The Blog Aquatic » ocean trash 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 Talking Trash and Taking Action http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/27/talking-trash-and-taking-action/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/27/talking-trash-and-taking-action/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 07:00:40 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9096

This post was written by Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Education and Outreach Fellow, Emily Parker. Emily recently graduated from Elon University with a major in Environmental Studies. She joined the Trash Free Seas team as in intern earlier this year to assist in the development and distribution of the Talking Trash & Taking Action program and is now working to help educate the public on the issue of marine debris as a Fellow. While not at Ocean Conservancy, you can find her hunting down the best food in Washington, D.C. and escaping to saltwater and sand whenever she can.

No matter what the cause, empowering students and youth to make a difference in the world through volunteerism always inspires me. It has always been said that children are the future, and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to ocean conservation. They are the next generation of ocean stewards, and there is no better way to ignite passion than to engage students in the ocean problems of today.

One of the greatest threats our ocean faces is marine debris. While many ocean issues are extremely complex and multi-faceted, trash is a bit easier to wrap our heads around. So when Ocean Conservancy brought the problem to the attention of City Year students in Washington DC this summer, we were not disappointed. As we spoke to them about ocean trash—where it comes from and why we care about it—we were met with raised hands, impressive answers and creative ideas. Students responded with empathy and imagined innovative prevention methods that impressed even our seasoned educators. After taking students down to Anacostia National Park to get their hands dirty and participate in a trash cleanup, the enthusiasm was unprecedented. We finished, tired yet proud, posing around the 700 pounds of collected trash. The event convinced many students to swear off single-use plastic bottles forever.

It is this potential that has inspired Ocean Conservancy to develop a marine debris educational program entitled Talking Trash & Taking Action. This program, developed in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Marine Debris Program, combines concrete information along with engaging hands-on activities to teach students about marine debris and how it can be prevented. The program dives deep into the issue, covering marine debris composition and decomposition, the watershed and ocean current networks, ocean gyres and trash traps, environmental and economic impacts, and all types of prevention methods, from the individual and every day, the community-wide and unique.

Talking Trash & Taking Action is currently available for use by any and all formal and informal educators interested in teaching their students about marine debris. The program is designed so that educators can incorporate specific activities into existing curriculum or walk through the entire program step-by-step.

Join Ocean Conservancy in the fight against marine debris by leading your own educational program. Visit our website to download the Talking Trash & Taking Action program along with other helpful tools to engage youth and adults alike.

Interested in organizing a training program for the educators in your area? Contact Allison Schutes for more information. Together, we can all help to turn the tide on trash.

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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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Searching for a Missing Plane in an Ocean of Trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/31/searching-for-a-missing-plane-in-an-ocean-of-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/31/searching-for-a-missing-plane-in-an-ocean-of-trash/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 17:30:00 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7956

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has scientists worldwide poring over blurry satellite images of remote portions of the Indian Ocean. While some of these photos may provide promising leads, others highlight a different problem: There is a lot of “stuff” in our ocean that doesn’t belong there.

As a marine debris specialist for Ocean Conservancy, I’ve witnessed the problem of ocean trash firsthand. I’ve traveled to the North Pacific Gyre, where large concentrations of plastic debris collect in the middle of the swirling ocean. I’ve cleaned up trash, from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, along the coast of Alaska. I’ve also joined thousands of volunteers in Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.

I do not wish to overshadow the tragedy of the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner by placing the focus on marine debris. However, ocean trash is a topic that is relevant to the ongoing search. Close examination of marine debris and what we already know will hopefully bring search teams one step closer to finding the missing plane. Additionally, the false positives of debris that plague search and rescue operations daily underscore the fact that marine debris not only threatens ocean wildlife, habitats and economies; it also jeopardizes maritime operations and safety.

Unfortunately, it is not surprising that satellites are finding images of large pieces of debris floating in the ocean. Virtually any type of trash you can imagine has been found floating at sea—plastic bags, mattresses, derelict fishing gear, refrigerators and even entire piers.

These out-of-place items complicate matters for the people in charge of the search. For every possible lead, searchers will likely be stymied by dozens of dead ends.

While the sheer amount of refuse in our ocean may seem overwhelming, we can use our existing data to give insight to search teams. Some have suggested using data and statistics “to focus on the probable and rule out the implausible.

It is this small possibility that gives me hope during such a tragic event. Hopefully, data from marine debris research efforts can bring search teams one step closer to ruling out red herrings and finding the missing plane.

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(Re)using the Same Old Lines http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/08/reusing-the-same-old-lines/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/08/reusing-the-same-old-lines/#comments Sat, 08 Mar 2014 15:30:09 +0000 Sonya Besteiro http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7690

When nylon was created in 1938, few people realized the impact this new material would have on fishing. By the late 1950s, manufacturers were producing a single strand of monofilament plastic that would quickly become the most popular fishing line.

Unfortunately, the very properties that make monofilament line so beneficial for fishermen – durability, strength, clarity – can make it an environmental hazard.

Birds, fish and mammals are routinely tangled in discarded fishing line, which can injure or kill them. Derelict fishing line also puts people at risk, entangling beachgoers and divers and damaging boats or other equipment.

Proper disposal of old or damaged fishing line is vital to prevent these dangers. North Carolina Big Sweep’s (NC Big Sweep) monofilament fishing line recycling program encourages fishermen, boaters and marinas to recycle fishing line before it enters the environment.

“Recycling gives a second life to monofilament line, reduces problems with litter and earns positive publicity,” explains Judy Bolin, president of NC Big Sweep.

The NC Big Sweep monofilament recycling initiative began as a pilot project in 2004 with funding from the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Working with the North Carolina Clean Marina Program – a voluntary program that recognizes environmentally responsible marinas – Bolin serves as a conduit between marinas and monofilament recycling resources.

“The marinas are the ones who commit to recycle the monofilament line,” she says.

To participate, marinas must install special containers for patrons to safely store and discard unwanted fishing line. Marina staff monitor and maintain the containers and record the amount of fishing line being recycled. Bolin provides marina operators with an initial container and contact information for recycling centers.

Southport Marina joined the NC Big Sweep program in 2012. For marina manager Hank Whitley, the decision was easy. “As a certified Clean Marina, we are committed to doing our part to keep our environment clean and litter-free,” he explains.

Southport currently has three recycling containers and has collected a large amount of fishing line. With little to no maintenance and only weekly monitoring required, Whitley is pleased that the stations have been minimally invasive to marina operations.

“There is no logical reason for a marina not to join this program,” he states. “The benefits far outweigh the negatives.”

More than 100 marinas currently participate in the recycling program; Bolin would like to see that number grow. “Ideally, I would love to have all marinas involved,” she says. “For now, I’d like to get funding to add 50 more marinas to the project.”

Monofilament recycling is only one of many good boating practices boaters and marinas can implement. Ocean Conservancy’s Good Mate program provides simple, easy-to-follow guidelines for green boating. Visit www.oceanconservancy.org/goodmate for more information.

 

 

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Government Resolution Rises but Ocean Health Still Sinks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/17/government-resolution-rises-but-ocean-health-still-sinks/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/17/government-resolution-rises-but-ocean-health-still-sinks/#comments Thu, 17 Oct 2013 12:00:11 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6836 Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore.

Photo: Susan White / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

While the federal government goes back to work today, the end of the shutdown did not arrive in time to save an important effort to problem-solve for our planet’s greatest natural resource—the ocean.

The U.S. State Department’s International Oceans Conference, which was scheduled to take place next week, has been indefinitely postponed. In June, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he intended to make ocean health a top priority. To achieve this, Secretary Kerry convened high-level ocean experts—including Ocean Conservancy CEO Andreas Merkl—to identify actions the United States and other countries could take to move the ocean toward a sustainable future. He said:

We are committed to addressing threats including pollution, overfishing and ocean acidification… This fall, I will host an international oceans conference to further explore these issues and work toward shared solutions.

Thanks to the shutdown, this badly needed shot in the arm for the ocean has been delayed. We very much need to build on the amazing individual actions that conservationists are taking around the world and work with our leaders to systematically address our most pressing ocean problems. This conference would be a big step in that direction.

Secretary Kerry and other key decision-makers and ocean leaders from around the world recognize that the present threats challenging our ocean are not just environmental, they are also personal. Atop this list is ocean plastic pollution. Plastic pollution affects our local economies, our local beaches, our health and the safety of our food. The everyday decisions we make have very real, lasting implications for our well-being and that of the ocean.

I’ve said before: At its core, plastic pollution is not an ocean problem, it is a people problem. And because people are at the center, this means we can solve it if we have the vision and the temerity to confront the problem head-on. At a time when momentum seemed to be on our side and conservation leaders and international decision-makers were prepared to build a road map for the ocean’s future, indecision and partisanship yet again intervened.

This is certainly no way to run a government or protect our ocean.

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VIDEO: Immense Plastics, Many Perspectives, One Solution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/03/video-immense-plastics-many-perspectives-one-solution/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/03/video-immense-plastics-many-perspectives-one-solution/#comments Tue, 03 Sep 2013 20:00:35 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6584

Scientists, artists, educators, citizens—we all view the world through different lenses but we can agree on one thing:  there is no place for plastics in our natural environment. This was the sentiment that brought together Team GYRE, a group of 14 experts from drastically different backgrounds—science, art, education, film—to research, educate and eliminate marine debris from the ocean.

Over the course of seven days, my teammates and I surveyed some of Alaska’s most remote beaches in an attempt to document the scale and scope of marine debris on the vast coastline. Alaska is unique in that the magnitude of debris on its isolated pocket beaches are is among the largest concentration of plastics and trash on this planet, yet adjacent to these artifacts of human consumerism, magnificent wildlife thrive both above and below the ocean’s surface.

The video above, produced by National Geographic, perfectly illustrates this contrast.

Expedition GYRE imparted in me great optimism. It revealed to me that although we have blemished some of our most treasured natural landscapes with unnatural articles, we have not entirely spoiled them. There is still time to mend the damage done from a period of time when we did not know the true impacts of our actions. But that era is now over and the evidence is far too great to ignore.

Without question, the challenge of trash and plastic pollution in our ocean is complex but it is not insurmountable. We all have a role to play, and there is no time like the present to start turning back the clock.

Join Ocean Conservancy and 500,000 other devoted ocean advocates on Sept. 21 to play your role in the fight against ocean trash by participating in the 28th annual International Coastal Cleanup.

Ocean trash is not an ocean problem, it’s a people problem. And that means we are the solution.

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