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Do Sea Turtles Eat Plastic Marine Debris? Yes!
Aug10

Do Sea Turtles Eat Plastic Marine Debris? Yes!

By The Editors Floating marine debris accumulates in five main oceanic gyres. These debris accumulations consist mostly of plastics and are called great garbage patches. In recognition of the global threat posed by the great garbage patches, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently granted them a symbolic State status, and officially recognized the Garbage Patch State. Marine debris gathers in drift lines and convergence zones, which are also important feeding areas for many oceanic species, including sea turtles. Now, results from an analysis of global research data from the past 25 years show that green and leatherback turtles are eating more plastic than ever before. The analysis was carried out by researchers from from the University of Queensland and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and published in the scientific journal Conservation Biology on August 5, 2013.   According to the authors of the study, “The likelihood of a green turtle ingesting debris nearly doubled from an approximate 30% likelihood in 1985 to nearly 50% in 2012”.   The authors conclude: “Our results show clearly that debris ingestion by sea turtles is a global phenomenon of increasing magnitude.” Study leader Qamar Schuyler says that man-made debris must be managed at a global level, from the manufactures through to the consumers – before debris reaches the ocean. An estimated 80 per cent of debris comes from land-based sources, so it is critical to have effective waste management strategies and to engage with industry to create appropriate innovations and controls to assist in decreasing marine debris. Again, it is necessary to decrease our plastic footprint....

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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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Sustainability in Action: Mushrooms Replace Polystyrene Packaging
Jul05

Sustainability in Action: Mushrooms Replace Polystyrene Packaging

By The Editors We’re all familiar with polystyrene, one of the most widely used plastics. Because polystyrene can be easily cast into molds with fine detail, it has a zillion uses and you can find it everywhere. Think of protective packaging products such as packing peanuts (foam peanuts), clamshell containers, CD and DVD cases, lids, bottles, trays and more. Polystyrene is very slow to degrade – it persists in the environment for a long time. Do you remember the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the Plastic Footprint? What can be done to address this global environmental issue? Here we have an example: an innovative idea that becomes mushroom-based packaging, and ….. it’s not just recyclable — it’s compostable! When you see a mushroom, you see the fruiting body of the fungus — the mushroom is actually only a small, visible part of a much larger fungus. The main part of the fungus is underground in the form of mycelium. The mycelium has been described as Earth’s natural Internet and is composed of thread-like filaments called hyphae, which secrete enzymes necessary for breaking down sources of nutrients. The size of a mycelium varies — it can be so minute the naked eye can’t see it or as large as an acre or more. A few years ago, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, at the time students at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, thought of using mycelium as a resin. Their idea led them to found a company, Ecovative. Ecovative’s products can replace materials ranging from petroleum based expanded plastics (like Styrofoam™) to particle board made using carcinogenic formaldehyde. Ecovative’s raw materials come from farms and consist of parts of plants that cannot be used for food or feed. These agricultural materials are blended, cleaned and inoculated with mycelium. After inoculation, the mixture is filled evenly into forms in an automated process. The mycelium grows indoors in about a week without any need for light, watering or petrochemical inputs, and in any needed shape. When the growth necessary to obtain the desired shape is complete, the materials are dehydrated and heated so there will never be any spores or allergen concerns. This is a clear example of sustainable products. A few days ago, we discussed greenwashing. Here, we have the opposite situation – a truly green company that produces natural, renewable and biodegradable products with the potential to effectively decrease the plastic...

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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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The Plastic Footprint
May09

The Plastic Footprint

By The Editors 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 best solution to the problem would be to produce and consume less plastic. However, plastic production is on the rise.  According to PlasticsEurope, worldwide plastics production rose to 280 million tonnes in 2011, representing around 4% increase from 2010, when 270 million tonnes of plastics were produced.  From 2010 to 2016, global plastics consumption is expected to grow by an average of about 4 % each year. What to do then?  The Plastic Disclosure Project offers one solution that, along with many other interventions, may help alleviate the problem.  The model for this initiative is the Carbon Disclosure Project, which motivates companies to disclose their impact on environment and natural resources and take action to reduce them. Similarly, the Plastic Disclosure Project  encourages companies to assess their plastic footprint along with that of their suppliers and service providers. The video below, from the Plastic Disclosure Project, shows the global impact of plastic pollution and explains how assessing the plastic footprint raises awareness of the problem and helps companies to develop innovative strategies for reducing their environmental...

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