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Plastic Debris and Great Garbage Patches: Ca’ Foscari University Raises Awareness of Ocean Pollution
Jul16

Plastic Debris and Great Garbage Patches: Ca’ Foscari University Raises Awareness of Ocean Pollution

By Roberta Attanasio When we think of the Great Garbage Patches — of which 5 exist — we usually think of ocean pollution. Now, when thinking of garbage patches and ways to raise awareness of them, we may think of Venice and Ca’ Foscari University. Venice, the Italian city that seems to float on water, bears no resemblance to the vast concentrations of floating marine debris that makes up the garbage patches.  However, you can find an artistic representation of the garbage patches right in the heart of the city and, more precisely, right in the courtyard of the world’s oldest existing building granted LEED certification. Let’s go one step at a time. What is LEED certification? LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a program that provides third-party verification of green buildings. The world’s oldest existing building to obtain LEED certification is the more than 500-years old Palazzo Foscari, the location of Ca’ Foscari University administrative headquarters. The courtyard of the green and sustainable Palazzo Foscari is an appropriate home for the Garbage Patch State art installation, which has been set up by artist Maria Cristina Finucci in collaboration, of course, with Ca’ Foscari University. The goal of the installation is to draw attention to the global problem of ocean pollution. Ca’ Foscari’s focus on sustainability-based initiatives is the result of the environmentally-forward mastermind of Carlo Carraro.  Carraro is President of Ca’ Foscari University, Professor of Econometrics and Director of the International Center for Climate Governance. Why a Garbage Patch State installation? The world’s oceans are heavily polluted by marine debris, mostly consisting of small bits of floating plastics. These bits are called microplastics and derive from the degradation of larger plastic debris. Indeed, most commonly used plastics do not fully degrade in the ocean — rather, they break down in smaller and smaller pieces. Marine debris becomes trapped by the circular ocean currents of the five gyres, where it builds up to form giant garbage patches. The Ca’ Foscari installation is called “The Garbage Patch State Venice” in honor of the Garbage Patch State — a State that includes the five garbage patches corresponding to the five gyres. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted the “Garbage Patch State” symbolic statehood in April thanks to the effort and commitment of Maria Cristina Finucci. The microplastics that make up the majority of garbage patches are almost invisible to the naked eye. Similarly, the giant patches of garbage are not captured by satellite imagery or aerial photographs. In addition, not all the trash floats on the surface. Denser debris is located under the surface. According to...

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A New Home for Marine Debris: The Deep Seafloor
Jun15

A New Home for Marine Debris: The Deep Seafloor

By The Editors Plastic bags are everywhere, and when they get somewhere (we’re talking sea), they’re there to stay. As we mentioned in a previous post, plastic pollution is a major global threat. Plastics are durable, degrade very slowly and may persist in the environment for hundreds or even thousands of years, resulting in the increasing accumulation of plastic debris in our seas.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is perhaps the most striking example of sea pollution caused by plastics and other debris. The United Nations Environment Programme defines marine debris as “any persistent manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine environment” (UNEP, 2009), We’re used to see plastics on the planet’s beaches, seas and oceans, but we’re not used to see plastics on the deep seafloor, Not until now. A recently published study shows how deep we can find debris. The study, published in the scientific journal “Deep-Sea Research I: Oceanographic Research Papers”, shows that debris accumulate up to 4,000 meters below the surface. The largest proportion of the debris—about one third of the total—consists of objects made of plastic. Of these objects, more than half are plastic bags. The study, made available on line on May 28 and performed by researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), is based on the analysis of 18,000 hours of underwater video collected by MBARI’s remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Research technicians searched the Video Annotation and Reference System (VARS) database to find every video clip that showed debris on the seafloor. They then compiled data on all the different types of debris they saw, as well as when and where this debris was observed. Kyra Schlining,lead author of the paper, noted, “The most frustrating thing for me is that most of the material we saw—glass, metal, paper, plastic—could be recycled.” She and her coauthors hope that their findings will inspire coastal residents and ocean users to recycle their trash instead of allowing it to end up in the ocean. In the conclusion of their article, they wrote, “Ultimately, preventing the introduction of litter into the marine environment through increased public awareness remains the most efficient and cost-effective solution to this dilemma.” Watch the video below to hear Kyra describing what they have found on the deep seafloor and to see compelling images of the various types of...

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World Oceans Day: Today, June 8
Jun08

World Oceans Day: Today, June 8

By The Editors June 8th is World Oceans Day, the United Nations-designated day for the global community to celebrate and take action for our shared ocean. In previous posts, we have seen how plastic pollution harms our ocean by discussing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the Plastic Footprint. Although plastic pollution represents a major challenge for our ocean, it’s not the only one. The majority of waste we produce on land eventually reaches the ocean, either through deliberate dumping or from run-off through drains and rivers.  World Oceans Day is a celebration and an opportunity to conserve our ocean. This year, the World Oceans Day theme is “Together we have the power to protect the ocean”. The celebration is bigger than ever, with hundreds of family-friendly events at aquariums, zoos, museums, and more. In addition, there is an online event, the Ocean Promise. Through this event, The Ocean Project invites everyone to take ocean conservation personally by sharing an Ocean Promise online and show how small actions can add up to make a big difference. People everywhere can join the Ocean Promise drive by changing ONE habit in their lives that helps result in a healthier ocean. World Oceans Day coordinator, Alyssa Isakower, commented, “Each year more and more people and organizations are getting involved and the collective positive impact is inspiring. We are more excited than ever to see the growing global response to the incredibly pressing issue of ocean conservation. We hope everyone will have tons of fun celebrating, sharing their knowledge, and taking action for a healthier, safer...

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Arctic Pollution
May15

Arctic Pollution

By The Editors The Great White North is not in good shape.  It’s one of the most vulnerable and fragile ecosystems of our planet and is contaminated with about everything:  furans, cadmium, dioxins, chlordane, selenium, polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury, radioactive fallout. There are 8 countries that possess territories extending beyond the 66th Parallel: Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland) and Iceland. It is estimated that about 4 million people live north of the Arctic Circle, Industrial development in the Arctic is leading to waste accumulation, especially in the vicinity of indigenous villages.  However, this is not all.  It’s a global problem, a problem of global pollution.  Indeed, a major source of contamination is the spillover of industrial contaminants from other regions through air, ocean, and river currents. Pollution in the Arctic presents additional problems when compared to contamination in other regions:  Pollutant detection and monitoring as well as cleanup are difficult because of the specific climatic conditions, remoteness, and the shifting interplay between land and sea-ice.  In addition, the reduced level of sunlight does not allow the speedy break-down of contaminants, which is usually aided by solar radiation.  Therefore, the degradation process is lengthened — this leads to an increased likelihood that toxic substances will find their way into the food chain.  And….  we all know that the vulnerability of this region is greatly affected by climate change and the melting of the ice cap.  The influx of trawlers and tourists and the drilling for fossil fuels all add to the increased environmental threat experienced by this region. Below you can see an Arctic map depicting the provenience of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).  Those included in the map are hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), chlordane, toxaphene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).  ...

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Toxic Hot Spots: A Global Health Threat
May11

Toxic Hot Spots: A Global Health Threat

By The Editors Toxic Hot Spots are areas where the concentration of toxic substances, which may be present in water, soil or air, is significantly higher than background levels. In these areas, the risk of adverse health effects is elevated. Toxic hot spots are often located in the vicinity of landfills, car battery recycling sites, sewage treatment plants, refineries, tanneries, mines, and numerous other operations.  Living nearby these sites may cause serious adverse affects, as for example cancer and retardation in children.. We usually think of infectious diseases as the major global health problem.  However, a new study by Kevin Chatham-Stephens and collaborators, published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives, shows that living near a toxic hot spot may lead to a higher health threat than some of the most dangerous infectious diseases worldwide, such as malaria and tuberculosis. The study focuses on three countries, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  The researchers estimate that more than eight million persons in these countries suffered disease, disability, or death resulting from exposures to industrial contaminants in 2010. The toxic substances causing the majority of negative health effects are lead and hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen. The researchers conclude that “toxic waste sites are a major, and heretofore under-recognized, global health problem.” The study results confirm the findings of the 2012 World’s Worst Pollution Problems report, which clearly shows the large extent of the global health impact of pollution. The image below (from the University of Hedelberg) is a global map showing pollution hotspots around the world.  In this case, the hotspots were located in 2004 through detection of nitrogen dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels by power plants, heavy industry and vehicles....

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