A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gray whale dies bringing us a message -- with stomach full of plastic trash

When news that a dead gray whale had washed up on the shores of Puget Sound in West Seattle recently, its stomach full of human trash, I immediately thought of a series of stunning but horrific photographs I had recently experienced -- Seattle photographer Chris Jordan's work on the albatrosses of Midway Island who unintentionally kill their newborns feeding them our brightly colored garbage.

The gray whale was dead, but had been in good health. A bottom feeder, it had ingested about 20 plastic bags, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, a pair of sweat pants, a golf ball, and other cast-off bits of our lives. It was the fifth dead gray whale to be found in two weeks on Puget Sound, according to the Cascadia Research Collective.  Several of those whales were malnourished. The photo above, by Cascadia Research of Olympia, WA,  shows researchers near the whale.

Jordan's photographs show image after image of albatross chicks who have died after their parents have flown out over the ocean, bringing back deadly "meals" stuffed in their own beaks. The adult birds cannot distinguish between the plastic floating in the ocean and real food they need to feed their babies. As Jordan writes on his Web site:
These photographs of albatross chicks were made in September, 2009, on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.
Researchers at Cascade Research don't believe the trash killed the whale, but they do note that the sheer amount is alarming.
It did clearly indicate that the whale had been attempting to feed in industrial waters and therefore exposed to debris and contaminants present on the bottom in these areas. Gray whales are filter feeders that typically feed on the bottom and suck in sediment in shallow waters and filter the contents to strain out the small organisms that live there. They have been known to accumulate material including rocks and other debris from the bottom ingested in this process. While debris has been found in the stomachs of some previous gray whales found dead in Puget Sound, this appeared to be a larger quantity than had ever been found previously.
We know that giant plastic garbage patch is out there in the Pacific Ocean, twice the size of Texas. We can't see it from here. And even when you get close, it's apparently hard to fathom. Talking with Chris Jordan, who I met at the Journalism that Matters Conference in Seattle, he said when he began the work that led to the Midway Island project, he first thought to photograph the garbage patch itself. But when he looked at it, it was difficult to visualize, to bring home to peoples' lives. It was opaque and murky at the edges. It was deep and its size difficult to bring home. And his work  -- if you spend any time on his Web site -- is all about bringing home the message in ways that are meaningful to our lives.

So he ended up finding the message in the bodies of thousands of dead and decaying baby birds on Midway Island, birds who had died eating colorful bits of that garbage patch. And that's where the message of what choices we're making really comes homes.

Perhaps that dead gray whale -- with its 20 plastic bags, and its golf ball, and assorted plastic pieces -- might symbolize some of our choices for us. Might bring it home.

That whale, the fifth to die in Puget Sound in two weeks, is a chance to think about it. Let's not miss the opportunity.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fukushima's radioactive ocean plume due to reach US waters in 2014

Published on NBC News, Aug. 31, 2013 
Image: Fukushima
An aerial photo shows the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northern Japan. Radioactive water spilled during a tsunami-caused catastrophe in 2011 is slowly making its way toward the U.S. coastal area. 
A radioactive plume of water in the Pacific Ocean from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, which was crippled in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, will likely reach U.S. coastal waters starting in 2014, according to a new study. The long journey of the radioactive particles could help researchers better understand how the ocean’s currents circulate around the world.

Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016. Luckily, two ocean currents off the eastern coast of Japan — the Kuroshio Current and the Kuroshio Extension — has diluted the radioactive material so much that its concentration fell well below the World Health Organization’s safety levels within four months of the Fukushima incident. But it could have been a different story if nuclear disaster struck on the other side of Japan.

“The environmental impact could have been worse if the contaminated water would have been released in another oceanic environment in which the circulation was less energetic and turbulent,” said Vincent Rossi, an oceanographer and postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain.

Fukushima’s radioactive water release has taken its time journeying across the Pacific. By comparison, atmospheric radiation from the Fukushima plant began reaching the U.S. West Coast within just days of the disaster back in 2011. [Fukushima Radiation Leak: 5 Things You Should Know]

Tracking radioactivity’s pathThe radioactive plume has three different sources: radioactive particles falling out from the atmosphere into the ocean, contaminated water directly released from the plant, and water that became contaminated by leaching radioactive particles from tainted soil.

Image: Plume
Rossi et al. / Deep-Sea Research I
This computer projection shows the estimated extent of the Fukushima spill's plume of radioactive water in 2014. The extent of U.S. coastal waters is indicated by a black line, with a black box enclosing Hawaii. 
The release of cesium-137 from Fukushima in Japan’s more turbulent eastern currents means the radioactive material is diluted to the point of posing little threat to humans by the time it leaves Japan’s coastal waters. Rossi worked with former colleagues at the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Australia to simulate the spread of Fukushima’s radioactivity in the oceans — a study detailed in the October issue of the journal Deep-Sea Research Part 1.

Researchers averaged 27 experimental runs of their model — each run starting in a different year — to ensure that the simulated spread of the cesium-137 as a "tracer" was not unusually affected by initial ocean conditions. Many oceanographers prefer using cesium-137 to track the ocean currents because it acts as a passive tracer in seawater, meaning it doesn't interact much with other things, and decays slowly with a long half-life of 30 years.

“One advantage of this tracer is its long half-life and our ability to measure it quite accurately, so that it can be used in the future to test our models of ocean circulation and see how well they represent reality over time,” Rossi told LiveScience. “In 20 years' time, we could go out, grab measurements everywhere in the Pacific and compare them to our model.”

Journey across the Pacific RimThe team focused on predicting the path of the radioactivity until it reached the continental shelf waters stretching from the U.S. coastline to about 180 miles (300 kilometers) offshore. About 10 to 30 becquerels (units of radioactivity representing decay per second) per cubic meter of cesium-137 could reach U.S. and Canadian coastal waters north of Oregon between 2014 and 2020. (Such levels are far below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for drinking water.)

By comparison, California’s coast may receive just 10 to 20 becquerels per cubic meter from 2016 to 2025. That slower, lesser impact comes from Pacific currents taking part of the radioactive plume down below the ocean surface on a slower journey toward the Californian coast, Rossi explained.

A large proportion of the radioactive plume from the initial Fukushima release won't even reach U.S. coastal waters anytime soon. Instead, the majority of the cesium-137 will remain in the North Pacific gyre — a region of ocean that circulates slowly clockwise and has trapped debris in its center to form the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — and continue to be diluted for approximately a decade following the initial Fukushima release in 2011. (The water from the current power plant leak would be expected to take a similar long-term path to the initial plume released, Rossi said.)

But the plume will eventually begin to escape the North Pacific gyre in an even more diluted form. About 25 percent of the radioactivity initially released will travel to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific over two to three decades after the Fukushima disaster, the model showed.

You can follow Jeremy Hsu on Twitter @jeremyhsu. Follow us @livescienceFacebook and Google+. Original article on LiveScience.
Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pointing out pollution problem, artist composes pieces with repurposed plastic products

Published in The Monitor by Mark Reagan | The Brownsville Herald Sept. 11, 2013

“My intent with my artwork is to raise awareness of one of the most pressing consumer and environmental issues that we face, plastic pollution. The effects of this pollution cause irreversible damage to our ecosystem, which in turn affects our health and well-being,” Corpus Christi artist Sheila Rogers wrote in her artist statement. “Over sixty-billion tons of plastic are produced in the world each year, the majority of this material being single-use items that are thoughtlessly tossed away every day, everywhere.”

Rogers’ colorful artwork seen at a distance shows beautifully patterned designs with rich color, but as the viewer draws closer they are confronted with plastic bottle caps, discarded lighters, plastic caps from various household products, cassette tapes and even syringes.

The show opens Friday afternoon at the Historic Brownsville Museum and executive director Maribel Guerrero said she hopes children will be brought to the show.

“I definitely think this is a great exhibit for children,” she said. “You know, for them to understand the impact that pollution has on the environment, but that you can also put it to a good use.”

Guerrero said Rogers’ art could be described as activist art because each piece demonstrates that the world’s oceans are full of plastic trash.

“She’s just taking what she finds and showing it to us as art. And she does have an interest in the environment. I definitely would call this activist art because she’s trying to draw awareness to a real problem,” Guerrero said.

There are several framed boxes that Rogers has filled with red, yellow and blue plastic trash, among other colors. The pieces are striking because of the richness of color, but also because as the viewer draws closer they realize that this art is made of plastic that washed up onto beaches.

“They call us the throw-away society because everything is so easy for us nowadays, just open it and throw it away,” Guerrero said. “There’s really no sense of responsibility.”

And attendees will have a chance to hear Rogers talk about her art at the opening.

In her artist statement, Rogers expresses that she is disturbed at the amount of plastic trash in the world’s ocean and that as the world’s population grows, so will the amount of plastic trash in the oceans.

“It is my intent to educate viewers about the dangers of plastic in our marine environment. I want to motivate them to advocate for a reduction of single-use plastic and make small lifestyle changes that reduce the amount of waste we are putting into our environment.

“Plastic pollution is a huge problem, but by changing our habits, we can create a cleaner and more sustainable world. Each one of us can make a difference,” Rogers wrote.

For more information about Friday’s opening, call the Historic Brownsville Museum at (956) 548-1313. 

Revisiting the Ocean Cleanup, a plan to remove plastic from the oceans

Published in Deep Sea News By , on September 10th, 2013 10 comments     

Boyan Slat’s plan to clean plastic from the world’s oceans is making the media rounds again. Unfortunately, as covered in a previous post on DSN, this plan has some major issues that are unlikely to make it feasible. While not the first to claim to solve the problem of oceanic plastic, the widespread media coverage of this well-intentioned but misdirected venture even prompted marine debris scientists to create a list of guidelines for  potential inventors of plastic-capture systems.  I am reposting the original article below to explain why we here at DSN don’t think that the Ocean Cleanup Project is a realistic solution for removing plastic from the ocean. While a viable plan does not to my knowledge exist, we can still do our part to stop more plastic from entering the world’s seas starting with these 6 simple tips to reduce plastic consumption

And because it’s cocktail week, of course I had to find the perfect drink to toast this crazy contraption, the Wet Dream.

1/2 oz amaretto almond liqueur
1/4 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
1/4 oz creme de bananes
1/4 oz sweet and sour mix
1 splash pineapple juice
1/4 oz Chambord® raspberry liqueur
Mix all ingredients except chambord. Chill and strain mixture into a martini glass. Float chambord to the bottom of the glass.

I’m just going to come out and say it, any project that touts itself as the “World’s first realistic Ocean Clean-up Concept” is just asking to be torn apart.

“The Ocean Cleanup” is the brainchild of a 19-year old Boyan Slat. He proposes using the oceans themselves to clean up plastic. By setting up a line of giant sifting booms across the major ocean gyres, ocean currents will push plastic into these giant traps to be collected and reused for profit.  He plans to set up an array of 24 of these sifters and calculates they will clean the ocean in 5 years.

The Ocean Cleanup’s proposed plastic sifting boom.

Before I add my two cents, here’s what Miriam had to say about the idea at the Marine Debris Listserv:
Dear all,
I’ve tried to stop fact-checking to every cleanup scheme, but I guess it’s an addiction at this point. Also, I feel that as a community we cannot move forward with practical solutions to marine debris until we lay some of these common misconceptions to rest. These points respond Boyan Slat’s TEDx talk, but you can also see photos of his proposal here: http://www.boyanslat.com/plastic5/ and http://www.boyanslat.com/in-depth/.
  • Most zooplankton don’t survive being caught in a standard manta net, never mind being spun in a centrifuge. They might still be twitching, but they have lost a lot of their important parts, like antennae and feeding apparatus. When we want to capture live zooplankton, we use special live-collection nets and are very, very careful. For gelatinous zooplankton like salps, the only way to bring them up in good condition is to individually capture them in glass jars on SCUBA. I am highly skeptical that any significant proportion of zooplankton are viable after caught in a net and spun at 50 RPM. (though I realize that he’s not proposing to do this on a large scale.) 
  • Mooring fixed “ships” in the open ocean (avg depth 4000 meters) is highly improbable for a lot of reasons. Just to pick one: I could not find data on the absolute deepest mooring in the world, but this implies that it is approximately 2,000 meters. http://www.offshore-technology.com/projects/atlantisplatform/. So these ships would have to be moored at twice the depth of one of the deepest moorings that existed ~2007. 
  • Having seen no data, I can’t really speak to the efficacy of floating booms in removing microplastic. However, Giora Proskurowski & colleagues have shown that microplastic get mixed down below the surface in fairly moderate winds. These booms would be unlikely to function in any significant wind and wave action. And the mixed layer in the open ocean can get quite deep, around 100-150 meters in the winter with storms. 
  • Speaking of wind and wave actions, ships on fixed moorings and thousands of miles of booms (because the scale of this is also improbable) have the potential to create a lot more marine debris, and seem particularly hazardous to entanglement-prone marine life. 
  • This isn’t even getting into issues of scale (the California Current alone is ~300 miles across), maintenance and fouling…
I realize that Mr. Slat is a student, and have no doubt that he, and the inventors of countless other plastic cleanup schemes, have only the best of intentions. I am hoping we can work together as marine debris professionals to channel their energies into more productive directions.
Miriam Goldstein
While I can’t speak to what these booms will and will not pick up, I completely agree with her I am highly skeptical whether the design is even feasible from an ocean engineering standpoint. Here are some of the major unanswered technical questions:

1) How does the sifter work?  To be honest, I am not completely sure. The website and TED talk are completely devoid of technical details. But from what I can gather from the concept art and the talk, I think the booms
have large nets underneath them that gather plastic into what I think is a oversized swimming pool leaf trap shaped like a manta ray. UPDATE: I misinterpreted the images on the website. The design as it stands now has no nets, only the initial tests had nets. Now I have to ask, what is that sheet hanging down from the booms?

2) The booms.  The claim is that only 24 sifters are need to clean the ocean and span the gyre radius, which means the booms have to be huge. Possibly 100′s of kilometer wide. Are they rigid or flexible? Are they the manta rays? How will they be kept in formation?

3) Anchoring something that large.  I am going to assume that the booms need to stay relatively taut to retain their shape and the most obvious way to do this will be with multiple anchor lines. The water depths are deep (>3000 m), horizontal surface motions needs to be small and then there is all that water pushing on what is essentially a giant paddle. That means a fairly sophisticated plan for anchoring the array will have to be developed. Having seen how large anchors are for low-tension subsurface moorings (>1000 kg), I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going to use or how that is going to be set up.

4) Biofouling. I forsee two major biofouling issues. The first is biological growth, which can be particularly bad because all the major mechanical parts are near the surface. There is going to be growth on the mesh, on the booms, on everything submerged which can make the booms
and nets heavy, dragging them underwater.
The second is fishbite. Did you know that fish attack underwater moorings like crazed rabid zombie munchers?  Now I don’t know if fish would actually chew on the mesh, but previous experience indicates they are not picky about what pieces of underwater line they snack on. So what will happen if fish gnaw holes through the collection nets?

5) The assumption of low current speeds. This is a bad assumption. While the array may not be placed in the most energetic current regime, storms and eddies can briefly induce large currents which could place a lot of stress and shear on such a large array.

6) Zero bycatch by net avoidance .  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Swim free zooplankton!

The Ocean Cleanup project is still in the planning stage, so all these problems have the potential to be solved. But I think it is highly unlikely that an array of this size and magnitude will ever be feasible.

ADDENDUM: Additional criticisms of the Ocean Cleanup Project

Making a dent in an ocean of plastic

Published in block-island.villagesoup.com  by Lars Trodson | Sep 11, 2013

Photo by: Kari Curtis David Stover, at left, and Ben Kneppers are two of the three principles starting a new skateboard manufacturing company in Chile. 
Can a skateboard make the world a better place?

If riding one makes you happy, then sure, it plays a role that way. But Block Island native David Stover and two of his colleagues have a slightly more ambitious goal for the sports product.

Stover, as well as Ben Kneppers, of Cape Cod, and Kevin Ahearn, of East Hampton, New York, earlier this year responded to a call put out by Start-Up Chile, an initiative that originated with the Chilean government to bring entrepreneurs, new business and employment opportunities to the South American country.

The three pooled their collective passions, which include outdoor sports such as skateboarding and surfing, their engineering backgrounds — plus a concern for creating more environmentally-safe products — and came up with an idea they eventually called Bureo Skateboards.

The group took its idea of making skateboards out of recycled plastics and submitted its application to Start-Up Chile and, out of 1,300 submissions, were chosen to participate. They will receive a $40,000 grant from the government to get started. The group heads back to Chile in October.

The road to Chile was circuitous. David Stover was working for Ernst & Young in Los Angeles, which led him to Australia for a couple of years and then to Santiago, Chile. Ben Kneppers, who is an environmental consultant with an interest in sustainability, met Stover in Santiago. After awhile, Kneppers said, they both “began to feel a little burnt out and we decided to come up with our own business ideas.” Their third partner, Ahearn, was a friend of Stover’s at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and is an engineer at Boeing who works in modeling parts (he’s focused on the specifics of the design of the skateboard).

“We started to kick off ideas in January (of 2013),” said Stover, and researched the topic of plastics pollution. He said that, globally, about 35 percent of all plastic is recycled, but that figure is lowered to 10 percent in Chile “at best. There’s no recycling program and no education,” he said. This led to the idea of creating a product that was made out of recycled plastic.

Stover said he personally was inspired, in part, by growing up on Block Island, where environmental causes are so prominent. He also worked at the Block Island Sports Shop for 10 summers (which explains his interest in skateboards).

The application they submitted to Start-Up Chile was the only one, they said, that was for something other than a smartphone application or some other hi-tech venture. They heard in May that their application was successful.

Their idea, said Kneppers, is not to simply “come in and pick up a pile of trash and make a couple of boards. We want it to be a permanent thing.” They have a plan to partner with companies that have access to recycled materials, and their goal is to employ people from the surrounding region — a primary goal of Start-Up Chile.

Stover and Kneppers have been attending a venture capital program at Northeastern University in Boston that will further their understanding of setting up a business and to learn more about marketing. They hope to have their first boards ready by the middle of 2014. Right now, the venture is very much a family affair. The website was designed by David Stover’s brother Eddie and the company logo was designed by Knepper’s girlfriend.

Stover and Kneppers said the word “bureo” is native to the Mapuche people of Chile, which means “the waves.” The image struck the group: just as waves can be created in the ocean by the wind, they hoped that their new venture would make a “small change to this ocean of plastic.”

Website map tracks path of ocean pollution, Fukushima radiation plume

Published in KLTV Sep 11, 2013
The radiation plume from the 2011 disaster is expected to reach the U.S. coast by 2014, according to a model. (Source: adrift.au.org) The radiation plume from the 2011 disaster is expected to reach the U.S. coast by 2014, according to a model. (Source: adrift.au.org)
(RNN) - A website map from the University of New South Wales models how pollution moves across oceans, and predicts that the radioactive plume from Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown will make its way across the Pacific to the U.S. West Coast in 2014.

According to Ecowatch, experts said the radiation will be below levels that the World Health Organization considers dangerous by the time it reaches the U.S. coastline next year. Although the level of radiation is expected to have very little effect on human health, the radiation increase will be measurable.

All three Fukushima Daiichi reactor cores at a nuclear power plant largely melted in the aftermath of a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in the largest nuclear incident since Chernobyl. Radioactive materials and contaminated water were released, and leading to the evacuation of more than 100,000 from a 20-kilometer area around the afflicted plant.

An international expert panel, in a February 2013 initial health assessment, doesn't expect the Fukushima disaster to have significant health effects outside the most affected areas in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, where the highest radiation doses occurred. In these areas, the population may experience long-term increases in cancer cases, including thyroid cancers, according to the report.

In addition to tracking radioactive plumes, the website Adrift is used to trace the path of plastics and other items, including messages in bottles, released from most places across the globe into the oceans.

Adrift is based on the research into ocean circulation by Dr. Erik Van Sebille, as well as the book Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn, which tells the story of a 1992 cargo ship incident in the North Pacific that released thousands of plastic toys.

Plastic waste presents a tremendous problem to the health of the world's oceans and the life within it. Marine animals become ensnared in plastic waste or mistake it for food and eat it, introducing harmful chemicals into the food chain.

The nonprofit organization 5 Gyres reported that after one use, roughly 50 percent of the billions of plastic bags and bottles used in the U.S. is buried in landfills. However, much gets lost in the environment, eventually washing out to sea.

Debris is carried by ocean currents to remote areas, circulating in five large gyres, or slow-moving currents.

The largest gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, is about twice the size of the United States, 5 Gyres said. Other major garbage gyres can be found in the Bay of Bengal, the North Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

"Designed to last, plastic trash in the gyre will remain for decades or longer, being pushed gently in a slow, clockwise spiral towards the center," 5 Gyres reported.

Adrift stated that there are many ways to cut the amount of plastic that makes it from the coast into the gyres, including keeping beaches clean and reducing the amount of plastic used.

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.