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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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VIDEO: My GYRE Expedition to Alaska’s Remote Coastline

Posted On July 22, 2013 by


This video is the final update from Ocean Conservancy Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist Nicholas Mallos about his GYRE Expedition in Alaska. Read his first update here, his second here and his third here.

I recently returned from an expedition to survey ocean trash on some of the most remote coastlines in all of Alaska. Rarely do you get the opportunity to be so close to the very animals you are working to protect.

In this video that I shot during the trip, I explain what I saw on my journey, from marine debris that would dwarf a human to breaching humpbacks, fin whales, mothers and their calves. Yes, we have blemished these landscapes, but the incredible wildlife that still thrive there is all the more the reason to continue our work to keep trash out of our waterways and our ocean.

Watch the video and join the fight for a healthy ocean.

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Marine Debris and Unforgettable Humpbacks in Wonder Bay

Posted On June 25, 2013 by

humpback whale breach

Credit: Nick Mallos/Ocean Conservancy

One of the most amazing experiences from my time with the GYRE Expedition occurred in Wonder Bay—a name that each locale in Alaska is rightly deserving of as the beauty and tranquility of the landscape here never ceases. Although Wonder Bay is aptly named, the debris problem here was much bigger than we expected considering its relatively small wrack line roughly 100 meters from the tide line, much higher than the other beaches we’ve surveyed.

My morning objective was to search for bottle caps along the wrack lines of each of the three pocket beaches lining Wonder Bay. I plucked 227 caps from the three beaches, some requiring far greater effort than others to collect.

A red bottle cap sticking out of a dense area of sedge grass quickly revealed another eight PET bottles, each with a colorful cap. With only a quick glance none of these items were visible, causing me to ponder how many other bottles and caps were hidden among the grasses or tucked into the various crevices among the rocks.

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Fly Swatters, a Whale Skull and Sore Feet

Posted On June 18, 2013 by

This is the third update from Ocean Conservancy Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist Nicholas Mallos, writing from the GYRE Expedition in Alaska.  Read his first update here, and his second here

Motivating oneself to work on minimal sleep is not difficult after spending an hour watching humpback and fin whales surface-feed. Graced yet again with sunny skies and calm seas, we deployed Jubatus after fueling up on coffee and assembling our gear. We skimmed across the water’s glassy surface and landed on a small pocket beach at Perevalnie Point on Shuyak Island just after 9 a.m.

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Japan Tsunami Anniversary: the Journey So Far and What’s to Come

Posted On March 11, 2013 by

Credit: NOAA

Tokyo. Sendai. Kamaishi City. Portland. Honolulu. Hilo. Kahului. Lincoln City. Newport Beach. These are places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit over the past year – for a very unfortunate reason. Two years ago on this very day, the ocean reminded the world of its astounding power when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami devastated the country’s northern coast. While significant recovery work remains to rebuild Japan, an increased focus has been placed on the exorbitant quantity of marine debris generated by the tsunami’s receding waters. At the same time, international entities are collaborating on tsunami debris response measures, while researchers learn a great deal about marine debris in general.

Because we know the precise time at which debris was deposited into the ocean, researchers have had an unparalleled opportunity to examine how debris moves in the marine environment. With each confirmation of tsunami debris washing ashore, oceanographers at University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center have refined their models and are predicting when and where large volumes of tsunami debris will wash ashore with greater levels of confidence. Current predictions indicate significant debris accumulations will commence in June. However, these models are merely predictions and no one can say for certain what we will see or when we will see it. This uncertainty further underscores the importance of remaining vigilant for potential tsunami debris in the coming months.

Last summer in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon, “waves” of similar debris items began washing ashore. This wave was followed by an unusually large number of appliances found on Hawaiian beaches. The three segments of docks that were swept out of Misawa came to rest on the Oregon and Washington coasts over a span of six months. By studying these events, oceanographers were able to determine that the amount of wind affecting debris — better known as “windage” — largely determines the speed at which debris drifts across the ocean. This phenomenon largely explains why we’ve seen these waves of debris.

In November, the Japanese government announced it would donate $6 million to the United States and Canada to help mitigate the costs of tsunami debris response efforts and debris clean up.

This tragic event has engaged a broad network of dedicated responders from both sides of the Pacific, including government representatives at NOAA and the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, NGOs like the Japanese Environmental Action Network and Ocean Conservancy and passionate volunteers. Ocean Conservancy has developed a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that serves as an educational tool for those volunteers along the West Coast.

Today, on the two year anniversary of the tsunami, I board a plane destined for Tokyo where I will meet with the Japanese Ministry of Environment and Japanese and U.S. NGOs to discuss tsunami response efforts to date, and preparations moving forward. During my stay, I will again have the opportunity to tour the coastal towns near Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. And while in my mind I am optimistic that the recovery effort will be near completion, I know the reality is that Sendai — and much of Japan — has a long road to recovery, but physical recovery is only step one. In Sendai, many elementary and middle-aged students have not returned to the beach or ocean since 3/11 because the emotional trauma is too great. For many of them, these places have become synonymous with terror, destruction and death.

The ensuing threat of tsunami debris is great, but we must never forget that the tsunami was first and foremost a human tragedy — unpreventable, unpredictable and unavoidable.

So today, March 11th, 2013, honor the people of Japan with a moment of silence and ask the simple question, “How can we help Japan?”

 

Aloha, Plastics: Ocean Trash Adventures in Hawaii

Posted On January 15, 2013 by

Neither tsunami debris nor marine debris is going away any time soon. Following an August 2012 NGO tsunami meeting and increasing reports of tsunami debris on the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii, concern and interest about tsunami debris in Japan continues to increase. Responding to this interest, the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency of Japan has funded a series of beach site investigations in the United States to convey the present situation of both tsunami and marine debris to Japan officials and the Japanese people. The first stop for these surveys:  Hawaii.

I teamed up with members from Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN), the Oceanic Wildlife Society and the Japan Ministry of Environment tobegin surveys on O’ahu beaches where confirmed and suspected tsunami debris has recently been found . During our first inspection at Hanauma Bay, we examined a rusted Japanese refrigerator that washed ashore on December 20th, 2012, several days before a second fridge was found on Waimanalo Beach. Cleanup volunteers commonly found refrigerator pieces on Kaua’i beaches during this past summer.

Dr. Nikolai Maximenko of the University of Hawaii International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) explained that these different ‘waves’ of alike debris (e.g., oyster buoys, refrigerators, etc.) are a result of how tsunami debris is affected by wind. Because the tsunami debris entered the ocean at the same time, similar items travel at the same speed and will appear on Hawaiian and West Coast beaches around the same time.

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Wrangling Invasive Species in Cajun Tennis Shoes

Posted On September 27, 2012 by

Credit: peternijenhuis flickr stream

If I were to tell you there’s a rodeo for hunting invasive species, or that I feed my dog treats made of swamp rats, you’d probably think I have my Cajun tennis shoes (shrimp boots) on too tight. But if you go to just one of these events, you’d immediately see the innovation and creativity that is put into eradicating and raising awareness of invasive species…and that my boots fit just fine.

Rio Grande Cichlids, Nutria Rats, and Lionfish are among an already too long and growing list of invasive species that now call the Gulf Coast home. If these species don’t sound familiar, think Kudzu – the vine that ate the south. These unwelcome visitors, introduced accidentally or purposely, out-compete native species for space and resources. But the Gulf Coast is not the only area fighting invasive species; The West Coast of North America is currently grappling with debris from the Japanese tsunami and the hitchhiking creatures washing up with it.

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What To Do If You Find Tsunami Debris Washed Ashore

Posted On September 20, 2012 by

Ocean Conservancy created a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that highlights the most common items of debris that have been washing onto West Coast beaches. Click the image to download the complete version.

Marine debris generated from the March 11th tsunami is drastically different from the ocean trash that was already plaguing our ocean. Over the coming months, there may be many difficult-to-collect debris items from the tsunami such as housing and construction materials, fishing gear and vessels. We could also find potentially dangerous items such as combustibles, as well as personal items related to the victims. Therefore, it is critical that volunteers and beachcombers document each item of debris they encounter on beaches with the highest level of scrutiny.

To assist with this effort, Ocean Conservancy created a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that highlights the most common debris items that are washing onto West Coast beaches in significantly higher numbers than in previous years. Content for the field guide was informed by our database of Cleanup data, NOAA, the California Coastal Commission and International Coastal Cleanup West Coast State Coordinators.

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