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:

Guanabara Bay Too Polluted for Sailing Events during Rio 2016

For me, it’s never to early to start reporting about the Olympics. I had a blast with London 2012 and Sochi 2014! Now, on to the early stages of Rio 2016. And Rio de Janeiro will be plagued with my favorite environmental problem: water.

According to the Associated Press, Brazil had previously promised to cut 80% of the sewage pollution flow into Guanabara Bay before the 2016 Olympics. Now, Rio’s mayer has announced that it would take more than a decade to clean the pollution out of the waterway, so it will not be clean for the games.

Guanabara Bay borders Rio - the site for the 2016 summer Olympics.
Guanabara Bay borders Rio – the site for the 2016 summer Olympics.

As you can see, the bay is right next to Rio – the home of the 2016 Olympics. In rio’s 2009 bid, they promised to have the waterway clean so sports like sailing could compete. But now, with the remaining pollution, the sailers will have to compete outside the bay or at the mouth of the bay where there is less pollution.

Pollution in the Bay

The pollution in the bay is really bad, to put it lightly. Some athletes who have visited Rio to train and check it out have ran into sofas and paddled into dog carcasses. The bay is also filled with human corpses and feces, according to the Independent.

It is not all bad news, however. According to Bloomberg News, other Olympics construction is underway and expected to be done by the time the torch reaches the city. Let’s keep an eye on Rio, and hope it doesn’t become another Sochi.

Water, Water Everywhere

So many things have been happening in the hydrosphere recently, so here is a water update:

World Water Conflicts Infographic: As I have blogged about time and time again, the world water crisis is looming. Since water is needed for human survival, there are also impending human conflicts looming on the horizon. Popular Science created an infographic of the largest water systems in the world complete with “hotspots” – areas that have had large amounts of hostile events in the past and are likely to in the future. Click-through to see the full infographic.

World Water Crisis Infographic

Scientists found a large underground ocean, three times the size of all our oceans. Watch the GeoBeats News video below for more information, but this means that scientists are closer to finding out more about the water cycle, meaning they are closer to finding out why we have so much water on our planet.


7,500 Gallons of Oil Spilled in Colorado River: According to USA Today, a storage tank damaged by the recent flooding in Northern Colorado spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the Colorado River. The tank, operated by Noble Energy, has reported that the oil has harmed vegetation up to a quarter mile away from the spill site.

Lastly, a plastic rock was discovered on the shores of Hawaii. Science News reports that the rock, made up of ocean plastic pollution, has been named “plastiglomerate,” and is formed when “plastic melts and gets mixed with lava rock, coral and sand” due to the volcanic nature of Hawaii. Talk about weird.

plastiglomerate rock

As always, there is a lot going on in the hydrosphere these days. My favorite is the plastic rock – who would have ever thought??

ICYMI: Important Stories from the Beginning of February

February has been a busy month in environmental news ALREADY, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Below is a list of them, in case you missed it.

Keystone XL protest poster

1. Keystone XL Receives Backing – last week, a group of US lawmakers voiced their approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (in case you missed it, here is a post I wrote last April). According to recent news from Reuters, these backers are suggesting that President Obama “bless” the pipeline’s plan. The group includes Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the United States (as the driving company is TransCanada), and business and labor leaders. This pressure is due to a State Department report released that concludes that the Keystone XL “pipeline would not spur oil sands development or unduly worsen climate change” (read the report here). As this is a developing story, I will write another post about it at a later date.

2. Drought in California Causes Dip in Water Reserves – over the past few weeks, a drought in California has exhausted reservoirs and has been dipping dangerously into ground water supply for drinking water, according to the Circle of Blue. According to the article, some communities in California are slated to lose water in 60-100 days. According to the Sacramento Bee, “deliveries of state water to agricultural and municipal users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which had been slashed to 5 percent earlier, will drop further to zero due to the state’s severe drought.” So, not only are they depleting current water sources, but Southern California is also depleting the resources of Northern California watersheds. This is a huge problem.

3. If it’s so cold, how is climate change real? – Without me having to go into a rant, this article explains how YOU explain to your friends that a polar vertex still means that global warming is happening and climate change is real. Check out this post by Grist: “How to talk to your polar-vortexed friends.”

4. India is building the world’s largest solar plant which will cover an area larger than Manhattan. According to Nature News, this project “could help to reduce India’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 4 million tonnes per year.”

5. Dan River (North Carolina) Coal Ash Spill – On Sunday afternoon, a coal ash pipe broke, sending about 50,000-82,000 tons of the pollutant into the Dan River in North Carolina. According to the Huffington Post, officials (including the culprit, Duke Energy) say that the coal ash has not tarnished drinking water supplies and will release more after extensive testing has been done.

Stay tuned for expansions on the Keystone XL pipeline debate.