Ocean Action Hub

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Defusing the toxic timebomb of invisible ocean pollutants

20 Feb 2019 - While marine plastic pollution has garnered the world’s attention with the visuals of giant gyres of plastic and soupy layers of microplastics, it is the invisible and persistent pollutants contaminating the marine environment and hitchhiking on plastics that have created a toxic timebomb. 

20 Feb 2019 - OPINION - While marine plastic pollution has garnered the world’s attention with the visuals of giant gyres of plastic and soupy layers of microplastics, it is the invisible and persistent pollutants contaminating the marine environment and hitchhiking on plastics that have created a toxic timebomb. 

Life on earth is utterly dependent on healthy oceans. They produce much of the oxygen we breathe, cycle the carbon dioxide, and regulate the weather we experience. Perhaps it is the vastness of the oceans that has made us complacent about its capacity to keep absorbing our toxic wastes?

After a year of global ocean meetings, the international community is finally facing up to the reality of polluted, depleted oceans.

Toxic waste has been pouring into our oceans since the industrial revolution. Oceans have been treated as bottomless pits — the “away” place where industrial and domestic wastes are sent to “disappear.” As the giant global sump collecting our sewage, rubbish, pesticides, run-off, and industrial emissions — it appears the oceans’ generosity has reached critical limits.  

There is no hiding. Plastics and chemical pollutants now contaminate the most remote and deepest parts of the ocean. Despite the global ocean covering 71 percent of the earth’s surface and holding 97 percent of the earth’s water, scientists have found that tiny shrimp inhabiting the vast, remote depths of the Mariana Trench are loaded with toxic polychlorinated biphenyl — or PCBs — and brominated flame retardants at levels comparable to the world’s contaminated industrialized regions.

We recently compiled a comprehensive report, “Ocean Pollutants Guide — Toxic Threats to Human health and Marine Life,” detailing the twin plastic and pollution problem that is dramatically impacting the health of marine ecosystems everywhere. While marine plastic pollution has garnered the world’s attention with the visuals of giant gyres of plastic and soupy layers of microplastics, it is the invisible and persistent pollutants contaminating the marine environment and hitchhiking on plastics that have created a toxic timebomb. 

Highly persistent chemical pollutants are already altering the reproduction and behavior of marine animals and impacting their immune systems, making survival even harder by altering their capacity to respond to disease.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-defusing-the-toxic-timebomb-of-invisible-ocean-pollutants-94083

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How GIS can help us understand our changing oceans

9 Nov 2017 - Shortly after the launch of Google Earth, a band of oceanographers led by legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle stomped into Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

9 Nov 2017 - SAN FRANCISCO —  Shortly after the launch of Google Earth, a band of oceanographers led by legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle stomped into Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

“Hey look, you can call it Google Dirt, but you can’t call it Google Earth if you ain’t got the oceans in there,” said Kathryn Sullivan, a former NASA astronaut who until recently was administrator of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), paraphrasing how that conversation went as part of a keynote talk last week.

Sullivan was speaking at the 2017 Esri Ocean GIS Forum in Redlands, California.

“It’s been a long time coming that GIS really could deal with the three-quarters of the planet that’s not dirt,” she said, before launching into a conversation on metocean science, the combined study of meteorology and oceanography.

At the conference, organized by Esri, a leader in mapping technology, professionals discussed how geographic information systems, or GIS — software that merges cartography, spatial analysis, and database technology to provide organizations with mapping capabilities — might be leveraged for the three-quarters of the earth that is blue. The focus was on oceans and other relevant topics for global development professionals, included disaster mitigation in the face of climate change.

In an interview with Devex ahead of her talk, Sullivan, currently a Lindbergh fellow in aerospace history at the National Air and Space Museum, explained that while GIS can help scientists uncover the causes and consequences of rising sea temperatures, there is a real need for data that are accessible and actionable so that people can prepare and adapt.

“At NOAA, one of the questions we were working on was this question of resilience,” Sullivan told Devex. “So we’ve got scientific data about the earth. How can we, from our side as data guys, make sure data can connect more readily to questions that communities are dealing with?”

One example is an effort by Project Concern International, a California-based international development organization, to connect nomadic pastoralists in the Afar region of Ethiopia with digital maps to find grazing areas for their cattle through a program called Satellite Assisted Pastoral Resource Management. This represents just one way NGOs can leverage satellite data for their work, but so far the cases of use have been focused on land.

Sullivan talked about a public-private partnership between Esri and U.S. government agencies to create a new map of marine ecosystems as an example of the virtually integrated collaborative tools GIS can bring to global challenges like resilience to natural disasters and climate change.

At the Esri conference, she stood before a picture of Earth as she saw it in orbit. Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space, and part of the crew that deployed the Hubble Telescope in 1990.

“This is what most of the Earth looks like,” she said, before an image made up primarily of water and clouds. “All of that is water. Talk about a misnamed planet. This should be called Aqua not Terra,” she said.

Sullivan presented images to demonstrate the vast meteorological data now at our fingertips thanks to the capabilities satellites give us to measure data such as sea surface temperatures.

“This is new in our lifetimes,” she said. “We are still the first generation of human beings to have the ability to see and measure the planet essentially instantaneously.”

She talked about the impact of the Space Age, which is considered to have begun with the launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, and to have reached its peak with America’s Apollo program, which took astronauts to the moon. It created “a scale of situational awareness about our planet that has never existed in the history of humankind,” she said. Now, as the so-called entrepreneurial space age takes off with companies like SpaceX at the helm, the key is to figure out how to take the vast amount of information we have access to and live with it, learn from it, and factor it into the way we live, said Sullivan.

“The power of a map to put time and place and phenomena together, to give it to our brains through the most potent input sensor human beings have — our eyes — is a remarkable accelerator for the comprehension and engagement and use of the data that tell us what’s on Earth, where are things happening on our planet, what is happening on our planet, how is that changing through time and space, and how is any and all of that intersecting my life, my business, my country, my community?” she said.

When she was young, Sullivan said, researchers would have to pick between rock, ocean, and forest. But as space exploration has helped people appreciate how the Earth really works, and as the challenges besting people and planet have intensified, the world has come to realize that what matters are the connections and interconnections between these systems through time, she said.  

In her interview with Devex, and onstage at Esri, Sullivan explained how problematic it is when people view the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals like the Periodic Table of Elements. “Pick by color or the societal issue that fires your passions,” she said. When you look at the grid of colors and numbers, it appears that four of these goals directly relate to the conservation of the planet: Climate Action (#13), Life Below Water (#14), Life on Land (#15), and arguably Clean Water and Sanitation (#6). But ultimately all of these goals have to do with the planet.

“The foundation of everything else we might aspire to … is the planet itself,” she said. “Those four goals are the basis and foundation of everything.”

GIS professionals have the ability to contribute to the SDGs in meaningful ways. But in order to take their work to the next level, they need to consider ways to put the data and insight and knowledge in the palm of people’s hands so that they come to life in more vivid ways, Sullivan said.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.devex.com/news/how-gis-can-help-us-understand-our-changing-o...

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Kenya's plastic bag ban complicates USAID-promoted technology

5 Oct 2017 - Confusion surrounding Kenya’s new ban on plastic bags may jeopardize the

5 Oct 2017 - Confusion surrounding Kenya’s new ban on plastic bags may jeopardize the agricultural sector’s use of a productivity-boosting innovation first introduced by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Tens of thousands of farmers in Kenya rely on Hermetic Storage Technology (HST) agricultural bags to store their crops after harvest, keeping them safe from pests and decomposition to reduce food waste. USAID contributed about $150,000 to the promotion of these bags beginning in 2013, as part of its Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (KAVES) project.

Kenya’s plastic bag ban applies to “all plastic carrier bags and flat bags used for commercial and household packaging.” The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) of Kenya told Devex that the HST bags are considered exempt under the ban, but that companies that manufacture HST agricultural bags will still need to individually apply to NEMA for an annual clearance from the ban, in order to produce them.  

Fifteen years in the making, the ban outlaws the use, manufacture, or importation of plastic bags with severe penalties, fines of up to $38,800 and up to four years in jail. It is intended to eliminate the waste associated with the estimated 100 million plastic bags that are handed out each year in Kenyan supermarkets alone. The bags block sewers and water drains, causing flooding in the rainy season, killing animals that consume them, putting toxins in the air when they are burnt, and affecting soil quality, because of their inability to decompose, according to NEMA.

NEMA is using its environmental inspectors to enforce the ban. They are tasked with inspecting retail shops, among other facilities that might be using plastic bags, according to the agency. Police enforcement could be considered as an option in the future.

The HST bags are employed primarily by smallhold farmers, who dominate the sector in Kenya. Many of these farmers store their surplus grain on their farms, where pests and fungus can easily destroy a surplus. Maize is the most important smallholder food crop in Kenya, and post-harvest losses due to insects can reach over 40 percent, costing Kenya as much as $45 million per year in imports, according to USAID.

In 2013, USAID began a nationwide push for the use of HST bags to improve the productivity of farmers. These bags, initially developed by Purdue University for the storage of cowpeas in West Africa, prevent postharvest grain loss, keeping the grain in airtight conditions that suffocate pests and prevent moisture damage. The bags also eliminate the need to use post-harvest pesticides.

The campaign boosted bag sales from around 3,000 bags in 2013 to over 612,000 bags in 2017. The bags are now made and sold through the private sector.

While NEMA told Devex that the HST bag is exempt, the blanket phrasing of a ban on “all plastic bags” is causing concern among some farmers and retailers who deal with these bags. In addition to the annual clearance that HST manufacturers must apply for, retail stores that are selling plastics that are exempt will now need to post a physical copy of the notice in their store, according to NEMA.

Manufacturers of the bags are calling on the government to include a specific exemption for the technology used in the agriculture bags, so that each manufacturer does not have to apply individually. They have also requested greater clarity in its rhetoric about the plastics ban, so that farmers and retailers can use the bags with confidence.

In a September 6 letter to the cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, seen by Devex, a group of HST agriculture bag manufacturing companies said that there has been a “negative impact on the distribution and sales due to lack of clear interpretation of the plastic ban law.” The letter called for a specific category exemption for the use, manufacturing, and import of the HST bags.

In response to the letter, NEMA told Devex that if the Ministry of Agriculture “needs further clarification, they are free to consult with NEMA, to get an elaborate clarification.”

Yet because of its strict punishments, some of the retailers might be concerned that if they sell the bags to farmers, they could be slapped with a hefty fine, said George Odingo, technical director of maize and food crops at Fintrac, a USAID contractor for the KAVES project. In turn, the retailers could be hesitant to buy from the manufacturers. In Kenya, manufacturers have to print their name on the bags, making them easily trackable.

“There is the fear, particularly with the distributors, that what will happen is a policeman, or somebody, will walk into a shop and say: ‘Why do you have those plastics here?’” he said.

In order to quell the fears, “we are asking the government to give a very clear understanding to the stakeholders that these are exempt,” Odingo told Devex.

Manufacturers are keeping an eye on the upcoming harvest season that commences this month to see if decreased confidence in the use of the HST bags could have an impact on sales.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.devex.com/news/kenya-s-plastic-bag-ban-complicates-usaid-pro...

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UN Ocean Conference could bring 'next big thing' in development

12 June 2017 - The United Nations Ocean Conference drew to a close with a joint “call to action” issued by member states after a

12 June 2017 - The United Nations Ocean Conference drew to a close with a joint “call to action” issued by member states after a week of back-to-back events on the world’s oceans’ faltering health.

The document itself affirmed continued support to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, including strategies to reduce use of plastics and strengthen adaptation and mitigation measures to counter sea-level rise, but it lacks legal teeth.

Yet the conference’s impact is likely to be felt for years to come, experts at international environmental NGOs say, as oceans could be the next major focus area in international development.

“This is the first conference, ever, of this kind on the ocean organized by the U.N. to discuss this, so that is a big milestone for the future,” said Marta Marrero, the director of ocean governance at the Nature Conservancy. “It is setting the scene for the next steps. Concretely, we have the ‘call to action.’ But, it is a good sign, and a good stepping stone.”

One of those next big steps might fall within the oceans’ (legally) darkest parts.

Up to 70 percent of all of the Earth’s oceans — or, more than 50 percent of the planet — is unregulated by any one country. The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution two years ago to establish the first international treaty for the conservation of marine life and governance of the “high seas,” as they are known.

“It’s the last place on earth that is not governed in one way or another, and it is tempting for the U.N., or for some governments, to look for practical solutions coming out of this,” said Lasse Gustavsson, a senior vice president of Oceana, the international advocacy and research group. “I have a feeling ocean conservation is possibly going to be the next big thing in the international system.”

Governments will reconvene at the U.N. in mid-July to discuss the possible text for such a treaty, which could cover everything from establishing marine protected areas to distributing the benefits of “marine genetic resources,” or products that are generated from the seas and could have a high commercial value. Developing countries have much to gain, but also lose, from such a treaty, which governments will likely formally negotiate on in 2018, says Marrero.

“Developing countries would be able to benefit if, and only if, the legal text establishes some rules of the game that allows that to happen,” she said. “Otherwise, the developed nations would exploit the resources and developing countries that are closer to [the high seas] would never see the benefits of it. It needs to be a mechanism to exchange technology, exchange science and exchange examples.”

For many people in the world’s developing countries, especially small island developing states, their connection to the oceans and livelihoods are deeply intertwined. Marine fisheries support, directly or indirectly, more than 200 million people.

Yet as Gustavvson points out, fishing is mostly conducted in shallow waters, controlled by individual governments. That means an international treaty brokered at the U.N. would likely not help solve the problem of overfishing, a worsening problem that has lasting impacts on both fish populations and people dependent on them.

Essam Yassin Mohammed, a senior researcher and economist at the International Institute for Environment and Development was on hand at the summit to discuss how developing countries can sustainably fish. Mohammed and IIED consult with the government of Bangladesh, and have worked to coordinate Bangladeshi ministries to link and address some of the various problems, such as pollution and pesticide runoff from land and rivers, and climate change, which are all damaging marine ecosystems. They’ve also been invited to work with Costa Rica.

“You need an interconnected system, and to coordinate to address these problems,” he said.

As the summit unfolded, and governments, private sector, foundations, academic institutions and civil society groups pledged 1328 voluntary commitments for improving the oceans and marine life, some gaps in ocean science were made clear. One particularly notable commitment is the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration, which pledges to make tuna fully traceable to vessel and ship dates. Some of the biggest companies in the fishing business have signed the agreement.

Portugal also announced this week it would host another ocean conference in 2020. The “Our Ocean” conferences have also gained attention — the next one will take place in Malta this October.

More funding and support for ocean science is critically needed, UNESCO found in a new report.

“It’s the biggest gathering to talk about the oceans and the commitments, enthusiasm is astounding. The problems that oceans face is enormous. We need the enthusiasm to move ahead,” Lisa Speer, the director of international oceans program at Natural Resources Defense Council said during a media briefing. “We know more about the backside of the moon than we do about our own oceans.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.devex.com/news/un-ocean-conference-could-bring-next-big-thin...