The Blog Aquatic » 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 You’re Invited http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/25/youre-invited/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/25/youre-invited/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 13:49:07 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9085

 

It’s time to make a difference!

On Saturday, September 20th, Ocean Conservancy is hosting the International Coastal Cleanup. Volunteers around the world are gathering to remove trash from their beaches and waterways. And you’re invited!

The Cleanup is so important for a healthy ocean. Last year, volunteers collected a record-breaking 13.6 million items of trash. With your help, we can collect even more.

But having more trash on our beaches to pick up is not a thing to celebrate. The sad truth is that our beaches and waterways are polluted and littered with trash. This summer as millions of Americans head to the beach, they’ll encounter plastic bottle caps, straws, cigarette butts and more.

That’s why we need to work together to stop the flow of trash before it has a chance to reach the water to choke and entangle dolphins, endanger sea turtles, ruin our beaches, and depress our local economies.

Tell us you’ll join us at this year’s International Coastal Clean Up.

Once you’ve registered, you’ll be directed to our Cleanup map, where you can find the details for a cleanup near you.

I can’t wait to see you at the International Coastal Cleanup this September!

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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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A One-Size-Fits-All Solution for the Ocean? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/09/to-clean-or-not-to-clean-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/09/to-clean-or-not-to-clean-the-ocean/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 23:00:17 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8457

**Update: June 10, 2014**
Ocean Conservancy has been a leader in beach cleanup efforts for nearly 30 years and we are dedicated to continuing these efforts. We applaud Boyan’s creativity and ideas for an ocean cleanup and recognize that he has conducted a feasibility study to further outline the ocean cleanup model. However, the majority of concerns previously voiced by ocean scientists, as well as Ocean Conservancy, regarding the ecological, economical and logistical components of the technology still remain unanswered. Cleanups are an important part of the solution, but Ocean Conservancy believes that in order to address the growing issue of plastic pollution in our ocean, we must also focus on preventing plastic from reaching the ocean in the first place. In addition to our Last Straw Challenge, we will be rolling out a series of efforts over the coming year that we hope you’ll participate in, including the International Coastal Cleanup September 20th. Thank you for your feedback, and we hope to see you all at this year’s cleanups! 

FACT:  There are plastics in the ocean.

FACT:  Plastics are not good for fish, turtles, birds or marine mammals.

FALSE:  Ocean cleanup is the solution.

Over the past year, much attention—some positive, some negative—has been given to Boyan Slat’s revolutionary concept and prototype for “The Ocean Cleanup.”  Yes, perhaps in theory—and artistically sketched blueprints—you can boom, suck and snag plastics floating at the ocean surface. But in practice, it just doesn’t make sense—ecologically, economically or logically.

It would be unfair for me to criticize Boyan’s concept without giving my own opinion, so here it is.

Cleanups are an invaluable education and outreach tool that provide people a tangible way to become aware and involved in the ocean plastics crisis. And no one is better suited to discuss the effectiveness of cleanups than Ocean Conservancy. For the past three decades, volunteers in our International Coastal Cleanup have removed more than 175 million pounds of trash—primarily plastics—from beaches and waterways around the globe. Each year however, there’s more trash to pick up—cleanups cure the symptoms of plastics pollution, not the disease itself.

Concepts of an ocean cleanup technology are no different. If tomorrow we could launch the array of 24 sifters outlined in Boyan’s proposal, it would do nothing to stop the continuous and increasing flow of plastics into the marine environment. Simply put, we’d increase the size of the bandage while our pipelines of plastics to the sea run unabated like the faulty valve in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

From a technical perspective, our friends at Deep Sea News have done an exceptional job outlining the major unanswered technical questions associated with an ocean cleanup and its implications for marine organisms. To summarize the astute response of marine debris scientist, Dr. Miriam Goldstein:

  • Mooring fixed objects in the open ocean is improbable due to depths exceeding 4,000 meters;
  • The mixed layer in the open ocean can run 100-150 meters deep during high wind, rendering the collection boom useless; and
  • Large, durable floating “capture devices” are likely destined to be future marine debris that can entangle marine animals.

All of this is to say that “…I think it is highly unlikely that a [cleanup] array of this size and magnitude will ever be feasible.”

I am an optimist. And I applaud Boyan for his creativity and ingenuity. However, in our current climate we need to look upstream for solutions, not to the center of the gyres. Resin manufacturers and consumer product companies must adopt a business model based on the principles of a circular economy, where products do not become waste after consumer use, but rather valuable materials that are recycled and reused in product manufacturing. Similarly, we must look 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. Such an approach addresses the plastic pollution vector at both its entry and exit points in our consumer society. Simultaneously, we, as individuals, must continue to do our part by reducing our unnecessary consumption of disposable plastics and supporting smart public policies that eliminate the most threatening forms of plastic pollution altogether.

There are solutions to ocean plastics. Ocean cleanup is not the solution.

 

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My Labor of Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/21/my-labor-of-love/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/21/my-labor-of-love/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 13:30:41 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8307

Colleen Rankin is a debris cleanup veteran. She lives in Blue Fox Bay, Alaska. Colleen regularly hauls debris from miles away back to her home, where she re-uses whatever she can and stores the rest for eventual disposal.

I am fortunate to live in one of the most remote locations on Earth. I have one seasonal neighbor 5 miles away and another family 25 miles from there. The closest town is 40 miles from us. All of us live on different islands separated by the powerful waters of the Gulf of Alaska. To live here is to witness the rhythm of the interdependent cycles of life on these beaches  ̶  the sea depositing kelp and seashells on the shorelines, creating what I call the line of life. We see bears, birds and other animals foraging in them. We call it the ocean’s gift of nutrition.  I have felt a part of an ancient world. But that is changing. And even here on the coast of Alaska, I’m surrounded every day by reminders of people from far away places.

That’s because the beaches near my home are literally covered in plastic, trash and netting. I take my skiff out and fill it with debris, stopping only because the boat is full to capacity. The beaches are accumulating trash at an alarming rate, and I am giving back to this beautiful place that has enriched my life so much in the most obvious way I can. And that is cleaning the beaches, sometimes the same beach over and over.

I separate the debris so that records can be kept to find out what the trash consists of. The largest growing category is plastic. Almost every piece of plastic debris I find that can fit in a bear’s mouth has bite marks on it – the bears and other animals are fascinated with plastic, and they chew it.

Every time I see a plastic bottle lying on the beautiful beach, I wonder how many of these one-use items do we use in a year? It’s a real chance for us to look at our lives as a species and ask, “What are we gaining by their use? Is it to save time? And are we actually improving our lives with that time we think we are saving?”

That’s why I think it’s so important that you and I pledge to reduce our use of plastic every day.

I used to feel like it was impossible to conquer all of this plastic and trash in the ocean, but now I’m amazed by what I’ve seen happen in the last year with the increase in awareness and the motivation of people like you to reduce the amount of plastic you use every day.

I know now that I’m not alone. Last year, 648,015 people like you volunteered at International Coastal Clean-up events across the country, and cleaned 12,329,332 pounds off of 12,910 miles of coast.

Ocean Conservancy has just released its latest Data Report, and you’d be surprised by what they’ve found! Items like straws, bottle caps and plastic bags are among the items you’ll find in the Top 10 List, and they’re all things that you and I can reduce.

I hope you’ll join me in the fight to prevent plastic pollution in our ocean. I know firsthand that every one of us can make a difference – from my home in Alaska to your town.

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Join Us for an Ocean Google Hangout http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/join-us-for-an-ocean-google-hangout/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/join-us-for-an-ocean-google-hangout/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 18:00:11 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8335

You’re invited! Join Ocean Conservancy for an online video conversation about trash and the ocean on May 21 at 2pm EST. Trash has infiltrated all reaches of our ocean, causing negative impacts on ocean life and coastal communities. The problem can seem overwhelming, but it’s preventable.

We’ll talk about the ‘just-released’ findings from Ocean Conservancy’s 2013 International Coastal Cleanup. And we’ll hear from a leading scientist and waste management expert about the impacts of trash on our ocean and where the solutions to this problem lie. You’ll learn what we’ve discovered, what it all means and what we can do next.

Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist, George Leonard, will moderate our Google Hangout. I’m in good company with fellow-speakers Dr. Chelsea Rochman and Ted Siegler. Dr. Rochman is currently researching the fate and toxicity of plastic debris in freshwater and marine habitats, and Ted has 40 years of experience working on solid waste management issues.

 I really hope you can join us! The Google Hangout is an online video chat that is going to be informative and interactive. You can submit your questions ahead of time by tweeting with the hashtag #TrashFreeOC.

You won’t be able to RSVP if you don’t have a Google account. But don’t worry, you’ll still be able to attend!

I’ll ‘see’ you there.

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Deep-Sea Survey Reveals the Mysteries of the Deep: Trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/09/deep-sea-survey-reveals-the-mysteries-of-the-deep-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/09/deep-sea-survey-reveals-the-mysteries-of-the-deep-trash/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 14:53:24 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8228

Photo: Angel Valentin/Aurora Photos

Covering over 70 percent of our planet, the ocean is still largely unexplored. Sailors and explorers have been traversing the seven seas for centuries, but we’ve barely scratched the surface. In fact, more people have been to the moon than have visited the ocean’s abyss, which is why a recent scientific paper from the journal PLOS ONE is so  disconcerting.

In one of the largest scientific seafloor surveys to date, scientists used remotely-operated vehicles and trawl nets to examine 32 deep-sea sites in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. The astonishing part—they found plastic bottles, fishing gear, and other man-made debris in all of them. Some of the debris items found had traveled more than 1,200 miles from the shore—most of it settling in remote, deep-sea caverns.

Most scientists who have worked in the deep-sea environment or on marine debris issues are not surprised by the findings presented in this paper. We have seen evidence of this problem time and time again on shorelines close to urban population centers as well as those located thousands of miles from coastal towns. What we have not seen however, is conclusive evidence of the ubiquity of plastics and debris on our ocean’s seafloor.

In a few weeks, Ocean Conservancy will release its 2013 Trash Free Seas data report. It contains all of the data collected by International Coastal Cleanup Volunteers around the world. For three decades, this information has highlighted the most persistent items of debris littering our beaches, waterways and the ocean. At a time when scientists are just beginning to understand the very real impacts plastic debris has on marine animals and habitats in coastal and shallow water ecosystems, we must now conjecture the potential harm these materials may pose to deep-sea environments. We should not and cannot wait to determine what these impacts may be; the time is now to take aggressive action on halting the flow of trash at its source.

And I am optimistic.

Solutions are at hand. If  we build on the actions of individuals, companies and elected officials, all that remains is simply the will to build a collective movement to make a lasting difference. Doing so will not be easy, but enhanced individual responsibility, new industry leadership, innovative science and smart public policy represent the comprehensive solution to the ongoing challenge of marine debris.

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One Endangered Species We’d All Like to See Go Extinct http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/28/one-endangered-species-wed-all-like-to-see-go-extinct/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/28/one-endangered-species-wed-all-like-to-see-go-extinct/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 21:23:40 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7624

“THANK YOU.” For years, these infamous words have been seen all too frequently on the plastic bags found floating around pasture lands, city streets, beaches and in the ocean. The elusive plastic bag continues to be at the core of the ocean trash dialogue and California legislators will once again try to pass a statewide ban this year that would prohibit its distribution in the state–cleaner beaches and cityscapes being the primary justification. Last year, the attempt failed to pass by only a handful of votes.

People around the world are all too familiar with these items; volunteers for Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup have picked up more than 10 million plastic bags off beaches and other landscapes over the past three decades. In 2012 alone, the number was 1,019,902 to be precise. We know because we work with volunteers to count every last one. Ten million bags require more than 1,200 barrels of oil to produce. And once in the environment, a diverse array of animals, both in the ocean and on land, ingest these items with detrimental impacts on their health as a result.

Don’t get me wrong. Plastics are a remarkable material. They protect valuable products in transit, save thousands of lives in hospitals and provide safe access to food and water following natural disasters. But not all plastics are created equal. There are some applications–like plastic bags–where we must acknowledge that the negative impacts of their use far outweigh any benefits we accrue during their momentary use.

For those products for which suitable alternatives exist, they no longer need to be a part of our daily lives. Disposable grocery bags are one of them. And while some claim that bag alternatives are only “supposedly” reusable, I can personally attest to the durability of the “free” reusable bags I’ve been using for five years.

To meaningfully reduce the global input of plastic waste into the ocean each year, we need a much broader, more systemic approach than bans on single products. But to reiterate the words of state Sen. Alex Padilla, “We lived for thousands of years without single-use plastic bags. I think we will be just fine without them.”

I commend California and the many nongovernmental organizations that have worked tirelessly to eliminate a repeat offender on Ocean Conservancy’s Top 10 list. Their efforts mark an important step toward cleaner beaches and a cleaner ocean.

If the people of Bangladesh, Rwanda, Burma and the Ivory Coast can all survive without plastic bags, I’m confident Californians can as well.

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