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.
Back in 1986, Linda Maraniss moved to Texas from Washington, DC, where she had been working for Ocean Conservancy (then called the Center for Environmental Education). She had been deeply impressed by the work her Ocean Conservancy colleague Kathy O’Hara was doing on a groundbreaking report called Plastics in the Ocean: More than a Litter Problem that would be published the next year.
When Linda discovered a Texas beach covered with huge amounts of things like plastic containers and old rope, she knew this trash posed a serious threat to wildlife and ecosystems. And she felt compelled to take action.
Linda and Kathy reached out to the Texas General Land Office and other dedicated ocean-lovers, and planned what would become the first official Cleanup. They asked volunteers to go beyond picking up trash and record each item collected on a standardized data card in order to identify ways to eliminate ocean trash in the future.
This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup. It’s hard to believe that what began 30 years ago as a Cleanup on just a handful of beaches in Texas has grown to a yearly global Cleanup that involved thousands of volunteers, hundreds of countries and removes millions of pounds of trash from our coasts.
I’m proud to be part of the Ocean Conservancy team that has ensured that the Cleanup occurs year after year. Right now, we’re making sure our dedicated Coordinators all around the world have all the supplies and materials that they need to once again have a successful Cleanup.
Can I count on you to join us this year – it’s our 30th Anniversary after all. Continue reading »
Hello! My name is Jessica Miller. I am an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina, where I just completed my sophomore year. I am majoring in biology and I intend to eventually pursue a career in research. Growing up in a small town in South Carolina, I developed a deep interest in science and knew I wanted to do something with animals. This summer I am traveling to Mexico to participate in an amazing study abroad program that will help with the conservation of endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, as well as provide valuable information on the degree of marine debris found in the area.
On May 8th, I traveled to Mexico for the first time in my life. While many people travel to the country to explore the sites and relax on the beaches, my intentions are slightly different. I have an awesome opportunity to conduct research with several other students in my study abroad program. What exactly is it that we will be researching? Sea turtles, of course! More specifically, the primary focus of my voyage is the conservation of the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. These turtles are endangered and quite unique as well.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are relatively small by sea turtle standards. They usually only grow to be about 3 feet long with a shell that is about 2 feet long. They are also one of the few sea turtles to nest during the day. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles also have a limited nesting habitat. They only nest along the Gulf of Mexico, which highlights one of the many reasons the Gulf is so important; and why the condition of its beaches is so important as home to a variety of marine organisms that do not exist anywhere else. More information on the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, along with other work being done in Tecolutla, can be found at the Tecolutla Turtle Preservation Project.
I had the great fortune to head south of the equator last September for Ocean Conservancy’s 29th International Coastal Cleanup. VIDA Peru, Ocean Conservancy’s longtime Cleanup partner in Peru, invited me to participate in a weeklong series of events on ocean trash, culminating with one of their country’s signature Cleanup events at Marquez Beach. Having been my first time to Peru, and South America for that matter, I was uncertain of the beach and waterway conditions I’d find. Unfortunately, as I spoke more and more with folks from VIDA Peru in advance of the Cleanups, my expectations of clean beaches were quickly dispelled.
I asked Arturo Medina, President of VIDA Peru, what the major culprits were for ocean trash in Peru. He noted that “the waste infrastructure is drastically lacking in Peru to handle the increased waste flows. Ultimately, it all ends up in the rivers, on the beaches and flowing into the sea. Legal and illegal dumpsites located directly on the beaches are also a major issue, yielding steady streams of debris into the water.” I witnessed this first hand as one such site was visible on the beach as I sat on my surfboard offshore—dump truck after dump truck offloading rubbish onto the sand.
Some people would call Belize paradise. Having recently returned, I can’t say I disagree, but I also saw threats to the beauty on the surface. I spent a week in Belize researching the connection between waste management, plastic pollution and ocean health in this Central American country. As Chief Scientist, I’m working closely with our Trash Free Seas® team to build on our 30-year history of protecting our ocean from the growing threat of ocean trash.
I toured much of the country with independent consultant Ted Siegler from DSM Environmental Services, gaining a firsthand perspective on how recent investments in waste management systems in Belize are improving ocean health but learning how much farther the country needs to go. A former British colony, Belize is frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches and tropical breezes. But Ted and I visited many sights never seen by these outsiders. The upshot? Trash is a major problem in Belize, as it is in many developing countries. And it is increasingly clear that this has big consequences for the health of the ocean.
Another year, another incredible volunteer effort—I’m excited to share with you today the findings from last year’s International Coastal Cleanup. In 2014, more than 560,000 people picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash along nearly 13,000 miles of coastlines. Thank you to all the volunteers, Coordinators and partners who participated and devoted countless hours and resources!
Last year’s Cleanup had the largest weight of trash collected during any Ocean Conservancy Cleanup since its inception 29 years ago. Volunteers from 91 countries gathered detailed information from their Cleanups to provide a snapshot of the most persistent forms of trash found along the beaches and waterways that’s impacting our ocean.
This data represents what was found at the 29th Cleanup – each and every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers step up to meet the challenge and help clean up the beaches and waterways in their communities. There’s no doubt in my mind – as the Cleanup report will show you – the unparalleled effort of volunteers around the world results in cleaner beaches, rivers and lakes for all to enjoy.