The Blog Aquatic » plastic pollution News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Government Resolution Rises but Ocean Health Still Sinks Thu, 17 Oct 2013 12:00:11 +0000 Nick Mallos 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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Thanks for Picking Up, Now Let’s Prevent It Wed, 25 Sep 2013 14:30:39 +0000 Nick Mallos

On Saturday, Sept. 21, millions of people around the world joined the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of ocean and waterway health. Thousands of International Coastal Cleanup events were held at locations ranging from beaches to riverfronts, lakeside to underwater reefs. Whether you picked one bottle cap off the beach or hauled a refrigerator from a creek bed, thank you for participating.

And everyone who participated helped tackle one of the biggest threats to the health and resiliency of our ocean and waterways: trash. This trash, namely disposable plastics, is entirely human-generated. That means it’s entirely preventable, and we can all play a role in solving it.

How can you help? There are still Cleanups happening all over the world, so you can find one near you or plan a small cleanup of your own with friends and family.

You can also continue to take personal responsibility for your trash—both at the beach and in everyday life. Trash is not just something we throw away. It’s tangible evidence of wasted resources. Pledge to reduce your consumption of one-time-use products, helping stop ocean trash before it starts.

And download Ocean Conservancy’s free mobile application Rippl to help you make simple, sustainable lifestyle choices that will help you save money and reduce your trash impact.

Together, we can work toward trash free seas.

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“Midway” Film Answers Plastic Pollution Question “Why Care?” Thu, 12 Sep 2013 13:20:57 +0000 Nick Mallos albatross chick

Photo: still from Chris Jordan’s “Midway”

Midway Atoll is truly “out there.” The closet population center is Honolulu, 1,200 miles to the southeast and a five-hour trip by plane. But despite its remoteness, Midway is not immune to the impacts of plastic debris.

Midway’s central position in the North Pacific Gyre makes it a sink for debris, which results in immense, daily accumulations on the island’s sandy beaches. This collection of debris—almost entirely plastics—threatens the endangered monk seals and sea turtles that inhabit Midway’s beaches and forage in the atoll’s shallow waters. Plastics that threaten the 1.5 million Laysan albatross on Midway, however, arrive in a different manner.

Each year, approximately 10,000 pounds of plastics are brought to Midway not by currents or wind, but in the stomachs of the birds themselves. Mothers and fathers forage at sea for weeks in search of fish eggs, squid and other prey in hopes of nourishing their newly hatched chicks that wait anxiously hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

All too often, adult albatross return to Midway not with nutrition from the sea but instead plastic bottle caps, cigarette lighters, fishing floats and colossal quantities of plastic fragments that float adrift in the North Pacific Ocean. Albatross chicks do not possess the ability to regurgitate; once consumed, these plastics often become fatal.

I witnessed the unintended consequences of plastics on Midway’s albatross firsthand in 2010, when my colleagues and I examined the impacts of plastics on the island’s fauna. Trekking around Midway, it was impossible to avoid plastics—colorful shapes and sizes speckled the ground while other types of plastic protruded from the guts of recently perished albatross chicks.

These lifeless forms rested only steps from the nests where their parents had diligently nurtured their newly hatched chicks; it was a stark reminder of the fine line between life and death on Midway Island.

Words alone do not suffice to accurately convey the severity of the impacts of plastics on Midway. Fortunately, Chris Jordan’s recent documentary, “Midway,” brings the sights, sounds and firsthand encounters with the concurrent beauty and distress of Midway to concerned citizens around the world.

Through stunning natural splendor and chilling visual testimony, “Midway” singlehandedly answers the plastic pollution question, “Why should we care?”

Perhaps an even more important question is “How do I help?” Join me and more than 500,000 other concerned citizens around the world on Sept. 21 to remove unsightly, unnecessary and destructive plastics from our beaches and waterways during the 28th annual International Coastal Cleanup.

There is one ocean. And that means even if you never travel to Midway, you can help ensure that the potentially harmful bottle caps, lighters and myriad other plastic debris items littering our beaches and waterways never arrive there either.

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VIDEO: Immense Plastics, Many Perspectives, One Solution Tue, 03 Sep 2013 20:00:35 +0000 Nick Mallos

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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This Week’s Top Tweets: February 16 – 22 Fri, 22 Feb 2013 21:57:58 +0000 Guest Blogger We all know that the ocean is one of our original visions of beauty, and the top tweets of this week certainly lend some good reminders of that. From the majestic creatures that rule the ocean ecosystem, to the small animals that make up a colorful underwater community and to the small child that utilizes the power of the ocean to overcome difficult obstacles, we can see why the ocean is hugely important in so many different ways. And for good measure, we’ve also got a tweet that shows how badly our consumption of plastic harms one of the most coveted aspects of our planet. With quite the well-rounded week to look back on, let’s dive right in with number one:

1. An Oceanic Escape

Our most popular tweet of the week was one that illustrates how big of an impact the ocean can have on our lives. A young boy with cerebral palsy named Alex surfs regularly to help strengthen his muscles. The Orange County Register article quoted Alex’s father as saying that when he is in the water, “he’s just totally happy, he never wants to get out. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, how windy it is, how sloppy it is. For some reason, there’s this gravitation to the water.” While a specific example, the description of Alex’s affinity for being in the ocean speaks to many of our own personal experiences with and feelings toward the ocean.

2. Trash Talking with a Pro

This tweet was about pro surfer Mary Osborne‘s experience at the South Atlantic garbage patch. Osborne says that “it’s hard to go back and actually explain to people what we saw…The only way I can really describe it is this plastic soup, this confetti-like soup.” While seeing may be the most tangible way of believing the damage plastics have done to our oceans, she suggests that changes can be made in individual consumer behavior, in terms of purchasing power and recycling. We couldn’t agree more! In fact, we created our mobile app, Rippl, in order to help you make small choices and changes in your daily lifestyle to better the ocean’s health.

3. The Live Humpback Hunt

Our third top tweet links to a video of a humpback whale’s hunt for food, courtesy of the National Geographic “critter cam” team. Cool view, eh?

4. Are Your Shark Senses Tingling?

If you weren’t excited about this tweet, you probably just don’t have a pulse. The video and photo progressions of shark conservationist Ocean Ramsey’s peaceful swim with a great white shark had us on the edge of our seats. Well actually, it wasn’t just a swim, but more of an underwater piggyback ride; Ramsey first maintained a calm composure as to not frighten the shark, then eventually grabbed its dorsal fin and went for a short ride. Amazing!

5. Baja Beauty

Our last on the list of top tweets for the week is a video made by Erick Higuera that showcases the beauty which can be found in the ocean. In the video’s description, Higuera says that “the gruesome and cruel destruction of these creatures is unnecessary, tragic and extremely alarming. It is imperative to act quickly to protect marine species populations that still prevail before it’s too late.” Indeed, our last tweet this week is another shining reminder of why we all need to continue the fight for a healthy ocean.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter at @OurOcean so that you can get all your ocean-related news as it happens, along with funny and interesting ocean-based content. Until next time, have a great weekend!

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Are We Building Plastic Beaches? Tue, 14 Aug 2012 16:09:23 +0000 Nick Mallos

Credit: Sustainable Coastlines flickr stream

13 billion. That’s the number of tiny, pre-production plastic pellets—often referred to as “nurdles”—that remain afloat in the waters off Hong Kong. Six 40-foot containers filled with these plastic pellets were lost off a shipping vessel when it was caught by hurricane-force winds and heavy seas during last month’s Typhoon Vicente. Exactly how much plastic did these containers contain? Each container carried at least 25,000 kilograms of plastic pellets, meaning approximately 150 tons—or 300,000 lbs.—of plastic were sent overboard during the storm. Keeping in mind that plastic is an extremely lightweight material, this number is roughly equal to the weight of two Boeing-737 aircraft.

Since the spill, large quantities of the pellets and the bags have been appearing on beaches and coastlines all over Hong Kong. Ecovision, the International Coastal Cleanup Coordinator for Hong Kong, is taking a role by joining hands with a number of committed local conservation groups and government departments to initiate the Hong Kong Plastic Pellet Patrol. The Patrol divided Hong Kong into different Cleanup sectors and assigned participating NGOs areas of responsibility. Through their combined efforts, they have succeeded in removing an estimated 71 tons of the plastic from the sea and coastlines; but again, up to 13 billion pellets remain unaccounted for off the Hong Kong coast.

Chinese oil and chemical company Sinopec Corp.—the manufacturer of the pellets—has also committed to cleaning up the spilled plastics. However, continuing to use Cleanups as the “solution” to plastic pollution will not suffice. Even if volunteers are able to pick up every last pellet that was spilled from the containers—which is impossible—this spill is not the first time nurdles have washed ashore. Seabird studies and beach litter surveys reveal that plastic pellets have been floating in our ocean for decades. With little effort, any beachcomber can find nurdles littering the wrack line on beaches around world.

We know plastic is pervasive, prolific and problematic—aesthetically, economically and environmentally. And research on plastics’ ability to absorb toxins and pollutants increasingly suggests a health risk. Anyone of these factors should suffice in discouraging manufacturers from using plastics in applications where benign alternatives exist. Consumers must also accept responsibility and reduce our overall consumption of one-time use products and make smart choices about waste disposal to ensure we eliminate the possibility of trash reaching our ocean in the first place.

Yes, we can make anything out of plastic. But that does not mean we should. Our ocean’s the most resilient ecosystem on this planet, but we cannot continue to challenge its limit.

Plastic pollution is not an ocean problem; it’s a human problem to which only we can provide solutions.

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Even in the Ocean, Every Rose Has Its Thorn Fri, 08 Jun 2012 16:09:33 +0000 Nick Mallos Debris found during cleanup near Yokohama, Japan

Debris collected from Transect #1 at Sea Paradise Beach -- Nick Mallos

Mawar is the Malaysian word for rose, but Typhoon Mawar has been nothing but a thorn since we arrived in Yokohama, Japan. Like hurricanes, typhoons form when tropical depressions escalate into cyclones; in the Pacific, these cyclones are called typhoons, while in the Atlantic they are known as hurricanes.

This past weekend, Mawar delivered heavy rain and sustained winds of 110 mph to the Philippines, gusting up to 130 mph and taking the lives of eight Filipinos. We felt peripheral effects of Mawar in Japan as intensifying winds and strong gusts jostled boats and tested the strength of dock lines in the marina.

So far, Mawar has delayed our departure on the Algalita/5 Gyres Japan Tsunami Debris Expedition by almost one week. To say anticipation and angst on board has been high would be an understatement. However, we have not allowed our time on land to be wasted.

Several of us traveled to a nearby beach that sits adjacent to the Sea Paradise Amusement Park. With roller coasters and a Ferris wheel as backdrop, we surveyed the crescent-shaped beach using NOAA’s Shoreline Monitoring Protocol, incorporating a microplastics sampling component recently designed by 5 Gyres Institute.

Plastic fragments dominated the rag line — the tide line on the beach where seaweed, shells and debris accumulate — and cigarette butts and food wrappers comprise the majority of items found toward the berm. None of the items we found indicated this debris was tsunami-generated.

Nick Mallos on the bow of the Sea Dragon ship

Nick Mallos awaiting Typhoon Mawar on the bow of Pangaea Exploration's Sea Dragon.

If our delayed departure has caused anyone to lose sight of the tsunami-related objectives of our expedition, there was a big reminder this morning via news of a 70-foot dock from Japan washing ashore on the Oregon coast.

As our departure nears, uncertainty still lingers regarding our debris encounters. We know we will find plastic and trash, but what type and how much, if any, tsunami debris we will encounter remains unknown.

No indecision exists among my crewmates though. The passion and determination for trash free seas exhibited by each crewmember is inspiring, and there’s no question that we are ready for whatever Poseidon has in store for us.

This evening, I opened a card with words inside that flawlessly capture the spirit and purpose embodied by each person aboard this expedition:

“This is your world. Shape it or somebody else will.” – Gary Lew

Fortunately, the weather is looking up and we plan to set sail at first light. Check out Ocean Conservancy’s Scientist at Sea Center to stay up-to-date with my progress.

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