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!

 

Ocean Degradation Awareness: BuzzFeed

I am no stranger to ocean and water pollution awareness on this blog – I have blogged about pollution, remediation through recycled products and other ocean issues including acidification, marine debris and World Oceans Day updates.

Click through to view the article about ocean health

So, you can imagine my happiness when a large news outlet, BuzzFeed, created an article about this very subject! The article, which has the format of a list and images, explains 13 reasons why the ocean may never be the same.

The threats they list are overfishing, acidification, coral bleaching, oil spills, shark finning, algal blooms, dead zones, mercury pollution, invasive species, PCBs (a chemical which I wrote about in my first iBook), the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also in my iBook), military sonar use, and nuclear radiation.

So, please click-through to the article to learn more about these threats in a simple way so that you can be more educated about the future health of the ocean. If you want to do something to help, please visit NatGeo’s 10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean or learn more through the Save Our Seas Foundation.

New Method Soap Bottles Made of Ocean Debris

This summer, I was working on an iBook about the hydrosphere. One chapter focused on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For those of you who don’t know, there is a “patch” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (near Hawaii) that collects trash and debris from land that is dumped in by humans or makes its way into the ocean from landfills or run off. The biggest problem with ocean trash is that the decomposition rates of most of the trash items are very low. Another problem is that it is nearly impossible to remove the patch from the ocean because it would take a constant stream of industrial ships to even begin removing the trash. Removal is not economically viable for anyone. The image below is a great example of decomposition rates.

Although it is very difficult to remove trash and debris from the ocean, Method Soaps has come up with a way to make the Garbage patch a little more sustainable. Method just came out with a new soap called “Ocean Plastic”. The coolest things about this soap are as follows:

  • The plastic bottle is made partially from plastic salvaged from Hawaiian shores (that washed up)
  • The soap is natural and biodegradable
  • The plastic was salvaged by actual Method employees and volunteers!

Method also made a statement regarding their production of the soap. According to the New York Times, the company’s chief greens’ keeper, Adam Lowry, says that “the process was not cost-effective, but that economy was hardly the point. We want to create a conversation about recycling plastics. The real objective is to make the point that we ought to work with the plastics already on the planet.” I don’t know about you, but I find it amazing that this company is bypassing its profit to do something right for the environment.

Method Ocean Plastic products are not sold online yet, but will be available in store at Whole Foods for $4.99, and that’s a bargain for the consumer who is looking to make environmentally sustainable purchases.

The message still remains: Watch what you put in the trash, because it may end up places where it doesn’t belong. Happy recycling!