to reiterate the words of state Sen. Alex Padilla, “We lived for thousands of years without single-use plastic bags. I think we will be just fine without them.”

I commend California and the many nongovernmental organizations that have worked tirelessly to eliminate a repeat offender on Ocean Conservancy’s Top 10 list. Their efforts mark an important step toward cleaner beaches and a cleaner ocean.

If the people of Bangladesh, Rwanda, Burma and the Ivory Coast can all survive without plastic bags, I’m confident Californians can as well.

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Tsunamis are unavoidable; trash choking our ocean is not Mon, 16 Jul 2012 19:41:14 +0000 Janis Searles Jones

A 66-foot dock that washed up in Oregon was identified and confirmed as tsunami-related debris. Credit: NOAA

As Interim President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy and a resident of the Pacific Northwest, I watched with concern the news of a large Japanese dock landing in Oregon after being washed away by the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan. In the Tacoma News Tribune, I explain why we should be concerned about the tsunami debris heading our way and what we can do:

While it is still too soon to know exactly how big a problem this debris will be for U.S. shores, the International Pacific Research Center estimates that 5 percent or less of the approximately 1.5 million tons of debris in the Pacific Ocean could make landfall.

To prepare for what might come, we should prioritize baseline monitoring, modeling and outreach in communities. Ocean Conservancy has been working closely with the Obama administration, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as they ramp up response efforts.

In addition to monitoring and volunteer cleanups, we also should be advocating for the resources that may be needed to deal with the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude.

While natural disasters are inevitable, trash choking our ocean is not. Read the full story here.

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Living in a Connected World: Lessons from Radioactivity in Tuna Fri, 01 Jun 2012 13:29:57 +0000 George Leonard

Bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, credit: NOAA

In the arc of human history, it is only very recently that we have begun to live in a connected world. Long before Facebook and Twitter, human populations were separated by continents — and oceans — in ways that limited cultural and information exchange. It turns out the oceans are much more connected. This was brought home this week in a new scientific publication – and subsequent blog by my colleague Carl Safina – that unequivocally showed that Pacific bluefin tuna had transported radiation from the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan to the shores of California.

For many, this news will beg the question: “Should I avoid eating bluefin tuna?” The answer is unequivocally, “yes,” but not because of the radiation – which is at levels low enough that it won’t have an effect on humans – but because of sustainability. The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates bluefin as “avoid” because because they are being caught faster than they can reproduce. Attention sushi lovers: Bluefin is also known as hon maguro or toro (tuna belly). If you see it on the menu, and you care about the future of fish, you should avoid it. If conservation concerns don’t motivate you, the high price alone may steer you away.
Bluefin tuna are amazing creatures. Unlike most fish, bluefin are warm blooded. Using a heat exchanger much like the radiator in your car, they can elevate their body temperature as much as 20 degrees Celsius above that of the water in which they live. And boy can they swim; at a full sprint, bluefin can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The result? Bluefin can cover vast distances, regularly migrating between the western Pacific, near Japan, to the west coast of California.

When the Fukushima plant began to spill radioactivity into the ocean last year, I wondered whether that radioactivity might make it to our shores. Certainly, the Pacific is a very big ocean and even high concentrations of radioactivity would be expected to be diluted in its vast waters. But fish, like Pacific bluefin, also can accumulate radioactivity in their muscle tissues, and juvenile bluefin in the vicinity of the plant would be expected to pick up radioactive cesium (whose only source in the Pacific was the damaged plant). Indeed, when scientists sampled fish off the California coast, they found telltale signs of this cesium; they also determined that these fish had made the passage across the entire ocean basin in a matter of 4 months. While you and I can now do it on a jetliner in a few hours, this is a quick journey for a fish.

Pacific Bluefin – and other creatures like salmon sharks, sooty shearwaters, and loggerhead turtles – reveal just how connected the oceans are. They all make vast migrations, highlighting that there really is no “away” when it comes to the oceans. And marine life isn’t the only example driving this home. Much of west coast is poised for the arrival of vast amounts of trash from the Japanese earthquake, inexorably making its way here, pushed by the wind and waves. My colleague, Nick Mallos is part of an expedition right now studying and tracking the tsunami debris. You can learn more about the expedition through his blog posts and twitter account.

While our smartphones connect us to friends and family, it is the bluefin tuna that really show how connected life on “planet ocean” really is.

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