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Posts Tagged ‘marine debris

News: There’s plastic in lots of ocean waters…but there’s less of it than expected…and impact on fish and birds is hard to gauge

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NOAA photo of marine debris in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

This image from NOAA is too often used to mischaracterize what marine debris looks like in the open ocean. Not a shot of the open waters of the Pacific, this is instead a shot of Hanauma Bay, Hawaii, where materials from land have been concentrated by winds and currents to form what is admittedly an awful mess. We need to shape our communications to lead the reader to think “how cen we keep this mess from leaving the land and ending up n the water?” rather that “gee, that’s interesting…I had no idea there was that much junk in the Pacific” if we’re going to tackle the marine debris problem.

Today Associated Press released an article today that begins “Plastic junk is floating widely on the world’s oceans, but there’s less of it than expected, a study says.” But the headline is far less balanced:“Study: Plastic debris widespread on ocean surface”

The fact that plastic materials can be found in lots of places is sadly the emphasis of many of the articles on marine debris, and the stranger and more remote the place, seemingly the better.

An important line indicating what we need to support is buried at the very end of the article:

“The impact on fish and birds is hard to gauge because scientists don’t understand things like how much plastic animals encounter and how they might be harmed if they swallow it”

Research on the impacts of plastic materials, which are varied in size and chemical composition, lags far behind the work on simple detection. We know, and for some time have known, that plastics, large and small, are found in many, many parts of the world’s oceans. What we need to spend time on (and time means money) is the impact of what we’re finding. Without a better understanding of the impacts a maximized plan to attack the most harmful sources first and with greatest effort is more or less guesswork. And so far we’re not doing well focusing on those things that we do know are harming marine life. There’s not a complete absence of research – for example the Italians are doing some interesting work on impacts to whales in the Med from ingested plastic – but this field is research in still in its infancy.

When it’s easier to get funding and political support to go on a cruise to tow a plankton net that to tackle marine debris that we know harms wildlife (derelict nets and certain tire reefs, for example), or to get robust funding for the research to tackle the impacts we poorly understand, there’s a good chance that we’re not tackling this rationally.

Similarly, when the media focus remains on distant blue waters, which make for interesting photos and stories I agree, and less on the less charismatic solid waste disposal problems on land (proper disposal and handling of wastes, stormwater management, etc.) we’re inclined to look for solutions from NOAA, who has little authority or ability to stop the plastic from entering the oceans. We should look to the U.S. EPA which regulates solid waste, or the multitudes of states and localities who set policies and manage local waste disposal, recycling and stormwater which might be able to actually reduce the flows of plastic into rivers, lakes and oceans, rather than looking solely to NOAA which the U.S. Congress has given neither the funding nor the legal tools to tackle the problem in proportion to its scale.

It is time to move on from “hey look, I found plastic in a far off place!” to “why in the world don’t we have robust recycling programs in all populated parts of the U.S.?” and other issues that surround tacking the problem of waste across the board.

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A
bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com
You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

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Written by Will Nuckols

June 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Day to day loss of shipping containers has doubled since 2011

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MOL Comfort loses containers

MOL Comfort loses containers during a castophic event in 2013. As bad as the large loses from catosrophic loses are, it is the dramatic increase in day-to-day loses that are alarming

Catastrophic events aside (which contribute to large losses of shipping containers) a recent study has shown that shipping container losses have more than doubled since 2011.

A gCaptain article yesterday listed “World Shipping Council estimated that on average there were approximately 350 containers lost at sea each year during the 2008-2010 time frame, not counting for catastrophic events.”

“Based on 2014′s survey results, the WSV estimates that there were approximately 733 containers lost at sea on average for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, not including catastrophic events. Including catastrophic losses, for these years the average annual loss was approximately 2,683 containers, an uptick of 297% from the previous three years”

While the article notes that “any loss of a container at sea is a loss that carriers seek to prevent” the data shows that industry is headed toward a direction of more loss, even in the face of “a number of efforts to enhance container safety and reduce loss.”

Kudos to the World Shipping Council for doing the surveys and for being open with the results, but that said, clearly more needs to be done to reduce container loss.

here’s the link for the WSC survey 2014 update

http://www.worldshipping.org/industry-issues/safety/Containers_Lost_at_Sea_-_2014_Update_Final_for_Dist.pdf

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A
bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com
You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Dead baby seal raises questions about efforts to address lost fishing gear in the U.S.

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On April 8, 2012 the Seattle Times ran an article titled Lost fishing gear becoming big threat to Puget Sound marine life highlighting the recent discovery of the dead body of a seal pup entangled in lost fishing gear.

Seal pup named Sandy

A Seattle Times article highlights a "Seal pup is rescued and rehabilitated only to later drown when entangled in derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound, WA" but fails to look deeper at the bigger questions about how we are doing with cleaning up these persistent threats to marine mammals, fish, birds and even divers. (photo - Seattle Times)

“The death of a rescued seal pup, trapped in an underwater tangle of fishing line, shows the deadly toll of lost fishing gear. Old fishing nets, crab pots, lines and hooks ensnare and kill more than half a million sea creatures in Puget Sound every year, according to the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative” the Seattle Times article states, followed by a sad story of a seal pup which was rescued, rehabilitated by the Progressive Animal Welfare Society’s Wildlife Center for five months, and then returned to the wild only to drown when entangled in lost fishing gear.

While startling to see any marine mammal senselessly lost not to a natural predator, but from human’s impacts on the marine environment, perhaps equally disturbing is what is not covered in the article – the bigger picture view of the problem of derelict fishing gear in the United States and waning efforts to address legacy gear – the persistent monofilament lines in the water – in particular.

What’s not in the news article:

  • The dramatic reduction in federal funding, and accordingly the level of effort, removing new or legacy derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound
  • The inherent difficulties in maintaining a long-term cleanup effort when most funding sources are geared toward pilot project projects or demonstration projects (the Northwest Straits Commission has done a great job, but if they have serious challenges maintaining a program even given their tremendous successes, how will other regions do in the long run?)
  • The unknown factor of how much derelict fishing gear lies below 100 feet, the diver depth cut off for this type of work due to OSHA restrictions (unless you are the military, who came to remove a few nets a few years ago as they are not affected by OSHA regs – they did those dives as training missions)
  • The harm that volunteers have put themselves in working at depths where “volunteering” was the only way to get around OSHA regs (as one theory goes that volunteers are not subject to OSHA regs as they don’t accept pay for their dives – a legal premise that has never been run to ground) on projects identified by the SeaDoc Society mentioned in the article who asked for federal help, but none came when a squid seiner sank with her nets deployed (luckily no one has been injured on that net recovery project but it is one heck of a scary cleanup)
  •  The lack of federal guidelines to address this type of diving (a workshop was held bringing multiple state, federal and tribal agencies together but there was no follow-up or transfer of procedures or policies between groups)
  •  A serious look at where “scientific diving” ends and “working diver” circumstances, and required training, begins and the related implications on derelict fishing gear cleanup programs

The issues surrounding cleaning up derelict fishing gear are numerous, the expertise is thin, and some of the best folks who worked on the topic have had to move on to other work due to funding limitations – a tragic brain-drain for the field.

Ghost fishing gear’s impacts are serious – and have been quantified in some instances (although the numbers are possibly lower than reality as the mortality and evidence of the mortality occurs so quickly), and while efforts to stop the introduction of new fishing nets has made some headway (disposal dumpsters at some docks, nets-to-energy projects at some others) I know of no national, or even regional plan to address legacy derelict nets comprehensively in the U.S.

Puget Sound, largely through the good work of the Northwest Straits Commission, comes as close as any to seriously working a cleanup plan, but as the article shows through the death of one high-profile seal, even Puget Sound isn’t safe for fish, waterfowl (there’s a big bird impact from lost monofilament nets too) and marine mammals.

Looking at reductions in the level of effort for derelict fishing net removal in two regions in the U.S. where the threat from nets is already well understood – Puget Sound and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands  – it appears that lost fishing gear recovery as a national priority has slipped over the past several years, even though it appears listed as a priority in government documents.

It is welcome news that the media hasn’t forgotten about the problem, but it is sad that it took the loss of another seal pup to get people’s attention.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/


University of Hawaii takes the lead on researching issues surrounding the debris in the Pacific coming from the 3-11 Tsunami disaster in Japan

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A storify compilation of the live tweets from the meeting begins to tell the story of the range of issues that need to be considered when governments, academia and industries think about the debris at sea coming from the March 11, 2011 tsunami that rocked the coast of Japan.

View the story “U of Hawaii hosts meeting on marine debris from the 3-11-11 tsunami” on Storify]

You can also follow the ongoing story about the 3-11 tsunami debris threat at the newly launched
http://311tsunamidebris.org website

materials at sea immediately following the 3-11 tsunami disaster in Japan

materials at sea immediately following the 3-11 tsunami disaster in Japan

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

 

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Follow Will on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Written by Will Nuckols

February 28, 2012 at 10:47 am

Media begins coverage of the 3-11 tsunami debris en route to the U.S.

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The public’s attention is finally being drawn to the topic of the materials which ended in the ocean as a result of the tsunami.

photo of the russian ship Pallada

Photo of the Pallada docked during a visit to Seattle, WA. The Pallada's sailing leg from Hawaii to Russia was crucial in the initial documentation of the 3-11 tsunami debris field in the Pacific ocean disaster which hit Japan earlier this year - referred to by some as 3-11 tsunami debris. Which some minor coverage occurred in the month following the disaster it didn't grab attention in the same way that the current round of media coverage is generating. Major kudos to University of Hawaii researcher Nikolai A Maximenko who approached the Pallada for assistance and the Russian Captain who agreed to document the 3-11 tsunami debris as she sailed west from Hawaii.

The current cycle of coverage reached possibly its widest coverage through a single story in a piece that aired on October 24, 2011 on NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams. That story covered the

information that was gathered by one of what we believe to be only two sources of direct observation of the 3-11 tsunami debris field.

Frustrated by a lack of a wider response to the potential threats that the 3-11 tsunami debris materials may generate, a handful of marine debris experts in Hawaii and Washington, DC (a group which includes myself) have come together to bring together resources of opportunity to begin the process of scoping out the scale of the problem.

One such opportunity presented itself when a Russian tall ship, the Pallada, was en route from San Francisco, California on her way home to Russia, and stopped over in Hawaii. While docked in HI, University of Hawaii researcher Nikolai A Maximenko, who thankfully peaks Russian, approached the Captain of the Pallada and asked if his crew could take photos and report back on the debris they might encounter as they sail west through the areas the ocean circulation models say should contain debris from the 3-11 tsunami debris.

Having found not just debris in general, but a small boat with registration on the stern tying it back to the site of the tsunami’s landfall in Japan there is little doubt that the debris was from the 3-11 disaster event. Closer to Hawaii than the University of Hawaii or NOAA models had predicted, the information from the vessel of opportunity should alert governments, industry, environmentalists and scientists that shockingly little is known about the 3-11 debris field.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert

Written by Will Nuckols

November 1, 2011 at 9:07 am

sometimes reducing marine debris means looking a land based sources, and simple solutions to them, in your own community

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Sometimes reducing marine debris means looking at land-based sources in your own community.  In my case “my community” is Washington, DC, and the closest waterbody is the Anacostia River.

While a holistic solution to trash in the river is still disturbingly far off, we have been making headway.  Councilman Tommy Well’s plastic bag ban/bag fee is both cutting back on the overall use of plastic bags and raising funds to restore the Anacostia River by charging those of us who just must have a one-use plastic bag $0.05 per bag. A Washington Post article says the bag fee has already generated some $150,000 in funds to restore the Anacostia.

But there are other ways to protect our river as well.  Something as simple as a mechanical filter to hold back sediment and trash from the melting piles at RFK can me a part of a much needed marine debris prevention and cleanup plan.

A video I quickly produced highlights the environmental challenge and calls for the Mayor to install sediment controls at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.

Written by Will Nuckols

April 2, 2010 at 11:56 pm