The Blog Aquatic » marine debris http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 You’re Invited http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/25/youre-invited/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/25/youre-invited/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 13:49:07 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9085

 

It’s time to make a difference!

On Saturday, September 20th, Ocean Conservancy is hosting the International Coastal Cleanup. Volunteers around the world are gathering to remove trash from their beaches and waterways. And you’re invited!

The Cleanup is so important for a healthy ocean. Last year, volunteers collected a record-breaking 13.6 million items of trash. With your help, we can collect even more.

But having more trash on our beaches to pick up is not a thing to celebrate. The sad truth is that our beaches and waterways are polluted and littered with trash. This summer as millions of Americans head to the beach, they’ll encounter plastic bottle caps, straws, cigarette butts and more.

That’s why we need to work together to stop the flow of trash before it has a chance to reach the water to choke and entangle dolphins, endanger sea turtles, ruin our beaches, and depress our local economies.

Tell us you’ll join us at this year’s International Coastal Clean Up.

Once you’ve registered, you’ll be directed to our Cleanup map, where you can find the details for a cleanup near you.

I can’t wait to see you at the International Coastal Cleanup this September!

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Nowhere to Hide: More Than Fish May be Impacted by Plastic Pollution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/23/nowhere-to-hide-more-than-fish-may-be-impacted-by-plastic-pollution/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/23/nowhere-to-hide-more-than-fish-may-be-impacted-by-plastic-pollution/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 21:00:35 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8801

The problem of plastics in the ocean has been receiving a lot of attention recently.  You might even say it’s “trending.” As it should be.  Ideas about how to clean up the mess are circulating around the internet, including input from professional ocean scientists on how likely these ideas are to really be effective.  But the cutting edge of scientific inquiry is assessing the extent to which plastics in the ocean – especially tiny fragments called microplastics – are impacting marine life.  A recent study suggests it’s not just fish that might be eating plastic.

While microplastics have increasingly been documented in a range of fish from different parts of the ocean, a team from the UK has now shown that sea creatures aren’t just eating plastic, they are breathing it.  In an elegant laboratory study, researchers at the University of Glasgow found that crabs exposed to microplastics uptake these particles through respiration and then retain them on their gills for as long as 3 weeks.  This occurs despite the fact that crabs have a specialized appendage called a gill raker (similar to a windshield wiper) for clearing dirt and debris from crabs’ respiratory tracts.

Furthermore, crabs might get a double-whammy of plastics as researchers confirmed that crabs can also be exposed to plastics the good old fashioned way – by eating mussels (their primary food) who themselves have been contaminated with plastic as a result of filtering water for their microscopic prey.

If you are an ocean creature, there may be nowhere to hide from plastics.  Whether large or small, if you make your living by filtering water for food, you could uptake plastics.  If you munch prey that has taken up microplastics, you can also be exposed. And if you breathe in water through gills, as nearly all of marine life does, you also can be exposed to plastics.  While scientists have now demonstrated the various mechanisms by which this exposure can occur, what remains to be uncovered is how pervasive this impact is throughout the world’s oceans and whether it poses a threat to humans who eat many of these sea creatures. Last week’s study confirms that the more we learn about plastics in the ocean, the more concerns grow.

But there are reasons to remain optimistic. The global challenge of plastic in the ocean got a big boost from Secretary Kerry’s Our Ocean Summit last month, where the topic shared the stage with other major threats like global overfishing and ocean acidification. Efforts are underway to ban some uses of plastic that harm the ocean and for which there are good substitutes; Illinois recently banned the sale of cosmetics containing synthetic microbeads, the millions of bits of plastic that escape waste water treatment facilities and find their way into the Great Lakes and the oceans. Four other states are considering similar legislation. California is considering a new trash policy, which would make preventing plastics and other materials from entering waterways a statewide priority.

Individuals can make a huge difference, too. You can sign up to clean your local beach or waterway during the International Coastal Cleanup this September 20th. And don’t forget to take the Last Straw Challenge to keep millions of straws from having a chance to find their way to the ocean.

While emerging science points to a large and growing impact of plastics on ocean wildlife, together we can all turn the tide on trash by fighting for a healthy ocean.

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The Five Myths (and Truths) About Plastic Pollution in Our Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/17/the-five-myths-and-truths-about-plastic-pollution-in-our-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/17/the-five-myths-and-truths-about-plastic-pollution-in-our-ocean/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:00:39 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8754

Photo by John Kieser

As the Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program, I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who care about the ocean and are making a difference for the communities that depend on it. However, I’m always surprised by the number of misconceptions about ocean plastics.

With many people visiting the beach this summer, not to mention all the coverage that ocean plastics has received recently, it’s a great opportunity to clear up some of these myths:

  1. Myth: There are floating islands of plastics in every ocean.
    Fact: Only a small percentage of ocean plastics float at the sea surface.Most plastics are dispersed throughout the water column, resting on the seafloor, trapped in Arctic ice, or inside ocean animals. The plastic gyres you hear about in the news are primarily composed of tiny plastic particles that are the degraded fragments of their original form (i.e., bottles, containers, toys)—many are the size of a grain of rice. 
  2. Myth: Ocean plastic primarily comes from ocean dumping and industry, such as cruise ships or container ships. .
    Fact: Most of the plastics in the ocean come from items we use every day—bags, bottles, caps, food containers, etc. By limiting single-use plastics in our everyday lives and disposing of these items properly, we can reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean. 
  3. Myth: Ocean trash gyres, large areas of the ocean where currents concentrate trash, can simply be cleaned out of existence.
    Fact: While some surface trash can be cleaned, many plastics break down and become dispersed. Only a small percentage of total ocean plastics inputs rest at the surface. The rest is distributed throughout the ocean or winds up inside animals. We don’t have a realistic, efficient way to remove these plastics from the system (yet).
  4. Myth: Ocean plastics are just a trash problem.
    Fact: Plastic particles are now found inside animals and throughout the ocean food chain—from mussels to fish to turtles to whales. 
  5. Myth: There is one, simple solution capable of solving our ocean plastics problem.
    Fact: Bans, fees, recycling nor product redesign alone can fix this. The ultimate solution is a combination of all of these and more. The biggest impact will come from stopping the massive amounts of plastic litter before it travels over land, and into our waterways and ocean.

With all this in mind, you might be thinking—what can I do to make a difference? You can sign up to clean your local beach or waterway by joining Ocean Conservancy in the International Coastal Cleanup on Saturday, September 20. You’ll be among hundreds of thousands of volunteers working towards a cleaner ocean.

Cleanups alone can’t solve this problem, but volunteers are instrumental in helping us assemble our Ocean Trash Index. This provides us with a snapshot of what’s trashing our ocean so we can work towards preventing the most abundant and problematic items of trash from reaching the water in the first place.

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Declare Your Independence from Plastic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/03/declare-your-independence-from-plastic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/03/declare-your-independence-from-plastic/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:00:17 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8705

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

Trash has infiltrated all reaches of our ocean from our coastlines to the deepest depths. This Fourth of July, declare your independence from plastic and help reduce marine debris! Here are 10 easy ways you can free yourself from unnecessary plastics:

  1. It’s easy to skip the straw when you’re at a sit down restaurant. By simply asking your waiter to hold the straw, you can prevent another piece of plastic from ending up on our beaches or in the ocean
  2. When you throw away (or preferably recycle) a plastic bottle, keep the bottle cap on. This prevents it from escaping the bin and ending up in the ocean. Bottle caps are buoyant plastics that can be consumed by seabirds, marine life and other animals.
  3. Plastic bags pose a serious threat to ocean wildlife. Sea turtles can mistake them for jellies, their favorite snack. Bring a reusable bag with you whenever and wherever you go shopping.
  4. Try only using trashcans and recycling bins that are sealed or have a top. Don’t let the wind blow away your green deed of the day.
  5. Use a reusable mug or bottle when you’re on the go. Some coffee shops will even fill it for a discount. Save some cash by saving the ocean.
  6. Cigarette butts have been the most common item of trash found on beaches every year since the International Coastal Cleanup began in 1986. Volunteers collected over 2 million in 2013 alone. If you need a smoke break while on the beach, be sure to take your butt with you and dispose of it properly once off the sand.
  7. Ask your favorite to-go place to leave the bag, plastic utensils and napkins behind. And give those food containers a second life by storing all the random stuff you have but don’t know where to put.
  8. Check out some Pinterest DIY tips or YouTube tutorials on how to turn extra plastics into your favorite accessories or decorations.
  9. Take part in the International Coastal Cleanup to rid your local beach,  shoreline or waterway of trash.
  10. Share this with your friends to help them declare their independence from plastic!
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World Leaders Talk Problems and Solutions at the Our Ocean Conference http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/19/world-leaders-talk-problems-and-solutions-at-the-our-ocean-conference/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/19/world-leaders-talk-problems-and-solutions-at-the-our-ocean-conference/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 20:53:37 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8575

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

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.

The Problems

“It’s our ocean. It’s our responsibility,” said Secretary Kerry when he opened the Conference. It’s a responsibility we haven’t been handling very well. More than three billion people depend on seafood as a major source of protein. However, certain critical species aren’t being fished sustainably. They’re being fished at maximum capacity or being overfished entirely. Bycatch—fish caught unintentionally by fisherman and often discarded—puts threatened and endangered species at further risk.  Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing doesn’t just threaten marine species. It endangers food security for billions of people.

Roughly 80 percent of ocean trash originates on land and the bulk of that is made up of plastic. Trash can be swept into ocean currents and end up in areas with high concentrations of plastics called gyres. The plastic threat goes even deeper than what we can see. Plastic degrades into micro pieces where it can be accidentally consumed by marine life and seabirds.

The chemistry of our ocean is changing. It is absorbing excess amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This phenomenon is acidifying ocean water. Ocean acidification threatens shellfish, coral and other marine species. An acidifying ocean’s impact doesn’t stop there though. People whose livelihoods depend on shellfish and tourism are at risk of losing everything due to ocean acidification.

The Solutions

It’s clear that inaction is not an option. Luckily, this conference seems to be a catalyst for ocean change. More than $1.8 billion was promised from various attendees to protect the ocean.

President Barack Obama promised to take steps to create a marine protected area bigger than the state of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean. The federal government will work with stakeholders to develop the exact boundaries, but the area will focus around expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. This is expected to protect threatened sea turtles and two dozen types of marine mammals. President Obama also tasked federal agencies to come up with a comprehensive plan to combat illegal fishing.

The United States pledged an investment of more than $9 million over three years in ocean acidification research.

Borge Brende, the foreign minister of Norway, pledged more than $150 million to sustainable fishing around the world on behalf of his country.

Kenred Dorsett from The Bahamas pledged that his country will expand their marine protected areas to cover at least 10 percent of its near-shore marine environment.

Actor and environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio, promised to invest $7 million for ocean conservation efforts through his foundation.

Foreign minister of Chile, Hugo Munoz, invited the attendees of the Our Ocean Conference 2014 to his country for next year’s global ocean conference.

There’s even more YOU can do though. You can help by pledging to the skip the straw or by volunteering to clean up your local beaches and shorelines. Please also join us in thanking President Obama and Secretary Kerry for protecting our ocean.

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A One-Size-Fits-All Solution for the Ocean? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/09/to-clean-or-not-to-clean-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/09/to-clean-or-not-to-clean-the-ocean/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 23:00:17 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8457

**Update: June 10, 2014**
Ocean Conservancy has been a leader in beach cleanup efforts for nearly 30 years and we are dedicated to continuing these efforts. We applaud Boyan’s creativity and ideas for an ocean cleanup and recognize that he has conducted a feasibility study to further outline the ocean cleanup model. However, the majority of concerns previously voiced by ocean scientists, as well as Ocean Conservancy, regarding the ecological, economical and logistical components of the technology still remain unanswered. Cleanups are an important part of the solution, but Ocean Conservancy believes that in order to address the growing issue of plastic pollution in our ocean, we must also focus on preventing plastic from reaching the ocean in the first place. In addition to our Last Straw Challenge, we will be rolling out a series of efforts over the coming year that we hope you’ll participate in, including the International Coastal Cleanup September 20th. Thank you for your feedback, and we hope to see you all at this year’s cleanups! 

FACT:  There are plastics in the ocean.

FACT:  Plastics are not good for fish, turtles, birds or marine mammals.

FALSE:  Ocean cleanup is the solution.

Over the past year, much attention—some positive, some negative—has been given to Boyan Slat’s revolutionary concept and prototype for “The Ocean Cleanup.”  Yes, perhaps in theory—and artistically sketched blueprints—you can boom, suck and snag plastics floating at the ocean surface. But in practice, it just doesn’t make sense—ecologically, economically or logically.

It would be unfair for me to criticize Boyan’s concept without giving my own opinion, so here it is.

Cleanups are an invaluable education and outreach tool that provide people a tangible way to become aware and involved in the ocean plastics crisis. And no one is better suited to discuss the effectiveness of cleanups than Ocean Conservancy. For the past three decades, volunteers in our International Coastal Cleanup have removed more than 175 million pounds of trash—primarily plastics—from beaches and waterways around the globe. Each year however, there’s more trash to pick up—cleanups cure the symptoms of plastics pollution, not the disease itself.

Concepts of an ocean cleanup technology are no different. If tomorrow we could launch the array of 24 sifters outlined in Boyan’s proposal, it would do nothing to stop the continuous and increasing flow of plastics into the marine environment. Simply put, we’d increase the size of the bandage while our pipelines of plastics to the sea run unabated like the faulty valve in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

From a technical perspective, our friends at Deep Sea News have done an exceptional job outlining the major unanswered technical questions associated with an ocean cleanup and its implications for marine organisms. To summarize the astute response of marine debris scientist, Dr. Miriam Goldstein:

  • Mooring fixed objects in the open ocean is improbable due to depths exceeding 4,000 meters;
  • The mixed layer in the open ocean can run 100-150 meters deep during high wind, rendering the collection boom useless; and
  • Large, durable floating “capture devices” are likely destined to be future marine debris that can entangle marine animals.

All of this is to say that “…I think it is highly unlikely that a [cleanup] array of this size and magnitude will ever be feasible.”

I am an optimist. And I applaud Boyan for his creativity and ingenuity. However, in our current climate we need to look upstream for solutions, not to the center of the gyres. Resin manufacturers and consumer product companies must adopt a business model based on the principles of a circular economy, where products do not become waste after consumer use, but rather valuable materials that are recycled and reused in product manufacturing. Similarly, we must look to developing nations where increasing populations and affluence are fueling a desire for the single use disposable plastics that have been a part of our society for decades, but where even the most basic of waste management infrastructure does not yet exist. Such an approach addresses the plastic pollution vector at both its entry and exit points in our consumer society. Simultaneously, we, as individuals, must continue to do our part by reducing our unnecessary consumption of disposable plastics and supporting smart public policies that eliminate the most threatening forms of plastic pollution altogether.

There are solutions to ocean plastics. Ocean cleanup is not the solution.

 

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Did You Miss Our Ocean Google Hangout? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/22/did-you-miss-our-ocean-google-hangout/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/22/did-you-miss-our-ocean-google-hangout/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 14:26:53 +0000 Michelle Frey http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8359 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:

And don’t forget to check out the full report on our website.

More about the Ocean Google Hangout:

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?

Moderator:

George Leonard is Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy. A long-time scuba diver, George has worked on a range of ocean-related issues including marine debris, sustainable seafood and marine protected areas. During his graduate work, he logged over 400 dives in 3 years studying California’s kelp forests, the undersea equivalent of tropical rain forests.

Speakers:

Nick Mallos is a Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist at Ocean Conservancy. His travels take him around the world, showing him the final resting place of trash generated by our disposable culture. Nick’s work is designed to help people around the globe work to protect our blue planet. He is also an avid surfer and works hard to catch a wave wherever his travels take him.

Chelsea Rochman has her BS in Biology from UCSD and recently received her PhD in Marine Ecology from UC Davis and San Diego State in 2013. She is currently researching the fate and toxicity of plastic debris in freshwater and marine habitats. Specifically, her expertise is in the sorption of priority pollutants (pesticides, trace metals, flame retardants, and plastic additives) to plastic debris and from plastic debris in aquatic habitats and the fate and toxicity of this debris in marine organisms. In addition to researching plastic debris in coastal habitats, she has experience researching debris in the North Pacific Gyre and the South Atlantic Gyre as part of separate research cruises.

Ted Siegler has 40 years of experience working on solid waste management issues. He served for 15 years as Technical Consultant to the American Plastics Council on increasing the recovery of plastics for recycling, and has spent the past 20 years working on capacity building for local and central governments in 14 countries around the world. Ted specializes in recycling collection and processing, economic analysis, and municipal finance and has been with DSM Environmental Services, Inc. since 1987. DSM specializes in waste reduction and recycling issues for municipal and state governments.

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