Category Archives: Ocean

Engulfed by Plastic

Plastics are part of most of our daily activities. From the moment we wake up and use our plastic toothbrush, soaps and cosmetics from plastic containers, drink and eat foods also kept or wrapped in plastic, and go to work in front of our plastic computers and sit on our plastic chairs. We then go shopping and use plastic bags to transport stuff contained in plastic, drink from plastic bottles, and use our plastic TV’s and phones.

Only in the U.S. we use 60,000 plastic bags every 5 seconds! (By Chris Jordan)

And when we are done we just throw the plastic “away” and buy some more the next day, and the next, for the rest of our lives.

2 million Plastic Bottles are used in the US every 5 minutes (By Chris Jordan)

But where does plastic come from?

The process of making plastic begins with carbon from petroleum, natural gas or coal. Elements can be combined in different ways to achieve a  different type of plastic. The final product can range from a hard and shatter proof plastic container to a soft and flexible plastic wrap.

Plastics are durable, cheap, light and can be made into almost anything.

And it’s these useful properties which make plastics so harmful when they end up in the environment. Plastics do not degrade and stay in the environment for ever. Plastics “photo-degrade”, a process in which it is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic particles, eventually becoming individual molecules of plastic.

It makes no sense to make disposable items such as water bottles or plastic bags that we are going to use for only a few minutes out of a material that is going to last forever in the environment.

And where does all this plastic end up?

Most of the plastic we use ends up in one of the overflowing landfills around the globe, but a lot of it ends up in the oceans. Only a small fraction gets recycled.

Plastic trash is found in the most remote parts of our oceans

Our oceans are becoming plastic dumps and marine life is taking a big toll.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, seals, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags or plastic pieces mistaken for food.

Plastic bags look like jelly fish to most marine life

Sea turtles mistake plastics for food

Plastics are found even in the most remote parts of the ocean.

There are areas in the ocean where plastic accumulates more than in other places due to the ocean currents. One of the most studied is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of the Pacific Ocean created by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s a plastic soup that has concentrations in some areas of plastic 40 times greater than that of plankton. That means there is 40 times more plastic than food for the marine animals to eat. Scientists estimate its size as twice the area Texas to the size of the continental United States.

These pictures show examples of marine life impacted by plastics (the photos have not been manipulated):

Albatros Stomach filled with Plastics

Plastic Seal

Turtle in Plastic Ring

What can we do!?

It’s almost impossible to avoid using plastics, but there are a few things that we can easily do to stop dumping plastics into the environment

– Stop buying plastic water bottles, bring your own water bottle around and use water filters at home. It’s even better for your health since plastic bottles can leach nasty chemicals into the water.

You can get some cool bottles at KleanKanteen or Sigg.

-Stop using Plastic bags. Use reusable bags instead! Whether you are shopping for groceries, clothes or  anything else always bring your own bag.

You can get really nice reusable bags at any grocery store, but any bag that you have around the house will do. This are also some alternatives: Ecobags, Chicobags, Reuseit, and SnackTaxi for your sandwiches and lunches!

-Buy Less Packaged Food: Buy in bulk or get food and goods that come in the least amount of package as possible.

-Use soap bars and be mindful of the plastic containers that you buy and if possible avoid them.

-Recycle: Get a recycling bin from your local recycling program or go to Earth 911 a website that allows you to put in your zip code and any material you want to recycle. It will give you the phone number of the nearest facility in charge of collecting that material.

Sources:

Bag it the Movie

Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Chris Jordan

OCEANA

GREENPEACE

NOAA

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Avoiding Fishy Mercury

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Fish consumption is generally very healthy. They contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid that promotes healthy cardiovascular systems.

In a recent article I discussed different fish based on their environmental impact and fishing practices and suggested Eco-friendly fish for your consumption. Today I want to consider mercury levels in fish and its health effects, especially in kids and pregnant women.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, which is found in soil, rocks, lakes, streams and oceans. In addition to natural sources, mercury is released into the atmosphere and water from man made sources, such as coal generated power plants, mining operations and paper processing plants.

It is first released into the air and then enters the water with precipitation. Once in the water, methane-generating bacteria turn the mercury into methyl mercury, a highly toxic form of mercury. Fish consume methyl mercury through their diet and absorb it from the water. Predatory fish (fish that eat other fish) and older fish generally contain higher levels of methyl mercury than vegetarian or smaller fish.

Mercury bio-accumulates in fatty tissues. This means is that when a larger fish eats a smaller fish, it accumulates the level of methyl-mercury that the smaller fish contained. When it eats another smaller fish, it accumulates some more methyl mercury. The more fish it consumes, the more methyl-mercury it accumulates, and the level does not drop. Then along comes an even bigger fish and eats the fish that ate the smaller fish. This large predatory fish accumulates all the mercury of the fish it just ate and so the vicious circle continues.

And then when we humans eat a juicy fillet of that large fish, we consume all that accumulated mercury.

That’s why predatory long lived fish have the highest concentrations of mercury in their tissues, and those are the ones that we should avoid.

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Mercury can cause damage to the nervous system if consumed in sufficient amounts over a period of time. When you eat fish that contains methyl mercury, it is absorbed through the intestine and spread throughout the body. It affects the nervous system because it easily enters the brain. In pregnant women, methyl mercury can cross the placenta affecting the growing fetus. Methyl mercury is also passed through breast milk, increasing the risk of delays in brain development. The child may experience delayed motor skills and learning problems.

Most governmental, health and environmental organization recommends pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children to limit or stop the consumption of predatory fish such as tuna, shark, grouper and swordfish. For the remainder of the population, the standard recommendation is to consume these fish no more than once every two weeks to a month (depending on body weight).

Following you’ll find a list of fish with high, medium and low levels of MERCURY:

HIGH: Swordfish(*), Marlin, Tuna(*), Shark(*), Grouper (*), King Mackerel.

MEDIUM: Bass, Cod (*), Halibut, Lobster, Mahi Mahi(*), Snapper.

LOW: Sardines, Oysters, Salmon, Crab, Tilapia, Shrimp (*), Trout, Herring, Mackerel (not king), Clams.

(*) Highly Environmentally Destructive Practices

SOURCES

EPA

NRDC

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Less than 50 years to say goodbye to Sushi

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 % of the world’s fisheries are now either over-exploited, fully exploited or significantly depleted. A study published in Nature concluded that 90 % of the “big” fish (tuna, swordfish, and marlin) are already gone.

Scientists agree that if we continue to fish at our current rates, all commercial fish species will disappear in the next 50 years.

Government subsidies to the fishing sector, totaling approximately $20 billion annually, represent one of the principal forces behind the overfishing crisis. But the biggest force behind this crisis are the world’s industrial fishing fleets which are destroying the ocean at an alarming rate.

If all the fish we ate was caught old school using a simple fishing rod the oceans would be in much better shape. Small fishermen are trying to shift to sustainable practices, because they are realizing that overfishing is not only destroying the ocean, but also destroying their livelihood, leaving them with no fish left  to catch.

But unfortunately most of the fish that we consume doesn’t come from sustainable sources, it comes from large industrial boats that use highly destructive fishing methods and harvest massive amounts of fish at an unsustainable rate.

Following are some of the most destructive and also most common fishing practices. This is how the fish we consume gets harvested from our oceans and ends in our kitchen and restaurant tables:

Bottom Trawling:

Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, coral, sponges, plants, and all kids of sea life. It literally scraps the ocean floor clean of life.

It is used to fish cod, haddock, squid, shrimp and crustaceans among other commercial fish.

If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers will destroy deep sea species before we have even discovered much of what is out there. What we are doing to our deep oceans by allowing trawling is like driving a huge bulldozer through an unexplored, lush and richly populated forest leaving a flat and lifeless desert.

This practice is so widespread and damaging that it can even be seen from space:

bottom-trawling-from-space

Bottom Trawling from Space

Botom Trawling

Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawler

Bottom Trawler (Greenpeace)

spanish_trawler

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Long lines:

Long-lining is one of the most widespread methods of fishing. The lines are up to 130 km long (80 miles) and have hundreds of thousands of baited hooks at a time. The hooks are dragged behind the boat at varying depths or are kept afloat by buoys and left overnight.

This method is used to catch mainly tuna and swordfish, but it also kills millions of sea birds, dolphins turtles, and other marine life every year.

pelagic_longline

Oceana

turtle__fishing_line

Turtle killed by a long line

Gillnets:

Gill nets hang like massive curtains in the oceans, drifting with the currents. Ranging from 3.5 to 10 km in length, gill nets are weighted at the bottom and held upright by floats at the top, creating what some have deemed “walls of death.”

Fish are unable to see the netting, and unless the mesh size is larger than the fish, they get stuck. When they try to back out, the netting catches them by their gills or fins and they get stuck.

In many occasions they are left to drift for days an many of them get lost (become ghost nets) killing thousands of untargeted marine life- specially dolphins, turtles and seals.

Gilnet (By Oceana)

Gilnet (By Oceana)

ww1994-gillnet

Sea Lion killed by Gillnet

Purse Seines:

This is the primary fishing method for tuna fish. Tuna swim at the same level as dolphins, and fishermen usually track dolphin pods in order to locate tuna.

The dolphin schools are then chased by small high-speed boats or even helicopters that accompany the fishing boats. When the dolphins begin to tire, the fishermen encircle the school with huge nylon nets that are up to 5 km long and 100 m deep. When both the dolphins and the tuna have been completely surrounded, the bottom of the net is pulled closed, much like a drawstring purse, hence the name purse-seining. Purse-seining has proven to be an extremely effective method of catching fish. Entire schools of tuna are able to be scooped up without a single fish escaping. Unfortunately, many dolphins are also killed in the process, as they become entangled in the nets and drown, or are crushed as the nets are pursed and hauled in.

pursesiene

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Solutions:

  • Only 0.8% of the ocean is protected, we need to make more ocean sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited.
  • We need to ban these destructive fishing practices which are not only damaging the oceans, but also endangering the only protein source of millions of people and endangering the livelihood of many small fishermen.
  • Shifting to sustainable  fishing practices,  having stricter quotas and regulations could aid the recovery of most commercial fisheries.
  • Demand and support safer fishing alternatives, it is possible and it must be done soon!
  • Aquaculture can be an alternative, but it also has many negative consequences if not properly managed. There are sustainable aquaculture farms, but it depends on the fish you want to grow (some species are more suitable than others) and the methods used.

Guide to sustainable Sea Food :

Most Sustainable Fish : Anchovies, Sardines, Salmon (Wild), Mussels, Mackerel (Atlantic), Oysters (Farmed), Trout, Clams (Farmed), Lobster, Halibut, Crab.

Least Sustainable: Chilean Sea Bass, Tuna, Grouper, Cod, Swordfish, Shrimp, Salmon (Farmed), Octopus, Monk fish, Mahimahi (Imported), Snapper (Imported).

—————————————————————————————————————————

(Spanish)

Guia para comer pescado/marisco:

Mejores opciones: Anchoas/Boquerones, Sardinas, Salmon (Salvaje), Mejillones, Cavalla, Ostras (Cultivadas), Trucha, Almejas (Cultivadas), Langosta, Cangrejo.

Marisco menos sostenible:  Atun, Bacalao, Pez Espada/Emperador, Gambas (importadas), Salmon (piscifactoria), Lubina (Importada de Chile/Asia), Pulpo, Rape, Dorada (Asia o Sur America)

SOURCES:

Oceana

Greenpeace

WWF

Environmental Defense Fund

Sea Level Rise will be worse than anticipated

Sea level rise is one of the most feared consequences of global warming.

Polar ice caps and mountain glaciers are melting at such an alarming rate, that scientists don’t seem to agree how many meters the sea level will rise and how fast it will happen.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change worst case scenario predictions were of less than 1 m of sea level rise by the end of the century, but apparently they were way too optimistic. Recent studies suggest that the IPCC global sea level rise predictions were seriously underestimated.

The two major ice sheets that will most likely cause sea level rise (when melted) are Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But the amount of ice that will melt and the time it will take it’s still unknown.

Greenland is the world’s largest island, with an area of over 2 million square kilometers. Most of the island is covered by an ice cap that can reach thicknesses of 3 kilometers

Data from a NASA satellite shows that the melting rate has dramatically accelerated since 2000.

If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m.

Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres per year. Most scientists agree that the melting won’t be gradual, there will be a tipping point when the melting will abruptly accelerate. When will this happen is still unknown.

greenland_melting

National Snow and Ice Data Centre

 

We have known about Greenland’s dangerous warming for a while, but we recently learned that Antarctica is no longer immune to global warming.

A very recent study (Mann, et. al) published in Nature magazine, shows the increased and abrupt warming of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Mann explains that “a larger part of West Antarctica is melting than previously thought”.

In stark contrast, a large part of the continent — the East Antarctic Ice Sheet — was found to be getting colder. The cooling was linked to another anthropogenic (human-caused) effect: ozone depletion.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is 1,800 meters above sea level and holds approximately 2.2 million cubic kilometers of ice, about the same amount of ice contained in the Greenland Ice Sheet.

 

NASA

NASA

Jerry Mitrovica, co-author of a new and groundbreaking study (published in Science) explains that “The West Antarctic is fringed by ice shelves, which act to stabilize the ice sheet — these shelves are sensitive to global warming, and if they break up, the ice sheet will have a lot less impediment to collapse”.

Whether or when this ice sheet might collapse and melt is still very uncertain, but even a partial melt would have a bigger impact on some coastal areas than others.

Sea level rise will not happen uniformly around the globe. When physical and gravitational factors are applied to projections of sea level rise, the impact on coastal areas is dramatically worse in some parts of the world than predicted so far.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that a full collapse of the WAIS would raise sea levels by 5 meters globally.
Mitrovica explains that this is an oversimplification, and that sea level rise will be higher than expected, and greater in some places than in others (such as North America).

This study shows three important factors that the IPCC overlooked:

  • Gravity: Huge ice sheets exert a gravitational pull on the nearby ocean, drawing water toward it. If an ice sheet melted, that pull would be gone, and water would move away. In the case of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the water would move away from the south towards northern latitudes.

  • Rebound: The WAIS is called a marine-based ice sheet because the weight of all that ice has depressed the bedrock underneath to the point that most of it sits below sea level. If all, or even some, of that ice melts, the bedrock will rebound, pushing some of the water on top of it out into the ocean, further contributing to sea level rise.

  • Earth’s rotation: A collapse of the WAIS would also shift the South Pole location of the earth’s rotation axis from its present location. This would shift water from the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans northward toward North America and the southern Indian Ocean.

Mitrovica explains that “The net effect of all of these processes is that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses, the rise in sea levels around many coastal regions will be as much as 25 % more than expected, for a total of between 6 and 7 meters if the whole ice sheet melts,”. That’s a lot of additional water, particularly around such highly populated areas as Washington, D.C., New York City, and the California coastline.

“We aren’t suggesting that a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is imminent,” said study co-author Peter Clark of Oregon State University. “But these findings do suggest that if you are planning for sea level rise, you had better plan a little higher.”

 

Click here for a great interview with the researchers of this amazing study.

If you want to see different scenarios of sea level rise in your area go to Google Flood Maps, select 5-7 m and zoom in your home town to see if in the next 100 years your home will be under water!