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Made from 12,500 plastic bottles, David de Rothschild’s, Plastiki, has successfully crossed the Pacific ocean after 130 days at sea. The journey – meant to help lessen our plastic imprint on the world’s oceans – began in San Francisco three months ago and ended today, 8000 miles later, in Sydney, Australia. You can read all about it at theplastiki.com. While you’re at it, sign a pledge to beat waste.
Photo credit: Plastiki
Water – which covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface – is our planet’s most precious resource. As a result of misusing and polluting our oceans, rivers, lakes and streams, more than a billion people lack access to clean water and the situation is bound to get worse. Unless.
Friday’s Focus: How Would You Like Your Water? Mostly pictures. A few well-chosen words. And the following links to people who’re committed to changing the way we use and abuse h2O.
Greenpeace ‘Water Patrol’ spotlights toxics pollution in Marilao River, originally uploaded by Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
At last year’s Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup, 400,000 volunteers found more than 6.8 million pounds of trash at beaches and lakes in 100 countries and 42 states in just one day last year. Their flagship event in September is the largest single-day volunteer effort aimed at protecting our ocean and waterways. But don’t wait until September. Enter “beach cleanup” into your favorite search engine and there’s a good chance you’ll find one coming soon to a beach near you.
HAT TIP: oceanconservancy.org
The 5 Gyres Project is the first comprehensive study of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Beginning January 18, 2010, the project will travel thousands of miles across the North and South Atlantic oceans, collecting ocean samples to study plastic accumulation, as well as examining fish for possible plastic ingestion and toxins in their tissues. These expeditions will help further our understanding of the impact of plastic waste on the world’s oceans. Visit http://5gyres.org/ for more information (the site includes a What’s Happening Now blog).
Note to sushi fans: be sure to consult your Environmental Defense Fund Sushi Selector before ordering. Available at www.edf.org.
Researchers in England are designing robots with the ability to detect chemical hazards in water. Equipped with artificial intelligence software, the 20 inch-long robo-fish will travel in schools and communicate with each other via GPS. Sound fishy? Visit fordac.blogspot.com for details.
“No matter where we live, the Great Lakes affect us all. And as species of fish disappear and rates of birth defects and cancer rise, it seems on thing is clear: the Great Lakes are changing and something’s not quite right with the water.”
CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE OR VISIT WATERLIFE.NFB.CA TO SEE A BEAUTIFUL AND MOVING WEBSITE PRESENTATION about the Great Lakes.
When glaciers melt, cities lose a vital source of water. And agricultural land that feeds billions becomes inundated. The Los Angeles Times reports that global warming has melted glaciers in the United States at an alarming rate over the last half-century, “increasing drought risks and contributing to rising sea levels.”
1919 image of Athbasca Glacier, Jasper National Park, Canada, from National Archives of Canada. 2005 image © Gary Braasch.
Hat Tip: worldviewofglobalwarming.org
Photo taken from the ORV Alguita
The following is an edited blog post from the Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita. It’s followed by Steve Lawrence’s account of our journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. FROM THE ALGUITA: …after one attempt that caused the seaplane to bounce three times across the water before it found air and speed to climb back up, they aborted the mission. The pilot came over the radio saying they were unable to land due to the confused nature of seas producing large swells with only five knot winds. The captain said he understood and saw the rough ride they had with the attempt to land. And the pilot came back, “You should have seen what it looked like from here. It could have ended badly.” But all was not lost. The captain asked if the pilot he would check for any debris sightings. After making several laps around the area, the pilot came back on the radio to report they saw not one but two huge wind-rows of plastic debris. He started rattling off things they could recognize from above including a coat hanger. On his last lap around, the pilot preformed an air drop. The packaged contained something the captain had asked him to bring for a badly needed part for a generator. Thank you.
FROM GREENLANDOCEANBLUE CO-FOUNDER STEVE LAWRENCE:
17 September 2009
It is 5:30 am in Honolulu on this mid-September morning, the sky is dark and it is nearly soundless. Early, no doubt, but the energy brewing among those gathered is not generated from the airport hanger’s coffee pot. Indeed, the buzz this morning is all about the Patch.
We have come to the Kamaka Air Hanger with a singular itinerary – an historic, 600 mile flight into a southern portion of the North Pacific gyre, or as headlines across the world have broadcast it – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There we are to rendezvous with Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation – the man who actually discovered the patch a decade ago. This is an unprecedented journey, and we are fortunate to have secured the Billabong Clipper – a Grumman Albatross – the only plane capable of the four hour journey, the ocean landing and the return to Hawaii.
There are nine passengers in all, including a pair of students (one journalist, one biologist), an activist, an eco website editor, a mayor’s consultant, and myself, a filmmaker. We are greeted by Jacob Asher from NOAA, who confirms the importance of the journey and instructs us on how to observe and log debris sightings along the way. Mr. Asher has done his fair share of debris overflights around the Hawaiian Islands in the past few years. “Mark the latitude and longitude with accuracy down to the minute in the first column” he explains while indicating a grid which specifies commonly sighted items ranging from ghost nets to general debris such as plastic bags.
After a safety briefing, the props kick over and we are soon airborne, banking northward as the morning sun pulls itself from the vast Pacific and a morning blessing appears in the form of a rainbow. Mobile phones are soon rendered useless, due not only to lack of service, but the deafening roar of the engines that hoist the 30,000 ton craft.
We fly at a relatively low 1000 feet, which offers a much more intimate perspective that the typical 40,000 feet of a commercial aircraft. In fact, even before the island behind us has faded from sight, we spot our first debris – a loose buoy, now just another piece floating garbage being slowly pulled out to sea by the centrifugal swirl of the gyre.
As we all settle in, Hayden Smith is already at work. Mr. Smith, the activist, intently watches the surface below, pen and pad at the ready, tearing himself away from the window only to confirm coordinates with the cockpit. As a Harbour Master (that’s Harbour with a “u”) in Auckland, New Zealand, he knows the business of marine debris better than most. At the age of thirty one, he is a veteran environmental protector. With the support of the government his efforts have been concentrated on Waitemata Harbour for the past seven years. He hopes his meeting with Capt. Moore will help him better understand the Algalita’s research, and how he might apply the knowledge to his work back home.
The farther we travel, the greater the frequency of debris spotting. Log sheet notations range from ghost nets to bags and bottles – visible even from this height.
Tellingly, the most abundant animal life spotted from the plane are the many birds that skim the ocean surface. Three hundred miles from the closest land mass, the birds scan the waters and dive in for lunch. Unfortunately, what appears to be ocean life is often degraded plastic lurking just below the surface. Hundreds of thousands of these birds die every year from mistakenly ingesting these toxic remnants.
Three hours into the flight and the debris sightings soon develop a kind of rhythmic cadence. Surface debris flies by like confetti on the surface below, styrofoam cups, basketballs, bags, pure trash scattered in the texture of the sea. As the plane descends closer to the surface, the debris stream is a constant… 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4… 4/4 time beats of trash with scattered accents along the way. A sad song indeed.
In the vast blue sea, we spot the Algalita research vessel. Circling the craft, the pilots search for a window to safely land.
We are told to fasten seatbelts, yet in our attempt to land we are nothing more than a skipping stone. What looked land-able from a higher altitude is in fact a small but lumpy mix of swells. We pull up and the pilots take a wide lap riding a wind line. This line we are flying along is an ocean convergence zone — an area of converging forces. In this case, the forces in opposition are strong ocean currents. Along this definition in the sea, from horizon to horizon, is a line of trash. We stare in awe at what looks like the high tide line on the world’s most polluted beach. It is composed of a variety of plastics and debris, everything from broken coolers to milk crates.
Unfortunately, no camera can fully capture the sickening sight, especially traveling at our air speed. Every photograph is a blur. Yet one thing is perfectly clear, man’s impact on the once pristine Pacific.
Most remarkably, what we see is only the tip of the iceberg. This is only the surface debris. Just below the surface, the synthetics are mistaken for plankton and other edibles. It is no wonder wild life and sea life feed on it. Unlike the animals that live in and around landfills, these creatures have not been conditioned over time to recognize hazardous foodstuff. Since these species have existed, the food chain could be “trusted.” That is no longer the case.
The equation becomes frighteningly obvious. Small fish eat the plastic, medium sized fish eat the small fish, large fish eat medium-sized… and who eats the large fish? We do.
As we ponder the implications, the plane makes another pass at landing alongside Moore …. to no avail. The sea is simply too rough. The plane begins a gradual ascent and the realization hits us all. The disappointment is most evident on Hayden Smith’s face. He fights the urge to appeal the pilot’s decision. It was a long trip to be denied the destination… traveling all this way and just getting the post card. But, as Smith realizes, our safety is the primary concern… and we have in fact seen what we came to see. In this case the pictures do not tell 1000 words, but what we have seen is indelible.
As I settle back into my seat, frustration soon gives way to a renewed sense of purpose. People will argue that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an urban myth, they will dispute its size and density…. but there are eleven more of us who now know the truth. The Patch is real. We may not be able to fathom how it all got here… or how we might begin to clean it up… but we can and must take immediate steps to stop it from growing any larger.
On Board the Billabong Clipper
Pilots Mike Castillo, Lynn Hunt
Team Joel Clausen, Colby Munson, Keith Rollman, Hayden Smith, Ericka Staples
Camera Hugh Gentry, Bill Paris
GLOBe Steve Lawrence
With support from Billabong, Tenth Millennium
Steve Lawrence reports that, despite ocean conditions that made an at-sea landing and takeoff unsafe, our journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (9/18/09) was a great success. We’ll have a detailed post from Steve on Monday. For now, he reports that when the Billabong seaplane “strafed” 5-8 mile stretches of the southern tip of the Garbage Patch from an altitude of 30 to 50 feet, he and his colleagues witnessed an endless stream of debris that ranged from plastic bottles and plastic bags to basketballs and milk crates.
To all those who’ve been following this story: thanks very much for your patience and support. See you Monday when we’ll also have an opportunity to salute everyone on the plane as well as those whose energy, ideas, and all-important funding made the trip possible.
Hat Tip: Steve Munson – a larger-than-life environmentalist/entrepreneur whose personal energy is sufficient to light a fair-sized city.
Hat Tip: Hayden Smith who captains the Waitemata Harbour Clean Up Trusts vessel, MV Phil Warren, and helps remove rubbish from the Auckland, New Zealand harbour every day.
Latest news from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: researchers are finding that jellyfish are eating the small pieces of plastic, and they in turn arevbeing eaten by larger fish, such as salmon and tuna. In other words, we’ve not only polluted the ocean with plastic but now we run the risk of being poisoned from the fish that ingest it.
GREENLANDOCEANBLUE is flying to the GPGP this Wednesday aboard the Billabong seaplane. Stay tuned for details.
Hat Tip: eastbayexpress
Following the ancient tradition of using rugs as a means for communication and a cultural record, the Mexican design collective NEL produced a global warming rug that depicts a small polar bear surrounded by the sea.
The world’s first commercial wave farm is located in Agucadoura off the coast of northern Portugal. The farm uses snakelike, semi-submerged devices that generate electricity with hydraulic rams driven by waves. San Francisco based Pacific Gas & Electric will soon become the first U.S. utility company to commit to wave power and will hopefully being delivering wave-powered electricity to the grid by next year. Hat tip: inhabitat.com.
The Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School produced this 10-minute film that reconnects audiences to the importance of the marine environment for all life on Earth.
Remember the eco-project that used old subway cars to create habitats for marine life (greenlandoceanblue, July 20th)? Well, it’s run into some difficulty. Of the 48 cars that found a new home off the coast of Delaware, only two are upright and intact. Most of the others quickly disintegrated. The EPA has said that the cars would last 25 years. Ah, interesting.
Hat Tip: earthfirst.com
This is what could happen if all humans disappeared:
Sea turtles can easily mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish. As a result, they eat them and die from choking or simply from being unable to eat. A single dead turtle discovered near Hawaii had more than 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach including a comb, a toy truck wheel, and nylon rope.
Learn why all of the world’s marine turtles are either endangered or threatened with extinction at panda.org.
Albatross adults fly thousands of miles in search of food for their young and often bring back plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by mistake.
In this inset photo you can see what was found in the stomach of just one dead Laysan albatross chick (photographers: David Liittschwager & Susan Middleton).
Learn more about the world’s biggest garbage dump here. Coming soon: details about our own journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
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- Researchers Head to Great Pacific Garbage Patch (blippitt.com)
Not long ago, the slimehead – named for its distinctive mucus canals – lived in obscurity. Renamed “orange roughy” in the 1970’s, it is now widely overfished. Ditto the Patagonian toothfish (rechristened “Chilean sea bass”) and the mud crab (now known as the “peekytoe crab”). And a new strain of catfish which seafood marketers are calling “declacata” is coming soon to a dinner table near you.
Note: The naming of seafood is policed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which keeps a Seafood List of acceptable market names.
Hat Tip: washingtonpost.com.
Flow is a 2008 documentary film directed by Irena Salina. It examines the global water crisis and presents a case against the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply.
Research on cone snail toxins has shown an unprecedented potential for advances in the world of medicine* – yet another reason to protect their tropical coral reef and mangrove habitats while we can.
* E.g., Prialt, a drug based on a synthetic version of a cone snail peptide, was approved in 2004, and is believed to be up to 1,000 times as potent as morphine. In addition, the drug comes without the typical opiate side effects of addiction and tolerance buildup, and has proven very successful at reducing extreme pain in cancer and AIDS patients. Cone snail peptides have also shown potential to aid treatment of medical conditions as varied as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and strokes.
You can read more about the cone snail at conservation.org.
originally uploaded by ‘da Wills
Over 650 retired New York City subway cars have so far found a second home – 80 feet underwater and 16 nautical miles off the coast of Delaware – where they’re helping to transform “a barren stretch of ocean floor into a bountiful oasis, carpeted in sea grasses, walled thick with blue mussels and sponges, and teeming with black sea bass and tautog.” The result: “a 400-fold increase in the amount of marine food per square foot in the last seven years.” You can read more of the story at treehugger.com.
Online gambling BetUS.com has announced it will give members a chance to wager on various global warming-related issues. “It’s part of a campaign we’ve been doing for the past two and a half years called ‘pop culture gaming,’” a spokesman said. “You can wager on things in the headlines.” One bet gives members 150-to-1 odds that the oceans will rise six inches on average worldwide by the end of the year. “It’s more like a billion to one,” says Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “Anyone who puts money on that would be an idiot.”
Sustainable Sushi: A Guide To Saving the Oceans One Bite At A Time, written by a fishery and sustainability expert who was himself netted long ago by the allure of Japanese cuisine, Sustainable Sushi offers simple, clear explanations of such topics as mercury and PCB levels, overfishing, and species extinction.
Visit sustainablesushi.net for more information.
You can follow Chris at changents.com, an organization that connects Agents of Change with a fan base of “Backers” around the world, enabling them to create change together.
An update of the Supermarket Seafood Scorecard (released by Greenpeace) gives Trader Joe’s an “F” for continuing to stock “red list” seafood like orange roughy, swordfish, and childean sea bass – some of the world’s most critically imperiled species. In fact, none of the 20 stores Greenpeace is tracking get a green or top score (not even Whole Foods, though it gets the #3 spot).
More on Traitor Joe at traitorjoe.com.
For up-to-the-minute information that can help you become a wise, responsible purchaser of seafood, visit montereybayaquarium.
Hat Tip: Trent
An ad from the new Diesel campaign: “Global Warming Ready.”
At a time when the world’s oceans are severely over-fished, your seafood choices make a big difference. Make sustainable seafood choices quickly and easily – whether you’re eating at your favorite restaurant or shopping for dinner – with a Seafood Watch iPhone App. Don’t have an iPhone? Seafood Watch recommendations are available for all mobile devices with an Internet connection. If you don’t have a handheld device, you can also view the recommendations here: montereybayaquarium.org
Indonesia is considering renting some of its 10,000 islands to climate change refugees. Friends of the Earth representative, Damien Lawson believes the idea is worth considering, pointing out that “people in places like the Carterets (Papua New Guinea islands) are being forced to relocate already.” More here.
Hat Tip: www.nmoe.org