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.

myrtle4

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/

Earth Week 2015: how are the oceans doing, anyway?

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

Sometimes we forget about the oceans, despite the fact that they take up 70% of the Earth’s surface. Or, more specifically, we forget to think about what ends up there.

A study in the journal Science found that we deposit between 5.3 and 14 million tons of plastic in the oceans every year. I mean sure, that’s a huge range. But to make it more fathomable, OnEarth made analogies for plastic totaling 9 million tons. 9 million tons of plastic is 136 billion plastic jugs, which, if stacked, would “reach more than halfway to Mars.” 9 million tons of plastic is “also the equivalent of piling five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the world.”

So, in other words, that’s a lot of plastic. And however you quantify it, a lot of it is going into the oceans.

garbagepatch

If you don’t know, there is a huge pile of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch is actually a group of trash piles that collect between the west coast of the US and the East Coast of Asia. The trash “vortex” collects in a convergence zone in the ocean – where warm water from the the southern hemisphere meets with cold water from the Arctic. You can see the different trash piles below:

The plastic converges here because a lot of it isn’t biodegradable, considering it’s plastic. That, paired with the fact that we produce 620% more plastic than we did as a society in 1975, is causing problems for marine life as well as the health of the ocean. Mashable reports that when plastic is jostled in the ocean, it is sometimes broken up into tiny shreds, small enough to be ingested my animals and avoid nets of those trying to clean up the sea.

Garbage washed up in Hawaii

So what can you do to help? Here are some ideas:

  • Use less plastic: we only recycle 14% of plastic we use in the US, and that’s pretty bad. If you live in an area where recycling is easily accessible, please just recycle. Just put that plastic bottle in your recycling bin!
  • Stop using products with plastic micro-beads in them: okay, so ICYMI, your facial cleanser probably has tiny pieces of plastic in it. Do you have exfoliating beads? Bingo. Simple solution – don’t use these! Find other products . If you’re inclined to take a stand, find out more here.
  • Reuse the plastic you do use: use extra plastic jars to house snacks instead of using plastic snack/sandwich bags. You can also reuse the tupperware from lunch meat to take your sandwiches to work. There are endless possibilities!
  • Don’t use plastic bottles: if you read my blog, you know plastic bottles are horrible, not just for the environment because of plastic pollution, but because of water extraction too. The bottles are made of fossil fuels, too, which doesn’t help the Earth much.

It’s easy to make change – just pick what works for you and stick to it! A little goes a long way. Thanks for joining me for this Earth Week series!

This post concludes my Earth Week posts for 2015. Click here for more!

 

Outdoor Exploration: Glacier National Park (October 2014)

This weekend, I went up to Glacier NP and the surrounding area for the day to see some fall colors!

Park map

Unfortunately, the Going-to-the-Sun road was closed right before Logan Pass, but we were still able to make it pretty far. My friend Kasey and I entered in West Glacier, like always, and headed up past the Triple Arches, where we had this view:

Mountains!
Mountains!
More mountains!
More mountains!

Next we headed down the Loop Trail and scrambled along some boulders across a waterfall!

Kasey wandering around along the river.
Kasey wandering around along Mineral Creek

We stopped along the road on the way back to the entrance:

Kasey along McDonald Creek.
Kasey along McDonald Creek
Trail of the Cedars
Trail of the Cedars

One last stop in the Southern part of the park: Lake McDonald. Check out my post on Instagram below!

Off the end of the dock!
Off the end of the dock!

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The last best place. Lake McDonald, Glacier NP. {#nofilter#iphoneography#montana}

View on Instagram

After heading up the Inside North Fork Road (which was mostly dirt/gravel) –

Flathead National Forest on the way to Polebridge
Flathead National Forest on the way to Polebridge

–  we stopped in Polebridge – one of the smallest towns I’ve ever seen. The lending library was the size of a mailbox and the one cafe they had was shut down for the winter season.

Polebridge Merchantile - the only open store!
Polebridge Merchantile – the only open store!

After the off-road drive to Columbia Falls, we headed to Whitefish for dinner – and stopped at the lake, of course.

Stand-up-paddleboarder on Whitefish Lake.
Stand-up-paddleboarder on Whitefish Lake.

Last stop – sunset on Flathead Lake at Finley Point State Park. Because what could be better to conclude a Western Montana day?

Sunset on Flathead Lake
Sunset on Flathead Lake

*All photos are my own, except the map.

#SEJ2014 Day 3 – Friday

On Friday, the conference was again centered around sessions. In the morning, I attended one on hypoxia (aka dead zones) and in the afternoon, one about the BP oil spill’s ecological toll (to continue on my BP thread throughout the conference).

Some of the most influential parts of today started at lunch, however.

I was finally able to meet up with my mentor, Matt Wheeland, who is the editor of SolarEnergy.net and is based out of the bay area. Over the past 9 months or so, we talk occasionally about my story pitch ideas for classes and what it means to be an environmental journalist online.

On Friday, Matt and I were able to talk about our individual conference experiences as well as the formation of my masters project! He assured me that if it feels daunting, I am always able to modify it to fit my needs. I will not tell you, my followers and the internetz, what it is about yet, but this conversation helps.

After the sessions, we headed to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas with free tickets courtesy of the Audubon Society.

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Another defining moment for me this day was the wilderness-themed “beat dinner” at Commander’s Palace, an iconic New Orleans restaurant. (*side note: the food, including turtle soup, jumbo lump crap, filet mignon and pecan bread pudding, was the best I’ve ever had.)

The first half of the dinner was a lengthy discussion on how wilderness areas have changed in the past 50 years of the Wilderness Act actually existing. Then, the tone of the discussion changed to how frustrated these wilderness advocates are for the next generation taking over. I actually got into a bit of an argument with one of the moderators who said he has given up hope of ever reaching the 20-somethings about wilderness and wilderness issues.

I told him that was completely unfair to say, considering that I love wilderness. When I hike-in with my phone, I take pictures and share them with my friends, as does almost everyone who is my age. I think instead of demonizing our phone use, those in power should accept it and try to use phones and social media to take love of wilderness through generations.

After that, we networked with many strong and wonderful women from the PEW Charitable Trusts (who paid for our meal, so thank you!) and took a streetcar back to the French Quarter to see am amazing brass band called The Soul Rebels.