Ocean Currents » plastics http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Sat, 01 Oct 2016 13:20:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Exploring the Remote Midway Atoll http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/02/exploring-hawaiis-midway-atoll/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/02/exploring-hawaiis-midway-atoll/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:00:29 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12761

Just last week, President Obama announced that he will quadruple the Papahānaumokuākea Hawaii Monument—creating the world’s largest protected marine area. At 582,578 square miles, Papahānaumokuākea will be nearly four times the size of California and 105 times larger than Connecticut. This is huge news for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, sharks and more that call this uniquely biodiverse seascape home.

Nicholas Mallos, Director of our Trash Free Seas program, traveled to Papahānaumokuākea in 2010 to see first-hand the beauty—and the dangers—in this spectacular ecosystem.

Setting foot on land more than 1,000 miles from your nearest neighbor, one might suspect to find themselves in an unspoiled environment with little or no sign of human presence. Unfortunately, on Midway Atoll, this is not the case. Part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Midway is at the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, roughly equidistant from Asia and North America.

Midway is truly “out there.” The atoll’s nearest population center is Honolulu, which is 1,311 miles to the southeast and a five-hour trip by plane. Having reviewed the literature, perused the photos and watched the films, I thought I was prepared for my 2010 research trip to the Atoll. But I was not.

Lying literally in the middle of nowhere, Midway is a beautiful and deeply surreal place, mystical and transformative. At night, Bonin petrels, small nocturnal seabirds, flock the skies in the hundreds of thousands, emitting shrieks eerily synonymous with their avian counterparts in Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds.” During the day, petrel shrills are replaced by the relentless chatter of more than one million Laysan and black-footed albatross. Midway is the largest nesting colony for Laysans and the second largest for black-foots. Offshore, the roar of the ocean is equally sonorous with a monster swell that breaks over the atoll’s fringing reefs.

Seventy years ago, Japanese and U.S. military forces pummeled these islands with artillery during the Battle of Midway, one of the most important naval battles of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. But despite decades without troops or thunderous artillery, these islands remain endangered by a far more persistent threat manufactured by humankind: plastics.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands act like a filter in the North Pacific, ensnaring large amounts of drifting fishing gear and debris on its fringing reefs and sandy shores. The daily accumulation of large debris on Midway’s shores—almost entirely plastics—threatens the monk seals and sea turtles that haul out on its beaches and forage in the atoll’s shallow waters. With only 1,200 monk seals remaining, the loss of even a single animal can substantially impact the species. Entanglement in debris and ingestion of plastics is also a serious concern for Hawaiian green turtles, a subspecies that is genetically distinct from all other green sea turtles found throughout the world.

But seabirds, most notably albatross, incur the greatest impact from plastic debris. Each year, approximately 4.5 tons (nearly 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 and regurgitate offerings more reminiscent of a convenience store than that of a natural albatross diet. Plastic bottle caps, cigarette lighters, fishing floats and great quantities of plastic fragments are now part of the albatross diet. Unlike their parents, Laysan chicks do not possess the ability to regurgitate; once consumed, these plastics are often fatal to chicks through a variety of mechanisms including starvation, stomach rupture or asphyxiation.

I witnessed the unintended consequences of plastics on Laysan and black-footed albatross firsthand during a two week stay on Midway in 2010, where my colleagues and I completed a preliminary assessment of plastics’ impacts on marine wildlife. Trekking around the islands, 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.

By analyzing the stomach contents of a deceased chick found lying on the old airstrip amid the sprouting grass, I further deconstructed the plastics-albatross relationship. Finding a specimen was not difficult; hundreds of options were available on that same runway. The stomach contents of my single albatross included nine plastic bottle caps, two strands of dental floss, one five-inch orange fishing float, 103 miscellaneous plastic pieces, six pumice stones and 60 squid beaks—the latter two items being the only naturally occurring components of a Laysan’s diet. While this was only a single sample, the total mass of the synthetic stomach contents was roughly 100 grams, about the same as a quarter-pound hamburger.

The magnificent albatross on Midway Island are more than just birds. As part of our natural world, they are an object lesson in how we are treating our planet. Albatross, along with the other inhabitants of Midway, are the recipients of the collective impacts of the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that permeates our global society. While I have been fortunate to visit these animals in this far off world, one need not travel to Midway to witness the persistence and proliferation of marine debris. The ocean plastics crisis is just down the road or over the nearest sand dune.

Take a moment to say mahalo (thank you) to President Obama for creating the world’s largest protected marine area.

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“Recycling Cougars” Are Fighting Back Against Plastic Trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/20/recycling-cougars-are-fighting-back-against-plastic-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/20/recycling-cougars-are-fighting-back-against-plastic-trash/#comments Sat, 20 Feb 2016 14:30:05 +0000 Sarah Kollar http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11524

During a single day of coastal and waterway cleanups, volunteers around the world collected nearly 990,000 plastic beverage bottles and 975,000 plastic bags. These efforts are truly amazing but the amount of debris in the environment, especially our ocean, is still daunting. Along with cleaning up what’s out there, we need to be proactive in stopping these common consumer items from reaching the environment in the first place.

Thankfully, there is a stellar group of sixth grade students who are showing us the way.  The Kittredge Magnet School’s “Recycling Cougars” of DeKalb, GA have been working to turn plastic water bottle and plastic bag recycling into a reality in their school and community.

This past fall, the five student team created signs, walked door-to-door and reached out to local businesses, churches and civic organizations, asking all to participate by separating out their plastic beverage bottles. They strategically posted signs and bins throughout their school and even sent flyers home with each student. The team gathered hundreds of pledges and collected around 700 plastic bottles in a week! Their drive earned them a national award, one of only 16, through the Lexus Eco Challenge.

Having mastered plastic bottles, the KMS Recycling Cougars are turning their attention to plastic bags for the “Final Phase” of the Lexus Eco Challenge. The team has delved into plastic pollution research and learned that plastic bags are particularly threatening to marine wildlife. They hope to form more recycling partnerships and garner more pledges on this initiative.

Moving forward, the team plans to promote the 6-Week Trash Free Challenge and hopes to establish a Talking Trash & Taking Action Young Ambassadors Program with Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Team to help pave the way for more students who want to take charge on recycling in their communities. Ocean Conservancy is excited to work the KMS Recycling Cougars on their idea. No matter the outcome of the Eco Challenge, their campaign will surely inspire and motivate others to help eliminate trash in our ocean.

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Victory! Microbeads Banned in the U.S. http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/08/victory-microbeads-banned-in-the-u-s/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/08/victory-microbeads-banned-in-the-u-s/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 15:00:54 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11315

2016 has barely started, and we can already share a huge win for our ocean. Thanks to the support of ocean advocates like you, Congress has backed a bill banning the use of microbeads in personal care products. And just this week, President Obama signed this bill into law.

Microbeads might be tiny, but this legislation is huge. The new law means companies will phase out the sale of products containing microbeads over the next two years, and stop making personal care products with microbeads altogether by July 1, 2017.

These small plastic particles have been a staple ingredient in everyday products we use like body washes, facial scrubs and toothpastes. Since they’re too small to be filtered out by water treatment plants, they flow straight from our sinks to the ocean and into the mouths and gills of sea creatures around the world.

The ban on microbeads is a big step towards stopping plastics from entering our ocean.

This new legislation shows a growing bipartisan dedication of lawmakers to create a more sustainable ocean—a mission we can all get behind. We are proud of those who served as a voice for our ocean in Congress, and we hope this is just the start of more ocean legislation to come.

Let’s take this opportunity to thank our lawmakers for their support of this bill, and remind them how important it is to keep pushing for a healthier, more resilient ocean.

Thank you for your support. Here’s to many more ocean victories in 2016!

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Trashing the Ocean: New Study Provides First Estimate of How Much Plastic Flows into the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/13/trashing-the-ocean-new-study-provides-first-estimate-of-how-much-plastic-flows-into-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/13/trashing-the-ocean-new-study-provides-first-estimate-of-how-much-plastic-flows-into-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 13:00:27 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9855

8 million metric tons. That’s 17 billion pounds. That’s a big number. It’s also the amount of plastics that scientists have now estimated flow into the ocean every year from 192 countries with coastal access.

A groundbreaking study was published yesterday in the international journal Science and released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement for Science in San Jose, California. This work is part of an ongoing international collaboration among scientists at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara to determine the scale, scope and impacts of marine debris – including plastics – on the health of the global ocean. Spearheaded by Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer from the University of Georgia, and other experts in oceanography, waste management and materials science, this is the first study to rigorously estimate the flow of plastic materials into the global ocean.

For the last decade, scientific evidence has been mounting that once plastic enters the ocean it can threaten a wide diversity of marine life (from the smallest of plankton to the largest of whales) through entanglement, ingestion or contamination. The images of how plastics kill wildlife aren’t pretty. But if we are going to stop this onslaught we must know how much material is entering and from where.

The numbers published yesterday are daunting: the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land each year exceeds 4.8 million tons (Mt), and may be as high as 12.7 Mt. This is one to three orders of magnitude (10 – 1000 fold) greater than the amount recently reported in the high-concentration garbage patches. The amount entering the ocean is growing rapidly with the global increase in population and plastics use, with the potential for cumulative inputs of plastic waste in the ocean as high as 250 Mt within 10 years—that’s more than 550 billion pounds. Discharges of plastic come from around the globe but the largest quantities are estimated to be coming from a relatively small number of rapidly developing economies. In fact, Dr. Jambeck’s study determined that the top 20 countries account for 83% of the mismanaged plastic waste available to enter the ocean.

This last point is important.  It indicates that the global ocean plastic problem is actually solvable if we target our efforts at the regions where the flow is greatest. And the greatest opportunity to stem the flow exists in a small number of countries in Asia. Jambeck and her colleagues calculated that improving waste management by 50% in the top 20 countries would result in a nearly 40% decline in inputs of plastic to the ocean.  While this certainly won’t be easy, this would make a big dent in the problem.  To do so, we must move from a mindset of solely trying to clean up the ocean to one where we work together to prevent plastics from entering the ocean in the first place.  At Ocean Conservancy, we should know.  For 30 years, we have coordinated the International Coastal Cleanup and our data have shown this problem isn’t getting any better. Now, Dr. Jambeck’s findings confirm it is actually getting worse.

At Ocean Conservancy, we are committed to science-based solutions to the oceans greatest challenges like food security, climate change and ocean pollution. Yesterday’s study should be a call to arms to improve waste collection systems and practices in those parts of the world where the contribution to plastic pollution in the ocean is greatest. The clock is ticking; we must confront this challenge before plastics overwhelm the ocean.

As ocean advocates, our mission is to protect the long-term health of our ocean. Yesterday’s study shows that to do so we must look toward the land for solutions.

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Overflowing Trash Cans Lead to an Overwhelmed Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/05/overflowing-trash-cans-lead-to-an-overwhelmed-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/05/overflowing-trash-cans-lead-to-an-overwhelmed-ocean/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 13:45:27 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9676

Los Angeles is a city overflowing:  with culture, with movies and music, with people—and with trash. A recent internal report shed light on a big problem. Los Angeles has more trash than it can handle. Despite its size (nearly 500 square miles), the city only has approximately 700 public trash cans.

That’s correct:  700. One public trash can for every 5,548 people. That math simply does not work.

We often assume items we throw away end up properly discarded in landfills—and they often do.  But overflowing trash cans, insufficient recycling systems, or a simple lack of basic waste collection in many countries, including our own, results in plastics and other forms of trash “escaping” into the environment, ultimately ending up in rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Los Angeles is simply one example of the growing plastics pollution problem threatening our global ocean.

The explosive growth of plastics consumption over the next decade will largely take place in rapidly industrializing countries, which also have some of the lowest waste collection rates on the planet. This consumption/waste collection mismatch results in massive inputs of plastic into the ocean. Just last month, a study in PLOS ONE revealed that more than 5 trillion pieces of plastics litter the ocean surface, while a subsequent publication in Royal Society Open Science shows that an equal, if not greater amount, of tiny plastic fragments are littering the deep sea.

A new solution of scale is required. There are many excellent initiatives such as local bag bans, local bottle deposit laws, and Ocean Conservancy’s own International Coastal Cleanup; however, these efforts alone will not stop the global onslaught of plastics entering the ocean.  Industry simply cannot afford to push more plastic down the pipe without a solution. The escalation of this challenge, if left unaddressed, may create massive liabilities, challenge food security, and waste huge amounts of valuable material.

Ocean Conservancy has developed a plan—and industries are getting on board.

Through our Trash Free Seas Alliance®, we are working with industry, economists, waste experts, and other NGOs  to identify ways for communities to profitably gather, separate, sell and store plastic waste streams, thus reversing the tide of plastics entering the ocean—and also advance the health, economies and well-being of the communities served.

Plastics have done, and continue to do, much good for the world, but plastic producers and consumer goods companies have to be held responsible for the end of life impact plastics impart on our ocean. An economically viable and equitable solution can and must be crafted to confront this global problem.

Ocean Conservancy is committed to getting the job done. It is big, bold and ambitious, but absolutely imperative if we wish, someday, to truly celebrate trash free seas.

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Implementing Solutions in our “Plasticene Epoch” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/16/implementing-solutions-in-our-plasticene-epoch/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/16/implementing-solutions-in-our-plasticene-epoch/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 18:22:33 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8547

Photo: Nick Mallos

Plastics are everywhere. And by that I don’t just mean in the physical sense, but also in terms of the media. Everywhere I look lately newspaper and blog headlines are focused on the increased pervasiveness of plastic pollution in our ocean.

In the New York Times’ Sunday Review, the Editorial Board highlighted the plasticization that’s taking place “From Beach to Ocean” around the world. Their focus was Kamilo Point, Hawaii. For the past decade, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund has worked tirelessly to keep Kamilo clean from the onslaught of plastic pollution that washes ashore daily by removing almost 350,000 pounds of debris. I’ve had the personal (mis)fortune of working at Kamilo and in some places I measured plastics densities upwards of 84,000 pieces per square meter of beach. These plastics are not in the form of bottles or caps or bags but rather the fragmented, millimeter-sized version of their original consumer product form. And on a nearby beach at Kamilo, geologists have identified a new kind of plastic-infused rock that will NEVER break down.


It’s not just about the beaches of Hawaii though. Scientists participating in a NCEAS Working Group, sponsored by Ocean Conservancy, reported to National Geographic that “…we’re going to have millions of tons of plastic going into the ocean.”  And we know the pathway to harm associated with plastics is very real:  plastics enter the ocean, marine wildlife ingests or becomes entangled in these plastics, and then many of these animals suffer mortality due to either the physical or toxicological effect of these interactions. The only question remaining is how big of impact are these plastics having and should we, as humans, be worried about the threat of these plastics via seafood on our dinner plate? Personally, I’m concerned.

News reports have focused on solutions too. Concepts of an ocean cleanup solution have captivated the public and media alike while Baltimore’s Water Wheel is seeking to keep trash from ever reaching the ocean in the first place. Waste management expert, Ted Siegler, told National Geographic that abating ocean plastic pollution is largely a problem of insufficient infrastructure. “In many ways, this is really simple. This is putting trucks on the road and picking up the garbage and bringing it to a proper place…But none of that is occurring in almost all of the places that I’ve been working in the last 20 years.” We agree strongly with Mr. Siegler’s perspective on the issue.

Cleanups are an important part of the solution, but we believe that in order to truly stop the plastics crisis from progressing, we must stop plastics from reaching the ocean in the first place. This is not a vote against the longer term re-think that needs to happen in terms of a circular economy or regenerative consumption, but it is a way to stop the avalanche of plastics from doing very serious and systemic damage in the decade (or two) to come. This means looking 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. Doing so will require working with the most capable and sophisticated corporations on this planet to partner with governments to remedy these basic waste management needs.

I encourage everyone to tune in today and tomorrow for the Our Ocean Conference hosted by Secretary of State, John Kerry. Our CEO, Andreas Merkl, will present our long term plan to stem the tide of ocean plastics and asking the many governments, industry members and leading NGOs in the room to join us in this endeavor. We must embrace a shared responsibility to manage the world’s waste. If we don’t, the oceans will continue to suffer.

 

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Ocean Conservancy Talks Trash… and Solutions http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/16/ocean-conservancy-talks-trash-and-solutions/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/16/ocean-conservancy-talks-trash-and-solutions/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 15:23:46 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8554

Photo: Thomas Jones

Plastic in our ocean — I think we can all agree this isn’t a good combination. The question is what do we do about it? This year, Ocean Conservancy and our partners collected the largest amount of trash in the 28-year history of our International Coastal Cleanup. In that time, volunteers have removed more than 175 million pounds of trash, much of it plastic, from beaches and waterways around the world. From this first-hand experience, we know the problem is getting worse, and it goes deeper than you might think. The good news is this is a problem we can fix. It will require a new approach to how we deal with plastic pollution, but it is a global issue we can and must solve. Let’s consider the facts. In the next 25 years, ocean plastics could grow to 300-500 million tons, or about one pound of plastics for every two pounds of fish in the sea. So where does it all go? We can’t yet say for sure, but when plastic fragments into smaller, bite-sized pieces, we do know that it is being ingested by fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and a host of other ocean creatures. Because plastic particles adsorb pollutants in concentrations that can be 100,000 to 1 million times greater than that found in surrounding seawater, the implications to the health of marine life are profound and deeply troubling.

Read more at the Huffington Post

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