Ocean Currents » pollution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Jun 2015 18:06:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 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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Harnessing the Power of Partnerships to Address Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/09/harnessing-the-power-of-partnerships-to-address-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/09/harnessing-the-power-of-partnerships-to-address-ocean-acidification/#comments Mon, 09 Sep 2013 16:56:32 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6595

Today, the X Prize Foundation will announce something truly groundbreaking: a competition, sponsored by Wendy Schmidt, to address ocean acidification. Can I tell you how excited this makes me? There are people sitting up and paying attention to acidification, to the threat it poses to the ocean, and to the people and businesses that rely on a healthy ocean, in a way that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Ocean acidification is a big deal—some say it is one of the biggest challenges we face—an ever-changing ocean as a result of carbon pollution from factories, cars and power plants being absorbed by the ocean, turning it more acidic. This means that animals like oysters, clams and mussels have trouble building the very shells needed for their survival.

So as we struggle to reduce carbon pollution, what can be done on ocean acidification? We must rely on monitoring and research to inform science and local responses.

Shucking oysters at Taylor Shellfish in Shelton, WA

Photo © Barbara Kinney / Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

Monitoring is critical for two reasons. It informs scientists and in turn, us, on what our future ocean may look like and what we need to do to respond, and it allows shellfish growers to stay in business by monitoring the water at their operations. If the water is too corrosive, they can take action to protect vulnerable shellfish.

Today’s X Prize announcement means that soon, more accurate and more affordable sensors will be available to scientists and businesses that need them.

Years of work by a diverse community of people who care passionately for the ocean and the people who depend on it has led up to today’s X-Prize announcement. Strange though it may sound, these partnerships and collaborative efforts are some of the reasons I love working on this issue. Diverse groups are working together and collaborating on acidification in ways that often seem to be missing from other big environmental issues.

These groups and individuals include:

  • NRDC, who has been instrumental in getting the international scientific community to coordinate efforts for acidification monitoring.
  • COMPASS, who works with scientists studying ocean acidification (and many other areas of research) ensuring that their research reaches the right audiences.
  • Brad Warren of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, who has worked with shellfish growers and fishermen for many years to sound the alarm and to get funding for monitoring and research.
  • Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who as former NOAA administrator worked to broaden awareness of ocean acidification among decision-makers.
  • The state leaders of Washington, Oregon and California, who last week announced a groundbreaking partnership among their three states and British Columbia to advance the science of acidification, which will inform actions that the West Coast can take to protect shellfish growers, fishermen and the environments on which they depend.
  • Shellfish growers from the East and West coasts, who are in Washington, D.C., this week to walk the halls of Congress and meet with their elected officials about ocean acidification, among other things.

All of these groups and people will have had a hand in today’s announcement, because they have all worked tirelessly for our ocean and coastal communities. Partnership, collaboration, innovation and competition is what I think of when I think of the X Prize—and what I think of when I think of how we can tackle ocean acidification.

We face a great challenge, but what gives me hope is that the response to this challenge is greater than it’s ever been.


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This Week’s Top Tweets: January 13 – 18 http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/19/this-weeks-top-tweets-january-13-18/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/19/this-weeks-top-tweets-january-13-18/#comments Sat, 19 Jan 2013 19:12:55 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4288 From insightful blog posts to huge pollution headlines, this week’s top tweets are full of information on ocean-related events. Here we go!

1. New Developments About the Cleaning Agent Used to Cleanup the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster

Hearing that a dispersant is just as harmful as oil to corals is a hard pill to swallow, especially when it’s used to cleanup a whopping 200 million gallons of oil. To make matters worse, some types of coral were not able to survive in laboratory tests with the smallest amount of the dispersant Corexit 9500–.86 parts per million.

2. Pollution Levels Skyrocket in China Over the Weekend

This tweet was one for the books, as it marked a significant tangible danger posed by increasing pollution. While Beijing has already set a timetable in place for curbing its carbon emissions, surrounding cities in China have yet to follow suit.

3. Tips for Maintaining an Ocean-Minded Workout

This tweet harkens to one of the most popular New Years resolutions out there: getting in shape. If you can work at that and simultaneously help clean up the ocean, what could be better?

4.Fresh Insight on the Genetically-Modified Salmon Debate

Our new blog post caught users’ attention with the controversial topic of GMOs. Our expert George Leonard weighed in on news about well-known anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas’ switch in sentiment. George argues that we should continue to be skeptical about genetically modified salmon until more research into the effects of it are better known, and illuminates Ocean Conservancy’s opinion that the concern over GMOs is largely due to the unknown results that would occur if these fish were to accidentally be released into the wild. This hot-button issue lit up our Twitter feed, and will likely continue to do so as the deadline for public comments on the issue are due to the FDA by February 25.

5. A Cause for Celebration on January 19

With vivid descriptions of the myriad natural wonders going on right now at California’s 100 underwater parks and the annual California Underwater Parks day, it’s no wonder why this tweet got a lot of action from our followers! Learning about our aquatic life never gets old, and that is why our California parks blog post rings out the fifth spot on our top tweets of the week list.

We’ll be posting our most popular tweets next week too, but be sure to follow @OurOcean on Twitter in order to get all the ocean updates you need in real time!

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5 Questions with Marine Scientist Ellen Prager on Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/05/5-questions-with-marine-scientist-ellen-prager-on-sex-drugs-and-sea-slime/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/05/5-questions-with-marine-scientist-ellen-prager-on-sex-drugs-and-sea-slime/#comments Thu, 05 Jul 2012 13:18:59 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1096

A male jawfish with a mouthful of eggs. Photo by Steven Kovacs.

Ellen Prager, formerly chief scientist for the world’s only underwater ocean research station in Key Largo, Florida, knows a lot about the ocean and the species that call it home. But even she learned some surprising new facts while writing her latest book, “Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter.

We talked to Prager about this provocative new book and the surprises she found during her research.

1. How did you land on the title for your book?

Originally I was going to focus on wacky creatures as a hook—and why they matter to society. In talking to colleagues and digging into academic journals, however, three very enticing and consistent themes emerged. First, slime: Many animals in the ocean use mucous in some form, maybe for defense or as a net to catch food or to travel faster. Second, sex: Many strange behaviors have evolved over millions of years so organisms can reproduce successfully in the ocean.

And finally, I didn’t realize the breadth and diversity of marine life used in the search for new drugs or as models for biomedical research until I did the research for the book. So I revised the title.

2. From the cuttlefish and orgies of 40,000 participants to the self-martyrdom of the male blanket octopus in the name of love, which creature from the book is your nominee for most surprising sex partner in the sea?

It’s hard to choose just one! Take the anglerfish, where the males are much smaller than females. The whole mission of a male’s life seems to be to search out and find a female for an everlasting kiss. Basically, he bites onto her body, fuses to her and becomes a sperm-producing parasite.

3. With all of your expertise, did anything surprise you in the course of your

Dr. Ellen Prager gives readers an intriguing look below the surface in her newest book.


Lots! Like the fact that there is so much we just don’t know. We are still discovering many creatures for the first time—and even for those we’ve previously identified, there is still much to learn. For instance, scientist Roger Hanlon has long been working on cephalopods and camouflage. He and his colleagues discovered that octopuses and squid are colorblind, so how exactly do they have this incredible ability to change color to match their surroundings? He suspects they have color sensors in their skin, but has yet to figure it out. There are many fascinating stories like that.

4.  You explain so many benefits we gain from ocean life; which are foremost in your mind these days?

I would say two, and the first is food. Several billion people across the world rely on the ocean for a major source of the protein in their diet. And we have more and more people on Earth. The ocean is not going to be able to sustain the demand. I worry about overfishing and also the human health crisis that could occur if we continue to overfish our oceans.

Secondly, most people don’t know that the ocean is the frontier for the discovery of new pharmaceuticals that fight all sorts of diseases. And ocean life helps us understand human physiology. I was really struck when researching the book that almost every ocean environment has some creature being looked at for biomedical or biotech benefits.

5.  Is there one particular threat to the denizens of the deep that you wish more people knew about?

I can’t say there’s a ”worst”; for me, there’s a “top five.” Number one is climate change. The issue of accelerated seawater-warming and ocean acidification together is a double whammy. The others are pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and invasive species. For the big picture, we need to work on climate change. Locally, I think marine debris, pollution and overfishing are really important.

6. Would you share three ways we can help protect the sea’s oddest creatures—and all the others?

  • Be a voice for the ocean. That means contact your political representatives at the local, state or national level and tell them to do more to protect the ocean.
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