I looked up just as the water above me darkened. Within an arm’s length, a massive whale shark passed over my head, its tail methodically propelling it forward. I caught its improbably small eye looking intently at me as it glided past. Directly behind came a second whale shark and then another.
But I wasn’t swimming in the ocean – I was 30 feet below the surface, at the bottom of the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium. As a marine scientist, I’ve logged a lot of dives in places from tropical reefs to temperate kelp forests. But I’d never been this up close and personal with the world’s biggest fish. In the wild, whale sharks can grow to 40 feet and nearly 50,000 pounds; those at the Georgia Aquarium are a relatively “small” 25 feet in length.
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.
Olive Ridley sea turtle. Photo by: Matthew Dolkas.
I got a kick out of Groundhog Day, the comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell that was released in 1993. With Murray waking each day to relive Groundhog Day alongside Punxsutawney Phil and his co-anchor, the movie was lighthearted and fun. But the science of ocean plastic pollution is starting to feel a lot like Groundhog Day. And the storyline is becoming much more troubling with each new publication.
This week a new study in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology calculates that over half of the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic; this follows on the heels of a publication last month by some of the same scientists that predicted that nearly all of the world’s seabirds would be contaminated with plastics by 2050 unless action is taken soon. With each new publication, the case for a global strategy to stem the tide of plastics into the world’s oceans becomes ever more vital.
Did you miss Ocean Conservancy’s Google Hangout all about sharks? If so, don’t worry! We have a recording here to share with you. Enjoy.
Did you know that there are roughly 400 species of sharks? While many people fear sharks, the reality is that sharks have more to fear from humans than humans do from sharks. Watch our Google Hangout as we talk about the coolest (and often unknown) facts about sharks, the greatest threats facing sharks today, and our biggest hopes for shark conservation.
As part of the launch campaign for the 2014 Trash Free Seas Data Report, Ocean Conservancy hosted its first-ever Google Hangout! In case you missed it, the broadcast has been archived to our YouTube page here:
Trash has infiltrated all reaches of our ocean, causing negative impacts on ocean life and coastal communities. The problem can seem overwhelming, but it is preventable. Ocean Conservancy held a conversation about trash and the ocean. We talked about the ‘just-released’ findings from Ocean Conservancy’s 2013 International Coastal Cleanup. And we heard from a leading scientist and waste management expert about where the solutions to this problem lie. Watch the video and you’ll learn what we’ve discovered, what does it all means and what we can do next?
This week Ocean Conservancy is releasing its yearly data report highlighting the efforts of the nearly 650,000 dedicated volunteers who removed over 12 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the world during the recent International Coastal Cleanup. The release of these data is a great opportunity to celebrate the success of this event, but let’s also use this occasion to highlight the fact that much more needs to be done if society is ever going to rid the ocean of trash. It’s time to shift the emphasis from cleaning up to stopping trash from ever reaching our coasts and waterways in the first place.
Accomplishing trash free seas can’t be done by any one sector of society, but individuals must first embrace their responsibility to keep our ocean clean. Ocean Conservancy data show that personal behavior is behind much of the trash found on our coasts and in our oceans and waterways. Topping the list each September are cigarette butts, bottles, cans, caps, bags, food wrappers and cutlery, much of this left behind by careless beachgoers. Strange finds, like mattresses, car parts and even a loaded handgun, show that many still view the natural world as an acceptable place to dump unwanted possessions. The vast amount of trash we collect each year highlights the need for a much greater respect of our natural places and all that they provide to our communities and economies.
As I look back at the run Ocean Conservancy has had in the digital space over the last several months, I can’t help but be proud and humbled:
Proud of the work we’ve done to create some fantastic products and campaigns to get our supporters more involved in the fight for a clean and healthy ocean. And humbled by the immensely talented and driven individuals I’m privileged to work and create with every day.