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!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Plastic: It's What's for Dinner

Published in the Huffington Post by Belinda Waymouth January 27, 2015

The day of ecological reckoning looms over us. I am not talking about whether the Keystone XL Pipeline gets rammed through our backyards. I am down the rabbit hole of environmental concern with another problematic petrochemical -- plastic.

We get plastic from oil, and have ingeniously transformed this hydrocarbon polymer into a multitude of plastic things, giving our lives a facade of durable-but-lightweight convenience.

Meantime there's mounting evidence the dark side of plastic is much more than we bargained for, or can cope with.

First off, the wholesale recyclability of plastic is a happy ending environmental types -- such as your author -- want to believe. But in the U.S less than 10 percent of plastic gets recycled. And, even when it is recycled, the amount has become overwhelming. Globally there'll be 45 million tons of plastic scrap looking to be recycled this year.

Most scrapped plastic ends up in China, bound for the Wen'an region. Once a bucolic piece of countryside, Wen'an is now a toxic cesspit, where people are paralyzed by off-the-chart blood pressure problems, after enduring horrendous work conditions in a bid to recycle -- or otherwise dispose of -- all the plastic.

What can't be recycled is burnt, releasing dioxins -- the worst of the worst toxins. Dioxins are carcinogenic, linked to developmental and reproductive impairment, heart disease, diabetes, and in extreme cases of exposure a nasty skin ailment - chloracne.

Next inconvenient truth -- a huge amount of our plastic debris ends up in the ocean. Last months first scientific accounting of total ocean plastic pollution estimates the amount at a mind boggling 5.25 trillion pieces. Plastic only started becoming a household item in the 1950's, so this amount of trashed plastic happened in 60 odd years.

Almost as worrisome, these researchers found 100 times fewer micro-sized plastic particles than expected. Because that's another pesky thing about plastic, it does NOT biodegrade, it photodegrades -- meaning in sunlight plastic simply breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, which are nearly impossible to detect but have huge and brutal consequences as they enter the food chain.

Which brings us to one of the worlds tiniest but most significant fish species: Myctophids, aka Lanternfish, account for over half of the oceans fishy biomass, and are apparently scoffing down plastic like there's no tomorrow.
Myctophid with plankton and plastic particles
Iddy biddy fish ingesting miniscule particles of plastic might not sound too awful. Until now these four to five centimeters long, two to five grams fishes were seen as inferior to our other little finned friends - the sardine or anchovy. Myctophids were ground into fodder for industrial fish farms. However the line from plastic-gobbling Myctophids to your next meal is about to get a lot more direct.

Some in the fishing industry see huge potential for this "untouched resource" and are developing methods to convert this plentiful, but low value fish, into a high value-added product. Ungutted Myctophids will be processed into surimi (the Japanese term for mechanically deboned fish mince) with uses ranging from fish products, to meat substitutes, and dessert dishes.

It would seem ecological folly to mess with a fish species that is the very basis of important marine food webs - swordfish, tuna, dolphins and seals eat Myctophids.

Not to mention the risk taken if we ingest plastic -- a possibility that is in the news more and more these days. Last fall scientists discovered there are microplastics in two-dozen German beers and European shellfish lovers ingest 11,000 pieces of plastic a year in their pursuit of gastronomic nirvana.

Apart from how unappetizing eating or drinking plastic sounds, it's all the nasty chemicals in plastic (phthalates - known endocrine disruptors - are used to soften plastic) and that adhere to plastic so eagerly in the marine environment (POPs, DDT and flame retardants) that make it highly toxic.
But now for the good news: with this growing pile of evidence about the pervasiveness of plastic pollution, we can take action.

This is the moment to change our reliance on the not-so-disposable-after-all polymer. If we can move beyond a single-use throw-away mentality, and incentivize the plastics industry to design effective end-game recyclability into their products - the size of the problem will begin to diminish.

Which is precisely what's needed to assist less discerning species cope with our plastic mess.

Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Marine Research and Education, describes himself as the ocean's "voluntary public defender" - The Lorax who speaks for the seas, if you will. He says organisms can't cope with plastic because it's happened too quickly, "people think stupid myctophids to eat plastic, but evolutionarily speaking they have no selection process to avoid to it."
Captain Charles Moore, on board oceanographic research vessel, Alguita, November 2014 
Myctophids are Captain Moore's "Humming-Fish" but unlike the fictional Lorax he can't send them away to an ocean without plastic -- that ocean no longer exists.

Crafty little guys, Myctophids, stay low in the water column during daylight avoiding predation, then rise to feed on zooplankton at the ocean surface during the darkest hours of night.

To aid in this diel migration, Myctophids have swim bladders that alter their buoyancy as required. But what will happen to this mechanism in a fish that has a belly full of flotation devices - plastic particles.

If it hasn't been incinerated, every piece of plastic ever produced is still with us. There is no time for any species to biologically adapt to cope with plastic, including us. We have to make an effort to culturally evolve with way less plastic.

Put another way: think long and hard about what you want to be eating and gazing upon in the days to come.
Thirteen-year-old plastic picker in Manilla, 2013

Why People Are Eating Their Own Trash

Everything You Need to Know About the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

Published in Greener Ideal.com by  |   
There is currently an estimated 3.5 million tons of trash floating around the Pacific Ocean, in what's called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It's believed the patch spans roughly twice the size of the continental U.S.
Also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not an island or land mass necessarily visible to the naked eye, like many assume.
Instead, the patch is made up largely of broken down microplastics - small particles of non-biodegradable material drawn together at the convergence of different ocean currents - which appear as a kind of cloudy soup.

There are at least 260 known species which feed on these microplastic particles, confusing them for plankton.  These plastics then travel up the food chain, resting in the stomachs of increasingly larger predators, like tuna or mahi-mahi, for instance.

It takes about 600 years for plastic in the ocean to fully break down.  It's then crucial we keep our plastic and litter out of the oceans, or we'll be eating our trash for ages to come.
Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

We could end up with 'as much plastic in our oceans as fish'

The head of Ocean Conservancy says a burgeoning middle class and low recycling rates could lead to not-even-remotely-acceptable levels of trash washed out to sea

plastic in the oceans
Fish swim near a plastic bag off of Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Will plastic some day outweigh fish in our oceans? Photograph: Mike Nelson/Mike Nelson /epa/Corbis
A failure to address the mountains of waste in the developing world will result in as much plastic in our oceans as fish, the head of Ocean Conservancy has warned.

Andreas Merkl, CEO of the Washington-based environmental NGO, said the combination in the developing world of a burgeoning middle class and low recycling rates will lead to an exponential rise in the amount of plastic washed out to sea.

If governments and the private sector fail to solve this problem, “we end up with an ocean that has an amount of plastic that’s in the same order of magnitude as the amount of fish, in terms of tonnes”, Merkl told Guardian Sustainable Business.

“We have enormous uncertainty about what that actually means, but it is a situation where you cannot call yourself an ocean conservationist or any person that cares about the ocean and find that even remotely acceptable.”

There are currently estimated to be around 800m tonnes of fish in the oceans and 100m to 150m tonnes of plastic. This is increasing by around 20m tonnes a year, but that growth is expected to accelerate as far greater numbers of people are able to afford to buy products that are made with, or packaged in, plastic.

Novelli said the problems were becoming particularly acute in regions – such as parts of Asia – that have a huge middle class, but trash collection of only around 40%, compared with 95% in the US.

Pointing to the circular economy – the idea of turning trash into raw materials for new products – as one of the key solutions, she said: “We need to have a real economic analysis of the entire supply chain and target what needs to be done and work with friendly governments and cities to show what practically can be done. You have to bring it to reality otherwise everyone despairs.”

It’s important for business leaders and policy makers to come out of their separate silos and work together on solutions, Novelli said, adding that there is an opportunity to partner with big and influential countries like China and India to redesign the world economy.

“We all have the same issues of what is threatening us,” she said. “There are different perspectives, but that is all to the good.”

In the search for practical solutions, the Trash Free Seas Alliance, a collaboration between industry and NGOs, is planning to carry out detailed studies in three or four countries, with a particular emphasis on Asia.

Merkl says the plan is to “really dig into the economics of collection and recycling so that people will find it profitable to collect and to separate. The fact is that even at a scavenger economy level of daily wages, recycling these types of plastics are currently not worthwhile, which is why so much just ends up going in the ocean. The question, then, is how do we fundamentally change that.”
He said it was disingenuous to seek a ban on non-recyclable flexible plastic, like cellophane, as it is an “enormous accelerator in lifestyles”. Not only does wrapping food reduce the spread of typhoid, but single-use containers gives people access to clean water.

Fortunately, Merkl said the issue is starting to rise up the political agenda, helped by the sight of giant gyres of marine debris and by people from the developed world going on beach holidays and finding plastics clinging to their bodies.

There is also growing concern about the toxicity of fish that end up eating small fragments of plastic, which they mistake for plankton.
It’s a health issue,” Merkl said. “It’s an equity issue. It’s a land pollution issue and it’s an ocean pollution issue.
“For example, between 50m to 60m individual sachets of water are thrown away every day in Nigeria alone. If you go to Lagos, they’re drowning in sachets and they are clogging the drainage system.”
While improving collection and recycling is the quickest way to drive change, Merkl insisted that plastics companies and consumer goods firms also must act decisively.

“We would love to see a simplification of the plastics used,” he said. “We’d like to see less colour and an end to gluing sleeves of advertising around plastic containers. So there’s a bunch of design work that we can do and is very, very important.”

Ellen MacArthur, who broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe and is now a leading activist in creating a circular economy, also said changes in all sectors of society are needed.

She is encouraging private companies and cities to collaborate to ensure that “everything has value to the economy in the future” and does not just get thrown away.

Bill McDonough, the US designer and author who believes we can design materials, systems, companies and products that continuously improve over time, said the Chinese were starting to take the lead in turning the circular economy from an idea into reality.

McDonough, the co-creator of the cradle-to-cradle design concept, said the authorities in Beijing are currently moving from “promoting the circular economy to implementing it”.
We need to design things that are valuable for next use and stop using the words ‘end of life’,” he said. “Being less bad is not being good. We need to start from the mindset of what would plastics look like if the ocean is fabulous.”
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

How we made the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The documentary 'Plastic Paradise' explains how this consumer-driven catastrophe is destroying the oceans and how we can fix it.

Initially mass-produced in the 1940s as the disposable answer to convenience-minded consumers, plastic is the ecological disaster few saw coming.

By 2050, plastic production will quadruple to 2 trillion pounds per year. The U.S. alone produces 15 billion pounds of plastics a year, and 85 million plastic bottles are used every minute. Most of this plastic is not recyclable, and much of it ends up in the ocean, where currents bring it to an area twice the size of Texas known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Midway Atoll, four hours by plane from Honolulu, is ground zero for this aquatic dumping ground, its beaches littered with debris. Discarded fishing nets strangle wildlife and destroy coral reefs, and tiny microplastic bits swallowed by birds and fish move up the food chain, all the way to our tables.

Journalist and filmmaker Angela Sun investigated several aspects of this complex environmental issue, its ramifications, who is responsible, and what can be done to fix the problem in her documentary "Plastic Paradise," a labor of love that was seven years in the making.
Why did you want to make the film?

Angela Sun: Simply because I love the oceans, and I love storytelling. I have always been fascinated with everything under the sea, from a young age. Growing up with immigrant Chinese parents, things like scuba diving, surfing and swimming with sharks were considered crazy talk. So, naturally, as the middle child I always wanted to go the less traveled route. As a journalist, I have always been curious and inquisitive about the world and love to explore and uncover untold stories. The oceans needed a platform, and as a journalist, the goal is to give a voice to the voiceless. 

How did you become aware of the plastics problem?
I was working for Current TV at the time when a colleague and good friend of mine were discussing story ideas and this was one of them. We were pitching it as a story for a news magazine on the network. When it got cut due to budget and access issues, I couldn't let the story go. From the inception of the idea to the finished locked picture, it took about seven years. 

What was your approach going into it?
My mission was to make this issue of disposable plastics interesting to the general public and get the mainstream to understand the gravity our incessant consumerism and dumping of waste into the oceans. I have always held true to my mission of reaching viewers in a landlocked area, for example, the Midwest, to care about something so far away and seemingly out of sight, out of mind.

What were your biggest challenges?
Financing is almost every independent film's biggest challenge. I ended up self-financing the project, which is why it took so long to finish. It was also hard to gain access to Midway as I had applied for permits during the time it became a national marine sanctuary. I think the biggest challenge is having the perseverance to see this project through to fruition. I would take breaks here and there, and people who were helping out on the film would come and go, but it took a lot of focus and determination to get this done. A lot of people see the glitz and glamour of film festivals, awards and accolades, but behind all of that, many times I have felt the lonely road. 

What were the most shocking things that you learned?
The most shocking thing I learned was simply seeing those birds with bellies full of plastic in real life. The smell too: On Midway Atoll there is an area where they would pile up all the dead birds and the rancid smell of decomposed remains almost made me throw up. Additionally the thought that almost every single piece of plastic is still somewhere on our planet is crazy! If it never goes away, and we don't see it, it's got to be somewhere, and those albatross on Midway are canaries in the coal mine. I was also shocked to learn that plastic was made for war just a few decades ago, and we are just at the tip of the iceberg with shocking statistics and findings of really how much plastic is in our oceans. 

What are the most important messages you wanted to convey?
My hope is to educate and shed light on this under-reported issue of our plastic trash and its effects, not just on wildlife but how harmful single-use plastics truly are to our waterways and how they are rapidly making their way up the food chain and into our bodies.
We, the general public, do have influence and can be the change we wish to see. If every single person just even did something as simple as saying 'no' to single disposable drinks, that would have a massive impact and save so much unnecessary waste in our environment. Where there is a will, there is a way. The journey of making this film and sharing it is testament to that.

I hear it took three years to get access to Midway. Why was it so difficult to get cooperation?
There was a lot of red tape gaining access initially as it was switching to a national marine monument status, so the governmental agencies would play ping-pong sending us back and forth. It was difficult to get the elusive plastic industry to agree to speak. You will have to watch the film to find out what happens!
Tash on Midway
A pile of garbage on the Midway Atoll. The trash, from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, washes up on Midway's shore.

Where has the film been shown and where can it be seen now?
We have been to over 30 film festivals, garnered eight awards, and is now airing on Pivot TV network as well as iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, GooglePlay, Vudu, Target Ticket. The DVD is available at our website. It will be release on SBS TV Network in Australia in February. We are working with BullFrog Films for educational distribution. 

What has the reaction been to date?
Great reactions, and I usually get frustrated texts and messages from friends who decide to take our two-week pledge to say no to single-use plastics after watching the film. It's hard! But many people have joined us and told me they have changed their lifestyle because of the film. For more information on joining others worldwide, we have a pledge on our website.

Do you think it will make a difference? Can this problem be fixed? What will it take?
I can only hope. This problem is not going away anytime soon. It is just going to continue to grow. With every unfortunate search for missing planes, plastic trash in our oceans comes back into the news cycle. As China and other nations become more industrialized, following western ideologies of consumption, a precarious future is on the horizon. 
I think simple consumer changes can help pave the way and encourage industry to become more innovative. However, for real sweeping change, there needs to be legislation to keep the plastic industries in check. An example: I was fortunate to be presented an award from a California assemblymember who helped usher the historic SB-270 bill [prohibiting plastic grocery bags] through. He mentioned that he showed the film to others in the state legislature before the vote, and it helped explain the situation and what a burden it has been on taxpayers and the state of California. That was a tangible piece of evidence that this film can make a difference, little by little. Every day we can all be doing something quite simple. Practice the 4th R — REFUSE — then reduce, reuse, recycle. Say no to that straw, or bag, or coffee cup lid that will stay on for less than five minutes. Be aware and a conscious consumer. It starts with lowering our own consumption.

What do you hope audiences take away — and do?
I hope they take away a respect for the oceans and are moved to taking action along with understanding the urgency for change before we ruin ourselves just quietly. Just say no and refuse single-use plastics.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

“We’re lucky in many ways,” said Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University and another author of the new report. “The impacts are accelerating, but they’re not so bad we can’t reverse them.”

Scientific assessments of the oceans’ health are dogged by uncertainty: It’s much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not reflect trends across the planet.

Transplanted coral off Java Island, Indonesia. Great damage results from the loss of habitats like coral reefs, an analysis found. Credit Aman Rochman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley and their colleagues sought a clearer picture of the oceans’ health by pulling together data from an enormous range of sources, from discoveries in the fossil record to statistics on modern container shipping, fish catches and seabed mining. While many of the findings already existed, they had never been juxtaposed in such a way.

A number of experts said the result was a remarkable synthesis, along with a nuanced and encouraging prognosis.

“I see this as a call for action to close the gap between conservation on land and in the sea,” said Loren McClenachan of Colby College, who was not involved in the study.

There are clear signs already that humans are harming the oceans to a remarkable degree, the scientists found. Some ocean species are certainly overharvested, but even greater damage results from large-scale habitat loss, which is likely to accelerate as technology advances the human footprint, the scientists reported.

Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.

Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years. Bottom trawlers scraping large nets across the sea floor have already affected 20 million square miles of ocean, turning parts of the continental shelf to rubble. Whales may no longer be widely hunted, the analysis noted, but they are now colliding more often as the number of container ships rises.

Mining operations, too, are poised to transform the ocean. Contracts for seabed mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from zero in 2000. Seabed mining has the potential to tear up unique ecosystems and introduce pollution into the deep sea.

The oceans are so vast that their ecosystems may seem impervious to change. But Dr. McClenachan warned that the fossil record shows that global disasters have wrecked the seas before. “Marine species are not immune to extinction on a large scale,” she said.

Until now, the seas largely have been spared the carnage visited on terrestrial species, the new analysis also found.

The fossil record indicates that a number of large animal species became extinct as humans arrived on continents and islands. For example, the moa, a giant bird that once lived on New Zealand, was wiped out by arriving Polynesians in the 1300s, probably within a century.

But it was only after 1800, with the Industrial Revolution, that extinctions on land really accelerated.

Humans began to alter the habitat that wildlife depended on, wiping out forests for timber, plowing under prairie for farmland, and laying down roads and railroads across continents.

Species began going extinct at a much faster pace. Over the past five centuries, researchers have recorded 514 animal extinctions on land. But the authors of the new study found that documented extinctions are far rarer in the ocean.

Before 1500, a few species of seabirds are known to have vanished. Since then, scientists have documented only 15 ocean extinctions, including animals such as the Caribbean monk seal and the Steller’s sea cow.

While these figures are likely underestimates, Dr. McCauley said that the difference was nonetheless revealing.

“Fundamentally, we’re a terrestrial predator,” he said. “It’s hard for an ape to drive something in the ocean extinct.”

Many marine species that have become extinct or are endangered depend on land — seabirds that nest on cliffs, for example, or sea turtles that lay eggs on beaches.

Still, there is time for humans to halt the damage, Dr. McCauley said, with effective programs limiting the exploitation of the oceans. The tiger may not be salvageable in the wild — but the tiger shark may well be, he said.

“There are a lot of tools we can use,” he said. “We better pick them up and use them seriously.”

Dr. McCauley and his colleagues argue that limiting the industrialization of the oceans to some regions could allow threatened species to recover in other ones. “I fervently believe that our best partner in saving the ocean is the ocean itself,” said Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University, an author of the new study.

The scientists also argued that these reserves had to be designed with climate change in mind, so that species escaping high temperatures or low pH would be able to find refuge.

“It’s creating a hopscotch pattern up and down the coasts to help these species adapt,” Dr. Pinsky said.

Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them.

“If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve we are now, I honestly feel there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean,” he said. “But in the meantime, we do have a chance to do what we can. We have a couple decades more than we thought we had, so let’s please not waste it.”

New Study Says Ocean Life is Facing Mass Extinction. Here’s What We Can do to Stop it

Published January 16, 2015 in OneGreenPlanet.org

Between man-made climate change, overfishing and pollution, we have done a significant amount of damage to the world’s oceans.

In the past 500 years, we have seen 15 different marine species go extinct (this is a minimum estimate) and the rise in the number of marine animals on the IUCN’s list of threatened and endangered species is telling us that we need to start doing something differently.

Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recently published a study in journal Science that only solidifies this fact. “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” McCauley tell the New York Times.

In the past 40 years alone we have seen 52 percent of the world’s wildlife disappear, mainly due to human actions. While McCauley’s statement falls in line with the belief that the world is experiencing its sixth period of mass extinction, it seems that there is still hope yet for ocean life.

Why? Plainly because humans haven’t really had that much influence on the oceans until modern times. On land, humans have been altering the ecosystem for tens of thousands of years, but the oceans have largely remained untouched.

This is not to say that we are in the clear though, McCauley’s study shows that if we don’t take action soon that this hopeful message will be lost for good. Humans have begun to industrialize our use of the ocean’s resources and as the result we have seen a great decrease in the number of large marine species – like whales and sharks – as well as declines in small marine animals. This causes a significant imbalance in ocean ecosystems.

McCauley points to bottom trawling as an example of how humans have industrialized the process of fishing. In bottom trawling, long, heavy nets are dropped to the depths of the ocean and dragged along the ocean floor, catching anything and everything in its path. This practice wipes out fish stocks and lowers the number of fish available to commercial fisheries.

To make up for this lack of fish, we’ve created the equivalent of factory fish farms. Seabed mining is also gaining popularity and the amount of plastic pollution dumped into the oceans is increasing. The more carbon we emit into the atmosphere, the more acidic the oceans get.

McCauley stresses that the oceans are vast, but marine species are not impervious to extinction. We have seen the impact of species extinction on terrestrial ecosystems … and it isn’t pretty. In the long run, the health of the oceans and the land environment is important to our own health.

The signs that we failed to learn from in the extinction of land species are being seen in the oceans and it is up to us to take them seriously. There are many things you can do to help protect the oceans.
  • First and foremost, cutting your own carbon footprint is the place to start. A great way to do this is to leave meat out of your diet. By doing this one simple thing, you can half your carbon footprint.
  • Second, seeing the damage commercial fisheries are causing to the oceans, the logical solution is to limit or completely eliminate your consumption of fish. If you don’t eat fish for a year, you can save 225 fish and 125 shellfish!
  • And finally, being mindful of the plastic pollution and other waste you produce in your everyday life is key to keeping the oceans trash-free. Replace all your disposables with reusable alternatives and check out this guide to grocery shop, waste-free.
We can all make minor changes to benefit the world’s oceans. There is still time to change the tide for the future of marine species, but this time shouldn’t be wasted!
Image source: Andrew K/Flickr

The world’s first 100% recycled and recyclable boardshort

Published in driftsurfing.eu
Riz Boardshorts

Riz boardshorts are already using recycled material in their current range but the team want to take it to the next level by making sure that absolutely every element is made from reclaimed materials including the zips, thread and buttons.

But this is just the half of it, next on the agenda for the company is the ultimate challenge of cleaning the beach and ocean and transforming the plastics collected into their end product. You can get involved and do your bit by supporting their crowdfunding campaign.
Their second, and much bigger challenge, is to take waste plastics from our beaches and oceans and transform them into new clothing
Riz Smith, who launched the company, said the idea was born out of a connection with the ocean. Hailing from Devon, sailing and surfing was a big part of his childhood. Now all grown up and living in London, Riz realised how vital the oceans are for the survival of the planet.

“Sadly, our oceans and beaches are littered with waste plastics. Experts estimate that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean. We don’t want our shorts to end up littering landfills or oceans, so, in an effort to do our part, we’ve developed the Rizcycling programme.” Riz told Drift

“Rizcycling means working with our customers to create a perpetual loop that transforms waste and worn out swimwear into beautiful new products.He added

Their second, and much bigger challenge, is to take waste plastics from our beaches and oceans and transform them into new clothing. The company target is to make the first pair of shorts from ocean plastic fabric by 2016.

To find out more and to support the boardshort campaign visit their crowdfunding page or watch the video below

 Riz Boardshorts

Monday, January 5, 2015

14 Ocean Conservation Wins of 2014

Published in EarthTechling.com, December 30th, 2014

Chances are you’ve come across some ocean news lately. And it may even have been positive! Yes, the ocean is still in serious trouble due to overfishing, pollution, climate change and habitat destruction, but there are more and more success stories to point to, and point I shall.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Yes, the ocean is still in serious trouble due to overfishing, pollution, climate change and habitat destruction, but there are many success stories to celebrate from 2014. Photo credit: Shutterstock
1. Big year for big marine reserves. Kiribati, Palau, and the Cook Islands each closed more than 50 percent of their waters to commercial fishing, and the U.S. quintupled the size of the Pacific Remote Island National Monument. This is not happening because conservation gives political leaders warm fuzzy feelings, and not just because (as Enric Sala explains) it makes good economic sense for fisheries, but because it’s good PR for tourism and for nations’ international reputations.

2. World leaders gathered to focus on ocean issues. The U.S. Department of State’s Our Ocean conference felt like a turning point in ocean policy. The focus was on success stories, solutions, and government commitments to conservation (see #1, above). Leonardo DiCaprio gave an impassioned keynote speech that became a cover story, and the conference is slated to become an annual event. There was also a Global Ocean Action Summit in The Hague, focused on the ocean economy.

3. We know what needs to be done to repair Caribbean coral reefs. A report co-authored by 90+ scientists, and analyzing data from 35,000 surveys of Caribbean reefs conducted over 42 years showed that coral has declined 50 percent since 1970. Yikes! But it also showed that if we protect key herbivores (like parrotfish and urchins) so they can eat the algae off reefs, and if we control coastal pollution and construction, then we may be able put Caribbean reefs on the mend. (See New York Times Op Ed I co-authored with Jeremy Jackson,We Can Save the Caribbean’s Coral Reefs).

4. Shark week viewers turned their focus toward conservation. The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is the ocean conservation equivalent of the Super Bowl—it’s the most attention the ocean gets from the media all year. Most of the content is designed to make sharks seem like ravenous, terrifying man-eaters, and a shocking amount of it is fabricated. Viewers took to social media to say they’d had enough of this vilification and prevarication, and this year most shark week media coverage was critical. Sharks also got love from the public when Western Australia’s bizarre and horrible “shark culling” policy was met with widespread protests.

5. Ocean zoning is gaining traction as a management approach. More than 30 countries have embraced ocean zoning as a management tool. The latest is the Blue Halo Initiative in Barbuda, where the Waitt Institute partnered with the local government to develop comprehensive management plans for their waters. After 17 months of community consultations, this resulted in a zoning map that includes protection of 33 percent of the coastal waters in marine reserves.

6. There is a new wave of scrappy, effective ocean conservation groups. The old guard of large NGOs is holding steady, but it’s exciting to see some new kids on the block. Special shout-outs to The Black Fish (combatting illegal overfishing), SeaSketch (technology for participatory mapping), SoarOcean (drones for ocean enforcement), SkyTruth (remote sensing for fisheries enforcement), Smart Fish (improving value chains for communities),Future of Fish (business solutions for sustainable seafood) and Parley for Oceans (leveraging fashion for conservation).

7. A big commercial fishery recovered from overfishing. In 2000, the U.S. West Coast groundfish fishery was so overfished that it was declared a federal disaster. This year, after years of hard work and collaboration amongst the federal government, fishers, and NGOs like the Environmental Defense Fund, the stocks were rebuilt enough that the fishery was certified as sustainable. Sound management works!

8. The Clinton Global Initiative is focusing on oceans. CGI (an initiative of the Clinton Foundation) has a strong history of fostering cross-sectoral action on important issues, via its promotion of concrete commitments from member organizations. CGI’s burgeoning Ocean Action Network will convene in 2015 to co-create solutions amongst industry, governments, NGOs and philanthropists.

9. Seafood traceability is being tackled by policymakers and technologists. The trade in illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) catches is difficult to eradicate because the seafood supply chain is largely opaque. In the U.S., up to 32 percent of imported, wild-caught seafood was caught illegally, and about 33 percent of seafood is mislabeled. A White House task force is addressing this issue, and a bunch of small organizations (like This Fish) are working to solve hook-to-plate tracking. Eating locally-caught seafood also addresses this problem, and that is gaining traction via community supported fisheries.

10. Plastic pollution in the ocean is getting sustained attention. A new scientific study estimates there are at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the ocean. As the world watched, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was complicated by the amount of debris on the ocean’s surface. But the invention that can supposedly collect tons of plastic out of the ocean?—sorry, not gonna work (though see these proven ways to reduce ocean plastic pollution). Meanwhile, in fashion, Pharrell, Bionic Yarn and Parley for Oceans partnered with G-Star to make quite nice clothing out of ocean plastics.

11. Local efforts to combat ocean acidification are increasing. A large portion of global CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean, making it more acidic. This threatens ocean life in many ways, from melting corals and eating away the shells of shellfish, to making fish behave oddly and become more vulnerable to predators. But since ~1/3 of ocean acidification is caused by land-based pollution, Washington State (to protect the waters where many delicious oysters are grown) developed an action plan to address local pollution, and Maryland and Maine are following suit.

12. Bristol Bay in Alaska was protected from oil and gas drilling. Forty percent of the U.S.’s wild seafood comes from Bristol Bay. The area has one of the world’s largest salmon runs, and is teaming with whales, seals and birds. Local and national activists have been fighting for this area’s protection, and succeeded in having the area closed to oil and gas drilling by presidential decree. Next step is to protect the headwaters from the proposed Pebble Mine.

13. A feature documentary was released about ocean hero Sylvia Earle. Marine biologist and ocean activist Dr. Sylvia Earle has dedicated her life to raising awareness about ocean issues and lobbying for conservation. The film Mission Blue captures her story, which is also a story of the ocean conservation movement, and an inspiring story of women in science. Check it out on Netflix. (Dr. Earle was also named one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year)!

14. Communication on ocean issues is getting better and better. We are (finally! yay!) building critical mass for good communications on ocean issues. Complex issues are being distilled in ways that people get and can relate to. Special shout-outs to the perennial efforts by Upwell, Smithsonian Ocean Portal, National Geographic Ocean Views blog, Marine Affairs Research and Education, One World One Ocean and The TerraMar Project that are helping all this news bubble to the top. And for more on what’s working in ocean conservation, stay tuned to #OceanOptimism.

A quarter-million tons of plastic pollution found in oceans

The 5 Gyres Institute compiles six years and 500,000 nautical miles worth of information to provide a global estimate of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.  

The first global estimate of plastic pollution of both micro- and macroplastic floating in every ocean on earth has led researchers to conclude that the smallest and most insidious particles are present throughout the world’s oceans. The new report, published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal, culminates more than six years and 50,000 nautical miles of pelagic plastics research.

“When The 5 Gyres Institute formed in 2008, we set out to answer a basic question: How much plastic is out there? There was no data from the Southern Hemisphere, Western Pacific, or Eastern Atlantic. After six long years and a wide-reaching collaboration, we have completed the most comprehensive plastic pollution study to date,” says Marcus Eriksen, PhD, Director of Research for the 5 Gyres Institute. “We’ve found microplastic ocean pollution, in varying concentrations, everywhere in the world.”

The report estimates that some 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing about 269,000 tons are floating in the world’s oceans. Previous reports only looked at one size class and thus reported much lower plastic densities in the world’s oceans.

The new research also demonstrated some unexpected findings, namely a dramatic loss of microplastic from the sea surface in the garbage patches of the five subtropical gyres—large areas of rotating currents where the fragments tend to accumulate. In addition, the survey found a wide distribution of the smallest microplastics in remote regions of the ocean. Though concentrations in the gyres are lower than previously reported, plastics occur nearly everywhere, often far outside of the garbage patches.

Eriksen led a team of nine researchers from six different countries including Capt. Charles Moore, who found the first garbage patch in the North Pacific. The researchers contributed data from 24 expeditions studying plastic floating on the sea surface. Microplastics were collected with nets, while floating macroplastics were counted by systematic observations.

These data were used to populate a model that assumes plastic enters the oceans from rivers, shipping lanes, and densely populated coastlines. The data and model show that large plastics are abundant near coastlines and degrade in the five subtropical gyres into microplastics, the smallest of which are, surprisingly, present in more remote regions such as the subpolar gyres.

The garbage patches should thus be characterized not as repositories or final resting places, but as shredders and redistributors of trash, where sunlight (UV), oxidation, embrittlement, breakage by waves, and fragmentation by grazing fish all degrade large plastic pieces to tiny fragments. These microplastics are then ejected from the garbage patches through various mechanisms such as foraging and filter-feeding by marine organisms, and subsurface currents.

“Our findings show that that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not final resting places for floating plastic trash,” Eriksen says. “Unfortunately, the endgame for microplastic is dangerous interaction with entire ocean ecosystems. We should begin to see the garbage patches as shredders, not stagnant repositories.”

The new research categorized plastic into four size classes, from roughly equivalent to a grain of sand, to a grain of rice, to a water bottle, and finally anything larger. Using conservative fragmentation rates, the researchers expected to find more small particles than larger ones.

Surprisingly, their model showed that the smallest fragments are less abundant than the next larger size, but more small particles are found outside of the garbage patches.

“One would expect an exponential increase in the number of plastic particles due to fragmentation,” says Martin Thiel, a co-author on the study. “But this was not the case. Although the two smallest sizes combined accounted for more than 90 percent of the total count, there were more than 100-times fewer of the smallest particles than expected.”

A worldwide distribution of microplastic is more problematic because smaller particles have a greater surface for the absorption of pollutants than larger pieces. Plastics act like sponges, absorbing toxins such as PCBs, DDT and other pesticides, flame retardants, and other persistent organic pollutants found in our oceans. Other research has established that some marine organisms, including seabirds and fish, ingest these toxic plastics and may de-sorb these toxicants.

“The garbage patches could be a frightfully efficient mechanism for corrupting our food chain with toxic microplastics,” says Eriksen.

The 5 Gyres Institute, which uses research to motivate change, contends that companies must take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of the products they create. Working in collaboration with multiple government agencies, NGOs and responsible corporations, the 5 Gyres Institute will continue to support campaigns such as its ongoing effort to replace plastic microbeads in cosmetics and toothpastes with biodegradable alternatives.

“Knowing that plastic pollution becomes hazardous waste in the ocean, it is essential that innovative products and packaging designed for recovery replace the single-use, throwaway culture of the past,” Eriksen says. “It’s time to focus our mitigation strategies upstream from production to disposal. The status quo is not acceptable. Our goal is to vanquish the idea that oceans can bear our waste and to usher in an age of restoration and responsibility.”

Learn more about the project in this video.