This is why sea life eats plastic (this, and other revelations from the New England Aquarium)

I’m going to assume you’ve seen that video of a straw being pulled out of a sea turtle’s nose (if you haven’t, and you for some reason want to, here it is).

You’ve probably also seen images of plastic trash floating in the ocean (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing), waves of waste pummeling our shores, and seabirds caught in garbage… I could go on.

But what you probably haven’t seen is a sea turtle munching down on its lunch.

Myrtle the Sea Turtle

Last month I visited the New England Aquarium for the first time. After climbing the spiral ramp to the top, I was greeted by Myrtle the sea turtle — a majestic (about) 90-year-old female turtle who had been collected from the wild and transferred from an aquarium in Rhode Island.

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Aptly dubbed Queen of the Ocean Tank, the friendly 550 pound turtle peeped in and out of the dozens of viewing holes around the Aquarium’s spiral tank, so that everyone can see her. Luckily, I was there for feeding time.

I watched as the volunteers started throwing lettuce into the top of the tank, and Myrtle swam right toward it, not even stopping to think what she was putting in her mouth.

And then this horrible thought occurred to me — the lettuce looks exactly like a plastic bag, and it’s no wonder so many marine animals mistake plastic for food.

Watch as she goes straight for this lettuce:

Sure, she’s in captivity and she knows it’s her food (and that it’s feeding time). But think about starving marine animals who don’t know the difference between plastic and food in the wild! It’s no wonder so many animals end up with plastic in their stomachs.

While she eats a plethora of things (from veggies like brussels sprouts to marine animals like squid), I couldn’t get the image of a sea turtle chomping down on lettuce out of my head.

No Plastic Here

The New England Aquarium is a plastic free facility, and this gives me hope for many more museums, zoos, and facilities like it.

They don’t sell plastic water bottles — instead, they provide water in aluminum cans (completely recyclable!) called Open Water, and have refillable bottle stations throughout the aquarium. They also only provide straws and lids on request which is a practice more businesses should take into consideration — less plastic waste going into the waste stream!

A Climate Change Education Mecca

The information boards across the countless exhibits at the New England Aquarium also provided amazing information about HOW people can help fight climate change personally, which was an amazing contrast to the usual rhetoric of “we can’t do anything unless it’s enormous change across the entire planet.”

Here are some ways the aquarium suggests you can help fight climate change, which in turn helps conserve the ocean:

  • Choose ocean-friendly seafood
  • Walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation
  • Use fuel-efficient vehicles and energy efficient appliances
  • Support policies that reduce carbon emissions

If you’re looking for ways to help Myrtle and other sea turtles, you can donate to the Ocean Conservancy or the New England Aquarium’s Center for Ocean Life.

You can also take every day actions like reducing your use of plastic, using reusable water bottles when you can, and reducing your carbon emissions! We only have one Earth (and ocean!).

*Update: After tweeting this at the aquarium, they pointed me to this resource, where you can pledge to lower your plastic use! Check it out: https://pledge.ourhands.org/

Please, PLEASE, cut down on your plastic use

I am BEGGING YOU. This isn’t a drill anymore — plastic is EVERYWHERE. And it’s a huge problem.

From the National Geographic June 2018 issue:

Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.

No one knows how much unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean, Earth’s last sink. In 2015, Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor, caught everyone’s attention with a rough estimate: between 5.3 million and 14 million tons each year just from coastal regions. Most of it isn’t thrown off ships, she and her colleagues say, but is dumped carelessly on land or in rivers, mostly in Asia. It’s then blown or washed into the sea. Imagine five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash, Jambeck says, sitting on every foot of coastline around the world—that would correspond to about 8.8 million tons, her middle-of-the-road estimate of what the ocean gets from us annually. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.

I want to point this specific part out to you: “It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.”

We can only do so much to clean up what’s out there. So here’s what you can do to slow it down:

1. Stop using single use items

We all do it. Even me (hey, I never claimed to be perfect). But we can be better about this. One of most impactful things we can do is STOP USING STRAWS. There’s a great replacement coming to market soon for a traveling, collapsible straw, but in the meantime, just buy straws and take them with you if you have to — or just stop using them. K-Cups are just as bad, if not worse (they could wrap around the planet 10 TIMES). If you have to use them, make your own reusable ones. Buy compostable ones (though, those aren’t that great either). Cut down on your deliverable meal plan boxes, or at least choose one that doesn’t have as much single use plastic. I’ve found that Hello Fresh does the best with this (Blue Apron’s packaging is TERRIBLE for the Earth), so just be aware of what you’re contributing).

Globally, 18 percent of plastic is recycled, up from nearly zero in 1980. Plastic bottles are one of the most widely recycled products. But other items, such as drinking straws, are harder to recycle and often discarded.

I could go on for days about single use plastic bottles and bags, but I’ll spare you. So just don’t use them. Use reusable bags — keep them in your car, in your desk, in your spouses’s car… wherever it takes for you to remember to bring them in the store. Buy reusable produce bags to take with you. And FOR THE LOVE OF THE EARTH, stop buying plastic water bottles.

Meanwhile, ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by it. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. Many more are probably harmed invisibly. Marine species of all sizes, from zooplankton to whales, now eat microplastics, the bits smaller than one-fifth of an inch across.

2. RECYCLE EVERYTHING

And if you can’t when you’re out and about, take it home and do it. Make sure you actually can in your recycling bin — check out this list to see if you’re recycling correctly, or your items right to a recycling plant. Also pay attention to HOW to recycle in your town. Do your recyclables need to be washed? If so, rise them (but save water while doing it, ok?). Do your paper products need to be tied with twine? (Mine do, which is strange, but whatever, buy some twine and get it done).

3. Be more conscious about your purchases

Are you about to buy those brussels sprouts already chopped up, sitting in styrofoam, wrapped in plastic? Don’t. That tiny package will have a way bigger impact on our planet than it’s manufactuer ever intended (see that little blurb from NatGeo above), so just think twice before buying unnecessary waste.

If you can disrupt the cycle by not buying plastic at the source, hopefully we can slow down the amount being put back onto the planet.

From National Geographic:

“This isn’t a problem where we don’t know what the solution is,” says Ted Siegler, a Vermont resource economist who has spent more than 25 years working with developing nations on garbage. “We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle.” It’s a matter of building the necessary institutions and systems, he says—ideally before the ocean turns, irretrievably and for centuries to come, into a thin soup of plastic.

There are things we can do to help this global problem. So let’s do them.

 

“Coral reefs are a casualty of climate change” — reflections from Chasing Coral

“If we can’t save this ecosystem, are we gonna have the courage to save the next one down the line?”

Imagine going to your favorite place in the world, only to find it was completely devastated.

That’s what producers, divers, and everyone involved in Chasing Coral found.

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The film Chasing Coral follows the same structure as its predecessor Chasing Ice: a documentary produced to highlight something we’re going to lose (or have already lost) because of climate change.

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After watching Chasing Ice, I felt hope. But after watching Chasing Coral, I feel despair.

In 2012, Chasing Ice made me feel urgency — I knew climate change was real, and this film was made (in my eyes) to show people the effects of this global issue. I felt equipped (with tons of icy ammo) to shout about climate change from the rooftops!

But now, in 2017, Chasing Coral almost made me cry. Because humans have dumped carbon into the atmosphere for so long, and have delayed on climate action, we’re finally losing something we cannot replace — the world’s coral. And the documentary film crew spent months documenting the damage.

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Coral bleaching all starts with the rise in global temperatures, and where that heat is stored. The ocean takes up 93 percent of the world’s heat, and without it, we’d already be fried on land.

Bleaching is a side effect of the ocean’s heat. When the ocean is too hot, corals get stressed out, and the algae living on the coral depart (or are ejected), causing the symbiotic relationship between algae and coral tissue to waste. When the algae is gone, coral loses their source of food, and bleaches. Not all bleached coral is dead, but once coral is bleached, it’s less likely for the coral to return to a healthy state.

This isn’t a “natural” cycle, either. Coral bleaching has been directly attributed to climate change.

The impacts continue on. This week, scientists announced the second coral bleaching event in a row in the Great Barrier Reef. Corals around the globe have been subject to bleaching in recent decades, too, not just in Australia. More heat continues to pile up in the ocean, even turning the Arctic into the Atlantic.

“The ocean controls everything. Without a healthy ocean, we do not have a healthy planet.”

Scientists in the film are concerned that continual bleaching events will wreck coral and their habitats for good — if they always bleach, they will never have enough food, and will just die off. This would lead to an ecosystem collapse, where entire classes of organisms could go extinct.

Ocean scientists are sounding the alarm. And what’s their solution? Stop using fossil fuels now.

Is losing the Great Barrier Reef going to wake up the world?

 

What’s at Stake for the World: Infographics

In case you haven’t heard, negotiators in Paris at COP21 have made a historic climate deal that hopes to limit global warming below 2°C.

Why 2°C? You may have heard the world is warming, and that warming has been attributed to manmade emissions. The United Nations has adopted 2°C as the highest threshold for warming with human-caused carbon emissions in order to drive nations to make a climate agreement (like the one in Paris) that would limit the most disastrous effects of climate change.

And thanks to InsideClimate News, we can see what’s at stake in infographic form!

Deforestation is a huge problem globally because forests suck up carbon that could end up in the atmosphere.

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Expand at InsideClimate News

Sea levels are rising, which is bad news for everyone in a coastal city (especially in China).

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Expand at InsideClimate News

And no, I haven’t forgotten about wildlife! They’re at risk, too.

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Expand at InsideClimate News

Read more about the series over at InsideClimate News.