Ocean Action Hub

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'Make new rules' to save the oceans

12 July 2017 - New rules are urgently needed to protect life in the open seas, scientists have warned.

12 July 2017 - A report to a UN ocean conference in New York points out that more than 60% of the ocean has no conservation rules as it’s outside national jurisdiction.

It says the open ocean is at risk from climate change, over-fishing, deep sea mining, farm pollution and plastics.

The authors say one area – the Bay of Bengal - is at a tipping point which could impact on global fish stocks.

The report was commissioned to inform delegates preparing a UN resolution on governance of the open ocean.

Representatives in New York are preparing a text that could cover everything from establishing marine protected areas to distributing the benefits of valuable biotech products generated from the seas.

One of the report’s authors, Prof Alex Rogers from Oxford University, told BBC News: “This is very, very important. A lot of states are looking towards developing industrial activities in the ocean – fishing, deep-sea mining, renewable energy… even aquaculture offshore.

“It’s really vital that we come to some international agreement on how to protect or manage biodiversity on high seas in the face of all these pressures.”

The UN is focusing discussion on three areas:

  • Setting up a legal framework for marine conservation areas on the high seas - or other spatial measures like banning destructive fishing gear in vulnerable places;
  • A more rigorous environmental impact before industrial activities are undertaken;
  • Developing rules around marine genetic resources so all nations get a share of the wealth of the seas.

Together they are categorised under a new UN acronym – BBNJ. That’s Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction.

Prof Rogers’ report is a review of new science over the past five years. He says he realises how little is known about some essential ocean processes, and mentions the Bay of Bengal issue as a source of great concern.

The issue there is nitrogen, which performs an positive role in fertilising algae at the bottom of the food chain, but can also have negative effects if there’s too much of it in the water.

At the moment, nitrogen fertilisers in the Bay of Bengal are running off farmland and over-fertilising algae. This in turn encourages bacteria, which capture oxygen. Slowly marine life in the area disappears.

But the Bay of Bengal is now on the verge of going one destructive stage more.

CONTINUE READING: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40572676

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Dirty laundry: Are your clothes polluting the ocean?

6 July 2017 - In an indoor "Manchester-drizzle-simulating" rain room at the University of Leeds, and in a laundry lab in Plymouth, research is revealing the unexpected environmental cost of the very clothes on our backs.

6 July 2017 - "Not many people know that lots of our clothes are made of plastic," says Imogen Napper, a PhD student at Plymouth University, "polyester, acrylic."

Ms Napper and Prof Richard Thompson study marine microplastics - fragments and fibres found in the ocean surface, the deep sea and the marine food chain.

And in a recent lab study, they found that polyester and acrylic clothing shed thousands of plastic fibres each time it was washed- sending another source of plastic pollution down the drain and, eventually, into the ocean.

"My friends always make fun of me because they think of marine biology as such a sexy science - it's all turtles, hot countries and bikinis," says Ms Napper.

"But I've been spending hours washing clothes and counting the fibres."

It might not be exotic, but this painstaking "laundry-science" has revealed that an average UK washing load - 6kg (13lb) of fabric - can release:

  • 140,000 fibres from polyester-cotton blend
  • nearly half a million fibres from polyester
  • more than 700,000 fibres from acrylic

Fishing for plastic

That is from every load of synthetic laundry from every UK washing machine. "A lot more fibres were released in the wash than we expected," Ms Napper says.

"They're going down the drain, so they are making their way into the sewage treatment works and maybe, from there, into the marine environment."

Prof Thompson says washing clothes could be a "significant source" of plastic microfibres in the ocean.

"When we sample, we find plastic fibres less than the width of a human hair - in fish, in deep sea sediments, as well as [floating] at the surface."

Changes need to happen "at the design stage", he says; better, harder-wearing and less "disposable" clothing would last longer and be good for the environment.

"The garments [we washed] were similar fleecy garments, and some were shedding fibres much faster than others," Prof Thompson says.

"We need to understand why some garments wear out much more quickly than others, so we can try to minimise unnecessary emissions of plastic."

And scientists now have the backing of possibly the most wholesome of British organisations; the Women's Institute, decided just last month to campaign for what they called "innovative solutions" to the problem of microplastic fibres in the ocean.

Toxic raincoats

Prof Richard Blackburn, head of the sustainable materials research group at the University of Leeds, agrees that textile-makers need to think about what happens "in use", when we wear and wash our clothes.

"People don't consider it," he says. "So, potentially, the pollution could be caused by us - the consumers - rather than the manufacturers."

Prof Blackburn's colleague in Leeds, Philippa Hill, was also drawn to the subject of laundry - by chemical coatings being washed off outdoor clothing.

The waterproofing most high-end, rain-proof jackets are treated with consists of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are persistent and potentially toxic pollutants.

Coating textiles and other materials with PFCs makes them resistant to stains, grease, and water. They are also used in some non-stick pans and food packaging.

These molecules sit on top of the (usually nylon) outer fabric like a protective layer of chemical barbed wire - the tip of every barb pushes away water molecules, which are too large to pass through the spaces in between. Air molecules can pass through freely, resulting in a non-sweaty, breathable, waterproof jacket.

CONTINUE READING: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40498292

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Plastic 'threat' to Scottish ocean and coastal wildlife

27 June 2017 - Plastic has been found in basking shark feeding grounds and the habitats of puffins and seals, according to a Greenpeace voyage around Scotland.

27 June 2017 - Researchers aboard the Greenpeace ship also discovered plastic in the nests and beaks of seabirds.

Beluga II is due to arrive in Edinburgh later to present the findings of its two-month voyage.

The crew was investigating the impact of "plastic pollution" on wildlife and landscapes around Scotland's coast.

The environmental campaign group said it had found plastic bottles, bags, packaging and fragments on every beach it surveyed.

The organisation visited more than 30 beaches in remote areas.

Plastic was also found in "internationally significant seabird colonies" on Bass Rock, Isle of May and the Shiant Isles.

The boat also went to the islands of Mull, Rum, Eigg and Skye.

Tisha Brown, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: "It cannot be right that our beaches, seas and the stunning wildlife they are home to should become the final dumping ground for throwaway plastic bottles and other plastic trash.

"With a truckload of plastic entering the ocean every minute, we need urgent action from governments and from major soft drinks companies which produce billions of single-use plastic bottles every year."

Campaigners will deliver a petition to Scotland's Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham calling for the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers in Scotland.

Greenpeace said the schemes have been shown to increase collection rates of plastic bottles as high as 95% in other countries and reduce the number ending up in the environment.

CONTINUE READING: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-40410633

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Plastic from tyres 'major source' of ocean pollution - BBC News

22 Feb 2017 - Particles of debris from car tyres are ending up in the ocean as "plastic soup", conservationists warn.

22 Feb 2017 - Particles of debris from car tyres are ending up in the ocean as "plastic soup", conservationists warn.

Microplastics from tyres and textiles are a bigger source of marine pollution than the breakdown of larger plastic waste in some areas, says the IUCN.

Up to 30% of plastic released into the oceans each year comes from primary microplastics, not the disintegration of larger pieces, a report found.

Debris from tyre abrasion and synthetic fabrics are the main sources, they say.

The IUCN reviewed data from seven global regions to look at how much of the estimated 9.5 million tonnes of new plastic waste released into the oceans each year comes from primary microplastics.

These are tiny plastic particles from the likes of consumer products rather than the degradation of larger bits of plastic in the oceans.

The report found between 15% and 31% of plastic pollution came from primary microplastics, of which the biggest contributors (almost two-thirds) were abrasion of synthetic textiles, while washing, and abrasion of tyres, while driving.

Synthetic rubber, made from a variant of plastic, makes up around 60% of the rubber used in tyres.

Other sources included microbeads in cosmetics, which contributed about 2% of the releases to the ocean globally.

François Simard, deputy director of IUCN's marine programme, said the findings came as a surprise.

"We discovered that most of the microplastics are coming from either the clothes or from the tyres," he told BBC News. "Microplastics are going everywhere in the sea and into the food chain, let's close the plastic tap."

CONTINUE READING: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39042655

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Banned chemicals persist in deep ocean - BBC News

13 February 2017 - Chemicals banned in the 1970s have been found in the deepest reaches of the Pacific Ocean, a new study shows.

13 February 2017 - Chemicals banned in the 1970s have been found in the deepest reaches of the Pacific Ocean, a new study shows.

Scientists were surprised by the relatively high concentrations of pollutants like PCBs and PBDEs in deep sea ecosystems.

Used widely during much of the 20th Century, these chemicals were later found to be toxic and to build up in the environment.

The results are published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The team led by Dr Alan Jamieson at the University of Newcastle sampled levels of pollutants in the fatty tissue of amphipods (a type of crustacean) from deep below the Pacific Ocean surface.

The animals were retrieved using specially designed "lander" vehicles deployed from a boat over the Mariana and Kermadec trenches, which are over 10km deep and separated from each other by 7,000km.

Not broken down

The pollutants found in the amphipods included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were commonly used as electrical insulators and flame retardants.

PCB production was banned by the US in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a UN treaty signed in 2001.

From the 1930s to when PCBs were banned in the 1970s, the total global production of these chemicals is estimated to be in the region of 1.3 million tonnes.

Released into the environment through industrial accidents and discharges from landfills, these pollutants are resistant to being broken down naturally, and so persist in the environment.

In their paper, the authors say it can be difficult to place the levels of contamination found below the Pacific into a wider context - in part because previous studies of contamination gathered measurements in different ways.

In the food chain

But they add that in the Mariana trench, the highest levels of PCBs were 50 times greater than in crabs from paddy fields fed by the Liaohe River, one of the most polluted rivers in China.

Dr Jamieson commented: "The amphipods we sampled contained levels of contamination similar to that found in Suruga Bay [in Japan], one of the most polluted industrial zones of the northwest Pacific."

The researchers suggest that the PCBs and PBDEs made their way to Pacific Ocean trenches through contaminated plastic debris and via dead animals sinking to the sea floor.

These are then consumed by amphipods and other deep sea creatures.

The authors of the study say that the deep ocean can become a "sink" or repository for pollutants.

They argue that the chemicals accumulate through the food chain so that when they reach the deep ocean, concentrations are many times higher than in surface waters.

Katherine Dafforn from the University of New South Wales in Australia, who was not involved in the study, said: "Although the authors were able to quantify concentrations of PCBs and PCBEs in crustacean scavengers from the hadal zone [deep ocean trenches], the source of [persistent pollutants] to these areas and also the mechanisms for delivery remain largely unknown.

"Furthermore, the toxic effects of these pollutants and their potential to biomagnify up the food chain still need to be tested."

But she added that the team members had "provided clear evidence that the deep ocean, rather than being remote, is highly connected to surface waters and has been exposed to significant concentrations of human-made pollutants."

Continue reading: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38957549