Posts Tagged 'marine debris'

Thoughtful Thursday: International Coastal Cleanup

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The International Coastal Cleanup is an annual coordinated volunteer effort to remove debris that has accumulated in our oceans and on our coasts. It is a chance for world citizens that are concerned about the health of our oceans and waterways to participate in meaningful action that will make a difference. In 2012, more than 560,000 volunteers from 97 countries picked up more the 10 million pounds of trash. This year’s efforts begin this weekend and will last throughout the coming weeks.

ft. mchenry cleanup

All types of volunteer groups will join forces over the next couple of weekends to remove and quantify the trash ending up in our waters. Because this is a coordinated effort led by the Ocean Conservancy, each volunteer will be asked to fill out a standard data sheet. This allows event coordinators to track the amount and types of trash that end up on our coasts every year and to make comparisons across the globe and through the years. Ultimately, it informs and focuses the efforts being made to change behaviors that will benefit our natural world.

The top ten list of items found on our beaches during the cleanup should come as no surprise to anyone. The list includes cigarettes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers and straws – all single use items that we’ve come to rely on in our society of convenience. With the exception of cigarettes, the global list closely mirrors the list the National Aquarium has been tallying at Fort McHenry over the past 14 years. Of the 600,000+ items collected in this area over the years, more than 95 percent has been plastic or foamed plastic.

These items weren’t born in the ocean or the harbor, they were carelessly discarded on land and delivered to the nearest stream (often via storm sewers). From here, there are carried downstream by the tides and water flow until they end up on a shoreline somewhere.

Plastic debris at Ft. McHenry National Monument and Shrine here in Baltimore. Plastic pollution is seriously hurting the ocean and its inhabitants!

We know, if we want to make a difference, we need to stop the debris at its source – cleaning it up after the fact is not a long-term solution! We need to look at our own behaviors and determine how to eliminate the flow of debris from our homes to our streets to our waterways. We thought that if we focus on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we would be successful.

For many years, the emphasis has been on recycling. In truth, recycling should be our last choice. Our ultimate success will depend upon how well we can assimilate the fourth R into the equation – Refuse. This world does not have unlimited resources and we need to stop acting like it does. We need to be thoughtful in our everyday consumer decisions so that we look beyond the gratification of that warm cup of coffee or cold soda and begin to consider the real-world costs of the decisions we make. The real-world cost of using non-degradable, oil-based, disposable drink ware instead of carrying a reusable coffee mug.

In the mean time, while we are figuring out how to turn our consumer society on it’s ear, we have a big mess to clean up. In my job, I get to see much of the Chesapeake Bay. I get to travel to it’s islands and remote wetland habitats and enjoy all of the benefits our natural world has to offer. In all of those travels, I have never seen a shoreline unmarred by the sight of trash. It’s everywhere. Baltimore and the more populated areas of the watershed are admittedly more affected by debris, but there is no place that is immune. If we want to truly champion a healthy Chesapeake (healthy for humans and animals alike), we need a trash-free environment. It is possible and we can start today.

If you haven’t already, register to join us at our October 5th Fort McHenry event in Baltimore or find another International Coastal Cleanup event near you!

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A Blue View: Our Ocean Junk

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 5, 2013: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A Blue View podcastListen to John discuss how marine debris
is seriously affecting the health of our oceans. 

In 1900, plastic debris did not exist in the ocean. Today, hundreds of millions of metric tons affect our seas. The oceans need our help now.

Imagine a stroll along the beach. You might picture a beautiful, uncluttered expanse of blue. The reality is that the ocean is a complex system filled with plants, animals, minerals, elements, and, yes, trash.

This trash often ends up in a gyre.  Gyres are large areas of calm water that are encircled by ocean currents formed by the earth’s wind patterns and rotation of the planet. Debris that drifts into these gyres stays there for years – pushed gently in a slow spiral toward the center. Every ocean in the world has a gyre, with additional gyres near Antarctica and Alaska.

five gyres

Map courtesy of 5 gyres.

Within these enormous ocean junkyards, you aren’t likely to see giant pieces of plastic and other trash floating on the surface. Animal ingestion and entanglement in larger types of marine debris is a major issue. But primarily, these garbage patches are made up of plastic that has broken down over time into smaller, sometimes microscopic, pieces. This plastic is suspended in a layer of the water column that reaches below the surface. Because most of the debris isn’t readily visible on the surface, the size of the garbage patch cannot be seen or tracked by satellite or aircraft.

These plastic particles that circulate through oceans act as sponges for contaminants that have washed through our watersheds. These persistent organic pollutants absorb into plastic in high concentrations. Once in the oceans, fish and other marine animals cannot avoid eating this minute particles, so plastic enters the ocean food chain at its most basic level. These fish are then eater by other fish and organisms, delivering this pollution to onto our dinner plate.

So who is responsible for cleaning up these oceanic garbage dumps? Because these gyres are so far from any country’s coastline, no nation has been willing to take responsibility. It’s up to concerned citizens to make this issue a priority. One group that has stepped up to inform and inspire the public about this issue is 5 Gyres. Through events and other outreach opportunities around the country, including at both National Aquarium venues in 2012, the group aims to conduct research and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution.

Since plastics are not going away, we as a culture need to figure out how to balance our use of these items with awareness and concern for their impact on the environment. This issue may seem insurmountable, but even one person cutting back on their plastic consumption can make a difference starting today.

Did you know? Approximately 29 billion bottles are purchased every year in the United States. Make a pledge to reduce your consumption of plastic bottles today and help us take better care of our oceans! 

This World Oceans Day, Let’s Celebrate How Water Connects Us All

world oceans day

On June 8, organizations and communities from around the world will join to celebrate the Earth’s largest life-support system, the ocean. World Oceans Day, first celebrated in 2002, was established to help educate others on how much of an impact the ocean has on our lives and what we need to do to protect it!

Why we should celebrate the ocean, by the numbers: 

For 2.6 billion people, the ocean is their primary source of protein.

For 3 billion people, the ocean is their livelihood.

For all of us, the ocean absorbs more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, slowing climate change and allowing us a quality of life that, without the ocean, would not be possible (if we could survive at all).

A recent estimate suggests that there may be as many as 1 million species of non-bacterial life in the world’s waterways YET to be identified.

Though Earth is 70 percent water, an incredible 90 percent of this aquatic real estate has yet to be discovered.

While it’s great for the global community to unify this day in celebration of the ocean, here are five easy ways you can protect this vital resource every day:

  1. Reduce your energy use
    Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels can lead to ocean acidification, which is harmful to ocean life. You can help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere by riding a bike, walking or using public transportation and by turning off the lights when you leave a room.
  2. Use less plastic
    When plastic debris ends up in the ocean, animals can mistake it for food and eat it by accident, causing animals to choke or clogging their digestive systems. You can prevent this by limiting plastic use and always disposing of trash properly. Choose reusable items such as cloth grocery bags or refillable water bottles.
  3. Cut apart six-pack rings
    The plastic rings used for soda containers can pose a threat to marine life. Creatures can get caught in the rings and sometimes are unable to free themselves. You can help save these animals by cutting apart the rings before throwing them in the trash.
  4. Conserve water
    Reducing your water use can minimize wastewater runoff into the ocean, preventing chemicals and other contaminants from damaging marine habitats. You can conserve water by taking quicker showers and turning off the water when brushing your teeth.
  5. Eat sustainable seafood
    Overfishing can lead to an irreparable loss in certain seafood populations. To prevent this, avoid catching or eating certain species that have been exploited, such as bluefin tuna and Chilean seabass. Visit seafoodwatch.org for more sustainable seafood recommendations!

Thoughtful Thursdays: The Impact of Marine Debris on Animal Strandings

On Sunday, July 15, the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) team was alerted to a live stranded dolphin at the northern-most end of Assateague Island National Seashore. The body condition of the animal appeared normal, but the animal’s behavior indicated it was stressed.

The animal was identified as an Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), strandings of which have been rarely documented in Maryland. Atlantic spotted dolphins are different from Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, but share similar habitat off the coast of Maryland during the summer months. Spotted dolphins are typically a darker purplish-gray and have variable spots that develop with age, and are often found in groups of 20 or more individuals. When an individual animal of a social species strands, it can be an indicator that the animal separated from a group due to reasons such as health or social issues.

Trained first responders arrived on the scene and acted quickly to provide triage and coordinate a plan to move the animal off the island. Unfortunately, the condition of the animal deteriorated during transport and the animal was humanely euthanized by Aquarium veterinarians to relieve suffering.

While this outcome is unfortunate, there is still a great deal that we can learn from the experience and from all stranded animals. For every animal that does not survive, we perform a complete necropsy (an animal autopsy). In this case, we worked closely with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Final necropsy results are still pending, but there was one surprising find – an intact nitrile-coated glove was found in the stomach of the animal. This was likely a contributing factor to the cause for stranding.

Sadly, our MARP team sees this sort of case all too often. Many animals mistake trash for food and ingest all sorts of manmade, toxic items. To an endangered leatherback sea turtle, a plastic bag floating in the water looks like a tasty jellyfish—its primary prey. Trash and contaminants in the water pose health threats to humans, as well. Whether we live along the shore or hundreds of miles inland, our lives are all intimately connected to the ocean.

We caused this problem, and it’s up to us to fix it. We need to work together in international camaraderie to prevent items from reaching the water in the first place.

A member of the National Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) cleans up garbage at Ft. McHenry

There are a number of ways you can help!

  • Be mindful of safely disposing of all your trash, especially while on the beach or out on the water. What washes up on our shores is only a fraction of the garbage that ends up in the ocean.
  • Sign up for a conservation event like the International Coastal Cleanup (happening September 15, 2012).
  • Help out with one of the Aquarium’s conservation projects around the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic coast.

Thoughtful Thursdays: Save the Monk Seals

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

I recently attended the National Wildlife Federation annual meeting. This is the one time during the year that all state affiliates gather to decide areas of focus for NWF in the future. At this meeting, conservation resolutions are proposed, debated, and voted on.

For this year’s consideration, the Conservation Council of Hawaii asked the National Aquarium to be a co-sponsor of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Resolution. We gladly signed on, and I’m happy to say the resolution was adopted by the affiliates.
Hawaiian Monk Seal

Photo credit: NOAA

With fewer than 1,100 individuals remaining, the Hawaiian monk seal is the most endangered marine mammal in U.S. waters. Monk seals are at risk due to entanglement in fishing gear and other marine debris, overfishing, inadequate marine protected areas, invasive species, canine diseases, ocean acidification, sea level rise, and intentional killing by individuals who view the seals as competition for declining fish stocks.

Monk Seal Entangled

A Hawaiian monk seal entangled in fishing debris. Photo credit: NOAA

The critical status of the Hawaiian monk seal warrants our immediate and prolonged attention. The fate of this species is intricately related to ocean health issues and to additional pressures we humans are subjecting to this animal and the delicate ecosystem it calls home.
We are calling for federal agencies to implement policies and funding mechanisms that will serve to protect Hawaiian monk seal habitat and promote the recovery and reestablishment of the species throughout its native range.

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