Search Results for: marine debris

5 on-the-ground warriors for marine debris

I’ll be incredibly frank and honest and say that I do not do as much on-the-ground ocean activism as I’d like to do these days. I do participate the occasion stream clean-up and rally from time to time, but with a full-time job and a family including an active toddler, time is scarce and I’m lucky if I can pull it together to write a post or two or marine debris. Since this upcoming weekend is the annual International Coastal Cleanup I wanting to take the time to send a shout out and a huge virtual dose of gratitude for 5 very active on-the-ground marine debris and ocean activists. If you have the chance, check out what they’re doing as I know every time I read up on what they’re accomplishing I am continually inspired. As a matter of fact, you’ll have the chance to get to know one of them a little bit more in-depth tomorrow as a part of the “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …” series. (On a side note, all of my Virginia friends and family should be on the lookout because I am gearing up to gather a crowd to participate in the Virginia Waterways Cleanups!)

Sarah Bayles of The Daily Ocean
Sarah is steadfastly collecting trash from the same beach for 20 minutes at a time for 365 non-consecutive days to “raise awareness for how much trash is on our beaches and getting into the ocean, that the solutions start with us right here on land, and that everyday we can make choices in what we consume and buy that can add up to make a difference”. Her work ethic is inspiring and she’s diligent in posting the weight of the trash she collects. At the point I write this post she collected 1,234.3 pounds in 325 days.

Danielle Richardet of It Starts With Me
Just like Sarah of Our Daily Ocean, Danielle spends 20 minutes a day cleaning a beach but in Wrightsville Beach, NC and she’s focused on finding cigarette butts. Here incredibly positive message is that “It’s simple…everything we do (or don’t do) has an impact on the world we live in. It starts with me and ripples to you…”. I wish Danielle the best as she continues her quest to “create a smoke-free beach and have proper cigarette butt disposal receptacles installed on Wrightsville Beach”. Can you believe she’s collected 50,129 cigarette butts in 156 days?

Harold Johnson of The Flotsam Diaries
Harold Johnson has been researching and collecting marine debris weekly at two very different sites (one active by beachgoers and one non-active) in Maine since June of 2010. As he puts it, “I’m hoping to learn something about the debris that arrives at the beach both by regular beachgoers, and by actions of wave & wind”. You can read his findings weekly on his blog or get some more detailed reviews of his research at Scientific American.

Cheryl ‘Sandy’ King of Sharkastics
Cheryl is interested in everything ocean-related, but has found a niche spreading the word all about sharkastics. Sharkastics are what she has termed “plastics that have obvious bite marks (e.g., jagged serrations and/or punctures). She posts many images of the debris she finds and is more than happy to share them for educational purposes (although she requests you share with her how you use them).

Tim Silverwood of Take 3: A Clean Beach Initiative
Tim is a surfer and plastic pollution spokesperson based in Australia. In 2009, he and his compadres began thinking about proactive ways the public could reduce the amount of waste entering the oceans. The Take-3 initiative was born. As the website states, “The ‘Take 3’ message is simple: take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach, waterway or…anywhere and you have made a difference”.

Here is a powerful and beautifully done depiction on why everyone is responsible for marine debris. Thanks to designer and illustrator Jenny Wang for reminding us that it is not just those that live near an ocean who contribute to ocean pollution.

More on marine debris …

I suppose this post is inspired by my frequent visits to populated beaches and the marine debris I’ve been collecting with the help of anyone that asks what I am doing. I hate scare tactics, but pictures make a big impact when it comes to what happens with what we leave behind on the beach. The effects are long lasting and unfortunately out of sight. This is just a little reminder that I hope you share.

What children have to say about marine debris

I just think this review of what children from New York City have to say about beach pollution aka marine debris is too “right on” not to share. These quotes come directly from an article on the Ocean Conservancy’s website. Check out the entire article for some wonderful crayola images the kids did too!

Fourth-graders in New York City conducted cleanups at a local beach and tallied every item they found on Ocean Conservancy’s data card, an experience shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup.

The young citizen scientists learned about the myriad ways marine debris threatens ocean health, and created graphs to show the sources of these man-made items.

They shared their findings with us, and we’d like to share them with you. Here are just a few of their observations, presented just as they’ve written them:

Understand marine debris ASAP

Oh no! It is that moment when I am finally relaxed and settled into my chair at the edge of the water and I look up from my book to see a plastic wrapper whizzing into the sea. I take a look around and do not see anyone running to grab it so I get up and run for the trash. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that trash falls out of our hands from time to time. That is why I am one of those people that tend to make the extra effort to do the right thing and pick up after someone else, I hope someone would do the same for me. Basically, I have an active imagination. I see the future of this plastic bag as having a relaxing trip to the open sea where it floats on the bright and sunny surface only to be mistaken for a nutritious and delicious jelly by a leatherback sea turtle. Only it gets lodged in the turtle’s throat. It turns out to potentially suffocate the animal and may lead to his eventual death. Yes, that is where my imagination takes me … Unfortunately it is all too much a reality. Watch this clip of an Ecuadorean team of scientists trying to save this green sea turtle who was too weak to survive since his gut was full of plastic.

This plastic bag and other man made trash items that sea creatures commonly mistake for food are collectively known as marine debris. Items may include plastic bags, cigarette butts, fishing gear, bottles, cans, caps, lids, you name it … it is marine debris. The marine debris doesn’t just come from pieces that fly out of our hands while at the beach. The trash that ends up in our ocean can come from drains and sewers on our street. The ocean is the largest body of water and a part of the world wide watershed.

One of the most alarming illustrations of how much marine debris has ended up in our ocean ecosystem is the presence of the Pacific Garbage Patch. In the northern Pacific Ocean (in between Hawaii and San Francisco) there is an island of marine debris larger than the size of Texas that is held together by a centrifugal force of the ocean current known as the North Pacific Gyre. You cannot see this patch from a satellite image because it is simply suspended particles of shoes, toys, plastics bags, wrappers, tooth brushes and many bottles.

Marine debris is everywhere and is quite a nuisance for life in the oceans. In the summer when we are all enjoying a few relaxing days on the beach or on the boat let’s do our part and “leave only footprints and take only pictures”, ok?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Learn more about marine debris from the short video by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Also, here is an excellent example of what is being done to acknowledge the issue of marine debris and taking the effort to help eliminate it. Thanks, New Hampshire!

Here is a nice site that outlines what you can do to reduce your plastic footprint.

Image (c) wildeducation.org (leatherback sea turtle) and coffeencrafts.blogspot.com (trash)

PBTs leach from our junk, build up in blubber of marine mammals

bioaccumulation_ecokids.caIt’s a harsh reality, but even our choice of phone case or mattress may not be an easy one if we’re concerned with how we affect our environment. In this 5th installment of “We affect what goes in our watershed” (see posts on fertilizers, marine debris, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals), it’s all about PBTs (persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic) chemicals and how they are a silent threat to many marine mammals, and other top predators in the sea. These toxic threats get processed into their blubber and vital organs by way of bioaccumulation (see image). Susan Shaw, Director of Marine Environmental Research Institute, recently published that the bioaccumluation of North Atlantic harbor seals and noted that “at very high exposures PBTs can impair a mammal’s immune system, making it less capable of fighting off deadly diseases”.

What are the sources of these toxins?

  • Mattresses, upholstery foam, and the plastic casings for electronics
  • From the air or washed down the drain from foam, plastic, or fabric slough off our beds, couches, curtains, and televisions
  • Leaked from manufacturing plants, runoff from cropland, or leach out of landfills.

Positive news is that manufacturers and importers agreed in 2010 to a phase-out of materials using these substances in 2010, declaring that sales will completely be irradiated at the end of 2013. In the meantime, here’s a list from the Environmental Working Group on how to reduce the exposure of the chemicals in your home, also I found a list of PBTfree products for home construction and cars from INFORM  that .

I guess the question is now, what are some things that we can do to remind our family, friends, and  neighbors that what we put in our drains and local waterway matters to the entire ocean ecosystem?

Eight citizen science projects for your day at the beach (one for every day of your beach week + a bonus)

Do you have one (or several!) of those kids just itching to be future marine scientists? It’s time to take the beach day up one more notch. Here are some citizen science projects that will definitely be lots of fun for the whole family. Trust me … they’re free and easy!

Field Photo: The Field Photo App allows you take photos during your trips to the beach (or even field trips) and geotag them and add metadata and field notes to the photos. The field photos are then uploaded where people share, visualize and archive field photos that document land use and land cover change, flood, drought, fire, and so on.

Image (c) The Shark Trust

Image (c) The Shark Trust

Great Eggcase Hunt Project: The Great Eggcase Hunt aims to get as many people as possible hunting for eggcases that have either been washed ashore (or are found by divers and snorkelers underwater). The empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) are an easily accessible source of information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds and will provide the Trust with a better understanding of species abundance and distribution. While it originated in the UK over a decade ago, The Shark Trust has been collecting data in the US since 2003.

Jellywatch: Have you seen a jellyfish, red tide, a squid, or other unusual marine life recently? If so, tell them about it! Marine biologists need your help to develop a better understanding of the ocean. You can help us even more by submitting a picture of what you saw!

Marine Debris Tracker: The simple tool allows users to report the type of debris and its location through GPS features pre-installed on a cell phone. (Check out this list of apps for the beach, too!)

Osprey Watch: OspreyWatch is a global community of observers focused on documenting breeding osprey. There is no charge to participate and we welcome new volunteers to the program.

Image (c) Andrew Baksh

Image (c) Andrew Baksh

Ringed-Billed Gulls: In 2013, researchers from MIT and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation started using the same scheme as the project originators in Canada using blue or red plastic bands and 3 codes to band ring-billed sea gulls. Nearly 700 birds have been marked.

If you observed one of these banded gulls, you can report your sighting using an online form.

Secchi Dip-In: The Secchi Dip-In is a demonstration of the potential of volunteers to monitor and gather environmentally important information on our lakes, rivers and estuaries. The concept of the Dip-In is simple: individuals in volunteer monitoring programs take a transparency measurement on one day during the month of July (but, they accept data after the deadline as well).

Wildlife Health Event Reporter: The Wildlife Health Event Reporter allows you to observe and record events that may identify important changes in the environment. It’s an experimental tool that hopes to harness the power of the many eyes of the public to better detect these changes.

Maryland moves closer to banning microbeads

Plastic microbeads on a penny. Photo credit: 5Gyres

Plastic microbeads on a penny. Photo credit: 5Gyres

Reported on the Baltimore Sun’s B’More Green  blog, “Consumer products such as toothpaste and cosmetic scrubs containing tiny plastic “microbeads” could be banned from store shelves in Maryland after 2018 under a bill unanimously approved Thursday by the state Senate”. These means that if the bill passes the House, “Maryland will be the second state after Illinois to order a phase-out of the manufacture or sale of consumer products containing the beads”.

What is a microbead? It’s a tiny particle of plastic that never break down. What’s incredibly harmful is that they are being drained into local streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and ocean and affecting our waterways. There are over 50 products on the shelves in the US that contain harmful microbeads! Find a list of products sold in the United States that contain microbeads (i.e., polythene) here.

Here is some alarming information on the microbeads, marine debris, and our ocean trash in general.

  1. A single tube of facial cleanser can contain over 3000,000 microbeads.
  2. More than 450,000 microbeads per square kilometer were found in some parts of Lake Erie.
  3. In the ocean there are approximately 5.25 trillion plastic particles.
  4. For every foot of coastline there is approximately five grocery bags filled with plastic, according to estimates in 2010.
  5. Six continents have microfibers washing up on their shores.
  6. Shores near sewage treatment plants have the highest concentration of microfibers washing up.
  7. Nearly 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated by coastal countries in 2010 — and that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that plastic made its way to the oceans.
  8. Each year, 8.8 million tons of plastic goes into the oceans.
  9. The estimate for 2015 is 9.1 million metric tons.
  10. On average, Americans use 220 pounds of plastic per year.
  11. 17% of all marine animals impacted by manmade debris are threatened or near threatened.
  12. Trash will likely increase tenfold over the next decade.

One Big Wave, and Millions of Lost Legos

Lego dragons Bigbury

Photos courtesy of Tracey Williams

On Feb. 13, 1997, about 20 miles off the coast of England, a massive wave hit the freighter Tokio Express, toppling 62 giant containers into the rough north Atlantic seas.

Trapped inside one of them: nearly 5 million Legos. Many floated to the surface. Carried by currents, they’re still being found on beaches around the world nearly two decades later. Others remain on the ocean floor. It’s not unusual for fishermen trawling the Atlantic to haul up tiny Legos.

The fact that so many of the pieces were nautical themed – sea dragons, pirate swords, sea grass and scuba gear, among others – has turned the Lego spill into one of the most famous and unusual marine debris incidents in recent maritime history.

In Newquay, a seaside town in England, writer and longtime beachcomber Tracey Williams started a Facebook page a few years ago – Legos Lost at Sea – that tracks the whereabouts of the lost Legos as they wash up onto beaches.

Williams recently spoke to the Beach Chair Scientist blog about her work, and you can hear more of what she has to say below. But she hopes to turn the public fascination, much of it generated from a recent BBC story on the spill, into a teaching moment about the harmful environmental impact of marine debris.

Lego octopus Terena

“Clearly, 5 million pieces of Legos spilling into the ocean isn’t good for the environment,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. After the BBC interviewed her about her site a while back, the publicity resulted in people contacting her with stories about beach-bound Legos around the world.

“It has connected beachcombers all around the world, which is fascinating,” Williams said.

She received one report of a Lego flipper found on an Australian beach. She’s also heard from the family of a woman who had scoured the beaches for Lego dragons as a hobby in her 80s, passing her finds along t0 younger generations.

“Obviously, marine debris is a big problem. But I think many children have been captivated by this whole Lego story … I think it reminds people of their childhood. It’s the whole issue of marine debris. Oceanographers are interested in how far it’s spread.”

Meanwhile, she also hears from fishermen who come across Lego pieces in their nets.

“Half of it sinks and half of it floats,” Williams said, referring to the sorts of Legos that fell off the Tokio Express. “So clearly, while we’re finding certain items washed up on our shores like the spear guns and the flippers, fishermen are actually finding other pieces like window frames and car chassis.”

While the lost Legos have made for fun beach combing and treasure hunts, there are bigger questions beneath the surface. If the contents of just one toppled shipping container can spread around the world for decades, what about far bigger and more dangerous spills that go unnoticed because they don’t happen to have Legos in them?

“There were 62 containers that fell off the Tokio Express back in 1997 and we only know about what  was in three of them,” Williams said.

“What’s in all of the others and when will that all wash ashore?”

You can listen to more of Williams and the story of the lost Legos here:

And that concludes my “We affect what goes in our watershed” week

This week I shared insight on the theme what we do in our daily lives affects our waterways. It’s particularly surprising to come to the realization that even though we might not live anywhere near a river, lake, or stream our daily actions have massive consequences on the waterways – and ultimately the ocean. It’s all interconnected. Remember “gas from our cars – not tankers or pipelines – is responsible for 92% of the petroleum spilled into the water”? The products we buy affect marine mammals. Plastic (i.e., marine debris) accumulates not just in the Pacific Ocean, but in the North Atlantic and possibly every sea on the planet. Fish are affected by the medication we take (not just that we dump down the drain!). Lastly, what we use on our lawns and gardens causes eutrophication – depleting waterways of oxygen and leading to the fish kills.

This weekend I am very grateful that my husband and neighbors will be helping me to label the storm drains in our neighborhood as a project for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. I have a picture of a stack of 50 below. They look pretty sophisticated. Does your neighborhood have labeled storm drains? Share with me how effective you think they are and if they’re as interesting as these in Baltimore, MD.

photo2

The complete list of the “We affect what goes in our watershed” week

Here are pictures of the storm drain labeling event.

Did you know what we add to our garden affects the ocean?

It’s officially day 4 of the “We affect what goes in our watershed” week (see posts on marine debris, oil, and pharmaceuticals). This time it’s all about fertilizers. Researchers whom published in the February 2011 edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters pointed out the human use of phosphorous, primarily in the industrialized world, is causing the widespread eutrophication of fresh surface water. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never noticed that I dump phosphorus down any drains or waterways. But, did you know that phosphorous and other harmful nutrients are in the fertilizers we use to keep lawns fresh and sprightly each spring (right around the corner!)? While these nutrients may nourish our gardens they also cause the fast growth of algae (i.e., algal blooms). The algae then feed bacteria, which deplete the waterways of oxygen ensuring that many animals and plants do not survive. Also, the fast growth of the algae will block out essential light needed for photosynthesis. This epidemic of eutrophication can be a very costly and damaging to our rivers, streams, lakes, and even ocean. Below is an image from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (a division of NOAA) comparing places that have a high (right) and low (left) frequency of eutrophication.
healthy-eutro-diagram_coastalscience.noaa.gov
Want a way to ensure you don’t add to the eutrophication? I like the green manure method from Down to Earth for my garden, but McGreary Organics has a good one for lawns as well. I think I’ll be depressing just one more day and ask once again, besides fertilizers, marine debris, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals, what are some other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?