Ocean Action Hub

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Sea creatures store carbon in the ocean — could protecting them help slow climate change?

24 Apr 2019 - Scientists are beginning to recognize that vertebrates, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals, have the potential to help lock away carbon from the atmosphere.

24 Apr 2019 - As the prospect of catastrophic effects from climate change becomes increasingly likely, a search is on for innovative ways to reduce the risks. One potentially powerful and low-cost strategy is to recognize and protect natural carbon sinks — places and processes that store carbon, keeping it out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Forests and wetlands can capture and store large quantities of carbon. These ecosystems are included in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies that 28 countries have pledged to adopt to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement (PDF). So far, however, no such policy has been created to protect carbon storage in the ocean, which is Earth’s largest carbon sink and a central element of our planet’s climate cycle.

As a marine biologist, my research focuses on marine mammal behavior, ecology and conservation. Now I also am studying how climate change is affecting marine mammals — and how marine life could become part of the solution.

What is marine vertebrate carbon?

Marine animals can sequester carbon through a range of natural processes that include storing carbon in their bodies, excreting carbon-rich waste products that sink into the deep sea and fertilizing or protecting marine plants. In particular, scientists are beginning to recognize that vertebrates, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals, have the potential to help lock away carbon from the atmosphere.

I am working with colleagues at UN Environment/GRID-Arendal, a United Nations Environment Program center in Norway, to identify mechanisms through which marine vertebrates’ natural biological processes may be able to help mitigate climate change. So far we have found at least nine examples.

One of my favorites is Trophic Cascade Carbon. Trophic cascades occur when change at the top of a food chain causes downstream changes to the rest of the chain. As an example, sea otters are top predators in the North Pacific, feeding on sea urchins. In turn, sea urchins eat kelp, a brown seaweed that grows on rocky reefs near shore. Importantly, kelp stores carbon. Increasing the number of sea otters reduces sea urchin populations, which allows kelp forests to grow (PDF) and trap more carbon.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/sea-creatures-store-carbon-ocean-could-protecting-them-help-slow-climate-change

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Hotel chain raises the bar on ocean conservation and coastal health

10 Jan 2019 - Iberostar Group is taking action to deliver measurable improvements by reducing plastic consumption, improving coastal health and promoting responsible seafood consumption.

10 Jan 2019 - While 2018 was the International Year of the Reef, the world’s coral reefs remain under dire threat. Human activity is a major culprit, with over-fishing, aggressive coastal development, pollution and climate change degrading coral reef health around the world.

One hotel chain is working to be a part of the solution: Iberostar Group, which owns more than 120 hotels in 18 countries. Through its Wave of Change movement, Iberostar Group is taking action to deliver measurable improvements by reducing plastic consumption, improving coastal health and promoting responsible seafood consumption.

Iberostar designed Wave of Change in line with Objective 14 of the Sustainable Development Goalsestablished by the United Nations. The movement aims to unite employees, customers, suppliers and society to work together to create an increasingly sustainable tourism industry.

Wave of Change is the brainchild of Gloria Fluxá, vice chairman and chief sustainability officer at Iberostar Group. She knew that certain elements would be critical to the movement’s success; the first was that it be science-based.

Science at the core

Iberostar Group is working on an ambitious coral reef research project, aided by a team of scientists with expertise in coastal care and protection from Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The company hired Megan Morikawa, a Stanford-trained researcher who specializes in coral reefs, to study and boost reef ecosystem resilience.

Based in the Iberostar complex in Dominican Republic, Morikawa is working to develop the first coral nursery in the country and is studying mangrove ecosystems to see if they can help with water treatment.

"Scale is a challenge in the scientific world," Morikawa explained. "Private sector engagement expands the pie of what’s possible for reef restoration. With Iberostar’s workforce of more than 32,000 people focusing on coastal health, big things happen quickly."

Doug McCauley, science adviser for Iberostar Group’s Wave of Change movement, agreed. "The unique and rare ingredient in Wave of Change is a real recognition of the problem and a deep understanding that science must be a part of the solution. Lots of groups have sustainability programs, but Iberostar has chosen to make this a high-IQ movement by making scientists an integral part of it. This makes a huge difference in how much impact you can have."

Family first, 360 stakeholder engagement

In championing the Wave of Change movement, Fluxá sets the tone and agenda from Iberostar’s highest levels, but she also understands that the endeavor can succeed only if all stakeholders are committed and engaged. This is no small feat, considering that Iberostar has a workforce of 32,000 employees at more than 120 hotels in more than 18 countries, she said. "The sheer volume, geographic distribution and cultural variety of our staff makes full engagement a big challenge. Our employees are our most important stakeholders. We have to count them in as ambassadors. To achieve this, we have to seduce, not impose."

Morikawa noted that Iberostar puts family first in its engagement efforts, meaning not only that the company strives for 360-degree buy-in from its workforce, but also that it considers employees’ families to be an important part of the equation. Iberostar offers coastal health education programs in schools, particularly those its employees’ children attend. The company just completed an activity in schools near its Dominican Republic complex, teaching students all about corals and how they protect coastal ecosystems and communities.

Education's long reach

Iberostar embraces the critical importance of earning and keeping its customers’ support for its coastal health and ocean conservation movement. Regarding the company’s efforts to eliminate single-use plastics, Morikawa noted, "Sometimes it starts with people being confused about not receiving a straw in their drink, and then it often just takes one conversation to get people on board with the endeavor."

This is no small matter, as Iberostar says it’s the first hotel chain to have eliminated single-use plastics from its hotels in Spain, and it will have done so in all of its more than 120 hotels worldwide by the end of 2019. In Spain alone, this initiative will cut plastic consumption by 300 tons a year, according to Iberostar.

Fluxá explained that Iberostar is working closely with its suppliers to achieve a seamless, meaningful elimination of single-use plastics. "Our suppliers needed to change their operations in order to satisfy our need for creative, functional alternatives," she said. "In that sense, we’ve been able to bring them along in our journey." Iberostar also hired an external company to gauge customers’ reaction to the elimination of single-use plastics in Spain. "Eighty percent of respondents perceived it as positive and congratulated us," Fluxá said.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.greenbiz.com/microsite/100061/article/hotel-chain-raises-bar...

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It's a ball to keep microfibers out of the ocean

24 Oct 2018 - Cora Ball’s solution is built to be elegant and prevent us from ultimately "eating our fleece, our yoga pants and our gym clothes."

24 Oct 2018 - I thought I was serving as a good ocean steward by not throwing plastic bottles on the beach or buying endangered or overfished sea creatures.

It turns out I was right, but only partly.

Each laundry cycle, I’m adding to the plastic pollution problem: The equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is poured into the ocean every minute. Everyone who wears and washes clothes is a culprit. And clothing in the United States consists of 60 percent plastic material. A 2017 study found (PDF) that nearly a million plastic microfibers can be released from a single fleece jacket when it is washed.

The good news is that there is a solution and its name is Cora Ball.

Cora Ball is a laundry ball designed using biomimicry. It emulates the way a coral reef naturally filters tiny particles from flowing water. Taking clues from nature, Cora Ball catches the microfibers that shed off our clothes while being washed instead of letting these microfibers seep into the wastewater stream and ultimately the oceans. It is advertised to trap about one-third of the microfiber in a typical laundry load.

Part of a team of biomimetics behind Cora Ball is Rachael Miller, a sailor, swimmer and skier. Miller spent her childhood on the New Jersey shore and later studied underwater archeology at Brown University. She has a unique passion for the intersection between science and art, and her journey to creating a consumer product that exemplifies both began almost 10 years ago. 

While the consumer packaged goods market is three times that of tech and has become a high growth niche among VC firms, CPG products often do not need that much money to expand.

In 2009, Miller was sailing by Matinicus Isle off the coast of Maine; beautiful as it was, a recent Noreaster left the island completely overlain with trash. "My husband turned and said to me: There is one thing that really makes you angry — ocean trash," Miller said. After removing garbage from the Matinicus shore, Miller had the impetus to start an organization to reduce water pollution. She founded the Rozalia Project, which leads four activities in water and ocean stewardship: cleanups; education; solutions-based research; and innovation. 

Yet the root cause of the ocean pollution problem, especially microfibers, continued to scream at Miller, and there were no existing suitable solutions.

"Everyone’s impulse was to say filter it; that’s obvious," Miller said with a sigh. But she knew the solution had to be simple and affordable. So she did what many founders do and started brainstorming. She gathered James Lyne, a professional sailor and co-founder of Rozalia Project and Brooke Winslow, a then-student in ocean engineering and environmental science who was interning with the Rozalia Project. However, as the team brainstormed it kept running into bottlenecks — the need to catch very tiny things and the need to keep water flowing. James then had the realization that nature already had the solution — coral.

Miller’s team designed and manufactured a prototype mimicking a coral reef, and with the help of a successful $350,000-plus Kickstarter campaign, Cora Ball was born and spun out from the Rozalia Project. 

In 2016, Miller and team conducted a Hudson River microfiber study to better understand what microfiber resembled in the wild. What they found was unexpected: The microfibers were more or less equally distributed along the river (not denser as one moved towards densely populated areas such as Manhattan); half of the fiber was plastic and half was non-plastic but still human-made.

"This may indicate that non-synthetic textiles are a bigger part of the problem than previously believed and that microfibers are being leaked into the water not only through water outlets, but also through ventilation systems such as clothes dryers," Miller hypothesized.

Miller and team conducted a Hudson River microfiber study to better understand what microfiber resembled in the wild. What they found was unexpected.

Cora Ball manufactures everything in Vermont, and the Cora Ball is made from 100 percent recycled-and-recyclable plastic.

"There is so much more awareness now than there was in 2016," Miller noted. Brands such as Patagonia and organizations such as the Outdoor Industry Association have taken on the challenge and helped to create a more mainstream focus on the microfiber issue.

Cora Ball has three full-time employees, and like many early stage ventures, each employee wears multiple hats and has the best position titles. (My favorite: Chief Ocean Lover.) Miller is a big fan of hiring from within and promoting interns to full-time positions. She recommends that those who have the flexibility "get in early" with a startup.

Cora Ball’s biggest challenge right now is managing its reliance on partners — the shipping and logistics side is key to a smooth, consumer-packaged good. Miller added, "We will also need to work smartly as a team going forward, figuring out when it is best to divide and conquer and when it is best to brainstorm together." They will look to hire more after their first major launch by the fourth quarter.

Miller has decided to not raise venture capital at this stage. While the consumer packaged goods market is three times that of tech and has become a high growth niche among VC firms, CPG products often don't need much money to expand. Cora Ball can grow the old-fashioned way — through sales and good operations management.

Cora Ball’s solution is built to be elegant and prevent us from ultimately "eating our fleece, our yoga pants and our gym clothes," as Miller describes of the plastic polluting waterways and eventually working its way into the foodstream.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/its-ball-keep-microfibers-out-ocean

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Here's how we aim to close the loop on ocean plastic pollution

22 Mar 2018 - Closed Loop Ocean initiative aims to invest and unlock significant capital on behalf of the public and private sectors in better waste and recycling infrastructure in Southeast Asia.

22 Mar 2018 - Around 8 million tons of plastic waste is dumped in the ocean annually. That equates to emptying a garbage truck of plastic into the sea every minute , most of it single-use products, such as plastic bags, candy wrappers, sachets and soda bottles.

This mismanagement not only pollutes oceans and harms marine wildlife, but also makes life harder for locals, whether they are residents of neighborhoods that regularly flood (owing to drains clogged with plastic), workers at coastal resorts that cater to tourists or fishermen facing dwindling fish stocks. The economic implications are startling. Marine debris cost the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation member economies around $1.3 billion in 2008, and that number is only going up as the problem gets worse. 

We’re encouraged that the world is waking up to the crisis of plastic waste in our ocean, and working together to resolve it. News outlets around the world highlighted the shocking video earlier this month of the British diver swimming through plastic waste off the coast of Bali. The recent World Ocean Summit, held in Mexico earlier this month, focused extensively on plastic waste. The sixth International Marine Debris conference convened last week in San Diego and highlighted new and emerging science that will help us tackle this growing problem. Earlier this year, Evian, Coca-Cola and other businesses announced efforts to address packaging waste and improve recyclability of their products. 

Our goal is to invest in plans that not only keep plastic waste out of the ocean, but also demonstrate how profitable and beneficial it can be to return recycled commodities to the supply chain.

All of this is moving us in the right direction.To stop this flow of plastics into the ocean, the Asia-Pacific region needs more land-based systems for recycling and more markets for recycled products. This means building new infrastructure to collect, sort and process waste to prevent plastics and other materials from entering waterways and the ocean. It also involves developing new packaging designs that are easier to recycle and more valuable on the secondary market. With the right investments, we can help turn this waste into vital commodities for the manufacturing supply chain.

But there is a big, looming question: Where or who or how will we pay for these ideas if we are to move them from concept to reality? 

That's why we launched Closed Loop Ocean. This initiative aims to invest and unlock significant capital on behalf of the public and private sectors in better waste and recycling infrastructure in Southeast Asia. Closed Loop Partners and Ocean Conservancy are bringing together intergovernmental organizations, international nonprofits, financial institutions and industry leaders to stem the tide of ocean-bound waste while investing local communities and businesses. Partners include the Trash Free Seas Alliance, 3M, The Dow Chemical Company, Kimberly-Clark, The Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, plastic makers from the American Chemistry Council and the World Plastics Council, and the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), an intergovernmental agency.  

The first step for keeping plastics out of the ocean is to locate where most of it is coming from in the first place. Studies show that almost half of this garbage comes from five rapidly developing economies in Asia: China; Indonesia; the Philippines; Vietnam; and Thailand. These countries are all experiencing ballooning populations and speedy industrial growth, and they lack the infrastructure to effectively manage their waste.

Our partners are eager to invest in local waste-management infrastructure that will work to keep their goods out of the ocean and generate sources of recycled plastic to use.

Closed Loop Partners has a proven track record investing in recycling infrastructure and the circular economy. We have financed more than $30 million worth of projects in over 20 American municipalities in order to return recycled waste to the consumer-product supply chain. Our fluency in the technology and business models necessary to unlock profit from circular-economy practices has unleashed more than $125 million in total capital, increased the value of recycled materials, and diverted over 200,000 tons of waste from landfills.

Bringing this knowledge to new markets in Southeast Asia will be tricky, however, as the needs, conditions and resources in these countries are different. This is why a critical first part of our plan involves engaging local leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and non-governmental organizations to figure out the best way to marry our best practices in waste management with their on-the-ground expertise and leadership. Our strategy is to support and invest in local solutions, not to impose our waste schemes on foreign markets.

Throughout 2018, once we have developed a network of partners and investors and established a pipeline of bankable ventures in Southeast Asia, we aim to narrow our focus to a few indicative projects. Our goal is to invest in plans that not only keep plastic waste out of the ocean, but also demonstrate how profitable and beneficial it can be to return recycled commodities to the supply chain. With these pilot projects, we will measure the effect of our interventions, shore up our relationships with local partners and create models that can be replicated throughout the region. Our partners from the consumer product and chemical industry are eager to invest in local waste-management infrastructure that will work to both keep their goods out of the ocean and generate new sources of recycled plastic to use in their products. 

It is still possible to avoid the worst effects of this pollution if we invest in locally led, land-based solutions to keep plastics and waste from entering marine environments.  We need some of the biggest players in the field — from industry titans to renowned environmentalists — to plot a more sustainable way forward, commercially and ecologically. By investing in holistic waste management projects in markets with the greatest plastic leakage today, we are supporting the development of emerging economies around the world.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/heres-how-we-aim-close-loop-ocean-plast...