For the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide at the historic Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is the same location where Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Charles David Keeling first established the “Keeling Curve,” a famous graph showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing rapidly in the atmosphere. CO2 was around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began releasing large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. On May 9, the reading was a startling 400.08 ppm for a 24-hour period. But without the help of the oceans, this number would already be much higher.
Plastic is one of the most common pollutants that end up in the ocean, but the properties that make it ideal for shopping make it deadly to marine life.
Plastics are durable and do not decompose easily, which means they can stay in the ocean for decades. And because they are so lightweight, plastics can float in the ocean where sea turtles and marine birds can get entangled or even ingest them by mistake. For example, plastic bags in the ocean closely resemble jellyfish, which are a common food for sea turtles.
Plastic can also have serious effects on marine mammals, including sperm whales which are some of the world’s smartest animals – possessing the largest brain of any known species.
Sperm whales typically feed on squid, sometimes diving more than a mile below the ocean’s surface to find food. But plastic trash is becoming more and more a part of the whales’ diets. Each year, sperm whales eat more than 100 million tons of seafood using suction, which makes them more vulnerable to ingesting plastic. And because sperm whales are at the top of the food chain, they are the most likely to be affected by pollution.
Imagine you’re in a dimly lit Italian restaurant. Famished, you take the first bite of a juicy eggplant parmesan dinner, and it turns out to be a big hunk of plastic. (Yuk.)
That’s the reality for fish in an area of the ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where fish are mistaking their food sources with a growing amount of floating trash.
Two graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Pete Davison and Rebecca Asch, joined the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, or SEAPLEX, where they found evidence of plastic waste in more than 9 percent of the stomachs of fish collected during their voyage to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The mid-water fishes contained plastic debris, primarily broken-down bits smaller than a human fingernail.
"That is an underestimate of the true ingestion rate because a fish may regurgitate or pass a plastic item, or even die from eating it. We didn't measure those rates, so our 9 percent figure is too low by an unknown amount," said Davison.
Based on these rates of ingestion, they estimate that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons per year, but the real number could be much higher.
How did you celebrate World Oceans Day? Oceana headed straight to the river. Teaming up with Nautica, we braved the heat and skimmed trash out of the Hudson River in an effort to protect both the river’s natural beauty and the health of its marine life.
What did we find? Fewer cigarette butts than you might think, but plenty of bags, bottle caps and other plastic debris – just the types of trash that are most dangerous to fish and other aquatic life that may end up ingesting or becoming entangled in the plastic.
If you missed World Oceans Day, don’t worry! You can still pledge to be an ocean hero throughout the summer by committing to cleaning up your local waterway, eating sustainable seafood, or recycling.
This is the twelfth and final in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.
We’re rounding out our series on the Ocean Hero finalists today with Andrew Hayford, a high school junior who has been an ocean conservation stand-out in his hometown of York, Maine.
Andrew first got involved when he was learning to surf at age 12 and noticed trash in the water and on the beaches. He’s been working to clean up the coast of southern Maine ever since. Since 2006, he has been involved in almost 30 beach cleanups and has hosted more than 10 of his own.
In 2010, Andrew won a Planet Connect grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation to educate 150 kindergarten and second grade students about ocean pollution and how they could help. He conducted an art contest with these students, which became the centerpiece of his “Keep Our Beaches Clean” campaign.
Sara Bayles is the author of The Daily Ocean blog, where she documents her efforts to collect trash from her local beach for 365 non-consecutive days.
Now Sara and her husband, Dr. Garen Baghdasarian, have embarked on a new and exciting adventure. They are currently at sea on a 4,680-mile research expedition The 5 Gyres Institute across the South Pacific from Chile to Tahiti. It’s the world’s first expedition to study plastic pollution in the South Pacific gyre.
After the trip, Sara and Garen plan to bring their findings to as many people as possible through articles in peer reviewed scientific journals, lectures in the community, school visits, student involvement, photography, video and follow-up research expeditions.
In other news, Sara and Siel of Green LA Girl organized The Blogger Beach Cleanup last year for 350.org’s International Day Of Climate Action. More than 120 volunteers, 40+ bloggers, and several non-profit groups participated to make the event a success.
Good luck to Sara and Garen on a safe and successful journey and we look forward to hearing the results of the trip! You can follow their progress at the 5Gyres blog.
Nominations end this Wednesday, so don’t delay -- nominate an ocean hero in your life today!
Here’s a little gem for you today, sent over to us from our friend Sara Bayles at the Daily Ocean.
Inspired by Sara’s beach clean-ups in Santa Monica, CA, mother of three Danielle R. started doing her own clean-ups in Wrightsville Beach, NC. She and her kids focus on collecting and counting the cigarette butts they find on the beach, and Destin Cretton created a short film about Danielle (and Sara). The film was chosen as a winner in the Brita FilterForGood Film Project, and will air on the Sundance Channel.
As you’ll see when you watch it, it’s astonishing just how many they find in a short amount of time. In just nine days, they collected almost 3,000 cigarette butts.
We continue to be astounded by the generosity of our supporters, and seven-year-old ocean lover and artist Wyatt Workman is one shining example.
Last week Wyatt held an art show to benefit Oceana that raised a whopping $2,400 for ocean conservation. Seven years old! People, this is one cool kid.
Around 200 people came to the show, where Wyatt displayed and sold his own art, plus a movie and book he made this summer about the ocean “trash monster”, and a T-shirt he designed that says “I am NOT a Trash Monster!” Wyatt and his friends talked to visitors about ocean pollution and convinced them to sign his pledge to use less plastic.
Thank you so much, Wyatt and friends!
Earlier this week we heard the latest from one of our 2010 Ocean Heroes, Robin Culler, leader of the Shark Finatics.
Today, another update, this time from Ocean Hero finalist Sara Bayles. Sara was just featured in the Los Angeles Times for her ongoing effort to spend 20 minutes a day for 365 non-consecutive days collecting trash from her Santa Monica beach. She weighs the garbage and keeps a tally on her blog, The Daily Ocean.
We’re glad she’s getting the recognition she deserves. Kudos to you, Sara!
In addition to starting your own beach cleanup like Sara, you can take our pledge to use less plastic if you haven't already.
Oceana board member and actor Ted Danson was featured yesterday in Parade Magazine, which many of you probably receive along with your Sunday newspaper.
Ted tells Parade about his decades-long involvement in ocean conservation. And while he is quite knowledgeable about the issues plaguing the oceans, he says, “I am an actor. My job is to stand next to the experts and focus attention on them.”