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.


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:

The U.S. and China make a climate deal

The two top greenhouse gas polluters in the world just struck a climate deal.

The US pledged for more rigid emission standards, and in a move no one was expecting, China pledged to stop national emissions from growing by 2030. This partnership is an attempt to try to get other nations to pledge such actions, according to the New York Times.

COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST: President Obama stands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcome ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 12, 2014. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

Here are some numbers:

As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020.

China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030.

So, to recap, the US pledged to emit less, less than Obama’s Climate Action speech claimed last year, and China is pledging to cap their emissions, which they have never done before.

Where does this leave us? Well, realistically, this will be pretty difficult to achieve. It is one thing for Obama to pledge something, but he has to face opposition in our conservative Congress. And, in order to meet these goals, “the United States will need to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average from 2005 to 2020 to 2.3 to 2.8 percent per year between 2020 and 2025” according to the Washington Post. What do these numbers mean? Basically, we will have to reduce carbon emissions a lot faster than we anticipated.

China is a completely different story. The Washington Post reports that China opens a new coal plant every 8 to 10 days, and their population is still on the rise (which means more carbon emissions, obviously). Also, this:

The scale of construction for China to meet its goals are huge even by Chinese standards. It must add 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to the total electricity generation capacity in the United States.

Despite all of these hurdles, hopefully this now-public partnership will show other nations that climate change such an important issue that CHINA and the UNITED STATES are part of a united front. Let’s hope.

palm trees

California: the Golden State of Environmental Change

Say what you want about California. They do have a ton of people, (population 38 million and climbing), so they have been contributing a lot to US emissions and other environmental problems in the past. However, this is changing, and California is leading by example.

Recent studies suggest that the STATE OF CALIFORNIA is well on it’s way to meet it’s carbon reduction/climate goals. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, known as the “Berkeley Lab,” completed a study last December 2013 that shows California is on track with decreasing their carbon emissions by the goal of 2020. The golden state has done this through vehicle standards, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, an increase in renewable energy, the Zero-Emission Vehicle Program, and a few other similar programs.

The report also found that rigorous adhesion to current plans paired with an expansion of some current programs, California can exceed their state-wide emissions goal by 2050.

This is a rare feat – a lot of cities around the US make these types of carbon goals but don’t reach them by the target goal year or don’t make rigorous enough plans to do so.

States with bag bans/taxes – click through for interactive map.

California citizens are also working well on small scales in certain cities to combat other environmental issues besides climate change. California cities were among the first to tax the use of plastic bags, which do not belong in landfills as they do not decompose. Here is a list of some of the actions some areas are taking to help the environment!

Fresno recycles – a lot.

FRESNO: The residents of Fresno, a small city north of Los Angeles, recycle a whopping 73 percent of their waste. Most cities in the US recycle 30-50 percent of theirs, for comparison. In Fresno, recyclables are aplenty. This type of landfill reduction means that they utilize sorting machines and with the help of some “innovative recycling companies,” repurpose their recyclables into renewable paper, cans and gasoline (yes, gasoline). They are also able to compost large amounts to use for their booming agricultural industry in this area. Read more at National Geographic.

Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, responsible for commercial and residential electricity and water, started offering solar energy incentives for businesses and residents last year. This tariff incentive program reimburses those who use solar energy. Read more on Solar Reviews.

Sunrise at Moscone North Conference Center  in downtown San Francisco (my photo)
Sunrise at Moscone North Conference Center in downtown San Francisco (my photo)

SAN FRANCISCO: Not only did San Francisco create a plastic bag tax, which I experienced first-hand, but has also recently banned sale of plastic water bottles on city property (under 21oz, so 2 liter soda bottles are exempt). Sporting events are excused from the ruling, and food trucks have until 2018 to comply. Everyone else isn’t so lucky. Companies have until October 2014 to stop selling plastic bottles or they will be subject to fines. Taking water bottles out of commission in San Francisco will stop the non-degradable plastic from entering landfills, where it stays a bottle for pretty much forever. Read more at MSNBC.

So, this shows that a state with a large population like California has the power and determination to make a change. More states should follow (and have already started to!).