Ocean Action Hub

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Carnival Australia to provide '$2.1m undertaking' after Great Barrier Reef spill

8 Nov 2018 - The Guardian Australia - Pacific Explorer cruise ship spilled liquid food waste into reef’s protected waters

8 Nov 2018 - The Guardian Australia - Pacific Explorer cruise ship spilled liquid food waste into reef’s protected waters

Carnival Australia has been compelled to provide a “$2.1m undertaking” after spilling 28,000 litres of liquid food waste into the Great Barrier Reef’s protected waters.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority detained the Pacific Explorer cruise ship on its way back to Sydney in early September until it paid the amount, which was equal to the maximum fine available, an AMSA spokesman said on Thursday.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was notified of the accident one week after the cruise company self-reported it.

An investigation is currently underway.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/08/great-barrier-reef-carnival-australia-fined-21m-after-dumping-28000-litres-of-waste

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Commercial fishing banned across much of the Arctic
4 Oct 2018 - The Guardian - International agreement will protect vast areas of sea that have opened up as the ice melts.

Commercial fishing will be banned across much of the Arctic under a new agreement signed on Wednesday in Greenland, closing down access to a vast area of sea that is newly opening up under climate change.

The moratorium on Arctic fishing will safeguard an area about the size of the Mediterranean for at least the next 16 years, as warming temperatures allow summer navigation across what was previously ice.

Sea ice in the Arctic reached its annual minimum last week, with what polar scientists confirmed was the joint sixth-lowest extent of ice on record. This year sits with 2008 and 2010 in the rankings of ice minimums, showing a clear trend of diminishing summer ice cover and thickness, with record lows in the last decade and reports of thick multi-year ice showing new vulnerability to break-up.

No fishing takes place there currently, but large ships are starting to explore the area. Maersk, the Danish shipping company, in August sent the first container vessel through the previously frozen route, starting from the Russian city of Vladivostok and arriving safely with its cargo of frozen fish in St Petersburg after a 37-day voyage.

The Arctic is likely to become more attractive to commercial fishing fleets in future years, as climate change is causing major fish stocks including cod and halibut to move further north as lower latitudes warm, and overfishing in traditional grounds makes potential new areas appealing.

Nine nations – the US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, South Korea and China – plus the EU signed the Central Arctic Ocean agreement at a ceremony in Greenland, following several years of talks

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/03/commercial-fishing-banned-across-much-of-the-arctic

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Orca 'apocalypse': half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution

28 Sept 2018 - The Guardian - Banned PCB chemicals are still severely harming the animals – but Arctic could be a refuge

28 Sept 2018 - The Guardian - Banned PCB chemicals are still severely harming the animals – but Arctic could be a refuge

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study.

Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves.

PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places.

“It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/27/orca-apocalypse-half-of-killer-whales-doomed-to-die-from-pollution

Photograph: Audun Rikardsen/Science

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Fish populations could rise in warming climate with better management

3 Sept 2018 - Study finds potential for fisheries to benefit in future - as long as warming can be kept in check. Talks start this week on a new global treaty of the high seas.

3 Sept 2018 - THE GUARDIAN, UK - Study finds potential for fisheries to benefit in future - as long as warming can be kept in check

Better management of fisheries and fishing rights around the world could increase profits and leave more fish in the sea as long as measures to meet climate obligations are taken, new research has found.

Even if temperatures rise by as much as 4C above pre-industrial levels – in the upper range of current forecasts – the damaging effects on fishing can be reduced through improving how stocks are fished and managed.

Governments are meeting from 4 September in New York for the first round of talks on a new global treaty of the high seas, which would aim to conserve overfished stocks and make access to key fisheries more equitable. Any agreement is likely to take several years to negotiateand longer to come into force, but scientists say there is no time to be lost, given the magnitude of the threat to the world’s marine ecosystems.

Climate change is already causing the movement of some species as their traditional habitats grow warmer, and overfishing is wreaking heavy damage on stocks. However, by adapting fisheries management to a warming climate, and instituting better systems such as monitoring of fleets, the global catch can be increased despite these factors, according to the paper published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/29/fish-populations-could-rise-even-with-extreme-climate-change-study-shows

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Almost all world’s oceans damaged by human impact, study finds
27 Jul 2018 - The remaining wilderness areas, mostly in the remote Pacific and at the poles, need urgent protection from fishing and pollution, scientists say
27 Jul 2018 - Just 13% of the world’s oceans remain untouched by the damaging impacts of humanity, the first systematic analysis has revealed. Outside the remotest areas of the Pacific and the poles, virtually no ocean is left harbouring naturally high levels of marine wildlife.


Huge fishing fleets, global shipping and pollution running off the land are combining with climate change to degrade the oceans, the researchers found. Furthermore, just 5% of the remaining ocean wilderness is within existing marine protection areas.

“We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains,” says Kendall Jones, at the University of Queensland, Australia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, who led the new research. “The ocean is immense, covering over 70% of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem.”

Jones said the last remnants of wilderness show how vibrant ocean life was before human activity came to dominate the planet. “They act as time machines,” he said. “They are home to unparalleled levels of marine biodiversity and some of the last places on Earth you find large populations of apex predators like sharks.”

Much of the wilderness is in the high seas, beyond the protected areas that nations can create. The scientists said a high seas conservation treaty is urgently needed, with negotiations beginning in September under the UN Law of the Sea convention. They also said the $4bn a year in government subsidies spent on high seas fishing must be cut. “Most fishing on the high seas would actually be unprofitable if it weren’t for big subsidies,” Jones said.

The new work joins recent studies in highlighting the threat to oceans. Scientists warned in January that the oceans are suffocating, with huge dead zones quadrupling since 1950, and in February, new maps revealed half of world’s oceans are now industrially fished. “Oceans are under threat now as never before in human history,” said Sir David Attenborough at the conclusion of the BBC series Blue Planet 2 in December.

The new research, published in the journal Current Biology, classified areas of ocean as wilderness if they were in the lowest 10% of human impacts, either from one source, such as bottom trawling, or a combination of them all.

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/26/just-13-of-global-oceans-undamaged-by-humanity-research-reveals

PHOTO: Orona Island, an uninhabited island in the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati. Photograph: Galaxiid/Alamy

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Baltic Sea oxygen levels at '1,500-year low due to human activity'
6 Jul 2018 - Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage are likely to be to blame, scientists say.

6 Jul 2018 - Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage are likely to be to blame, scientists say.

The coastal waters of the Baltic have been starved of oxygen to a level unseen in at least 1,500 years largely as a result of modern human activity, scientists say. Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage are thought to be to blame.

“Dead zones” – areas of sea, typically near the bottom, with a dearth of oxygen – are caused by a rise in nutrients in the water that boosts the growth of algae. When these organisms die and sink to the seafloor, bacteria set to work decomposing them, using up oxygen in the process.

The resulting lack of oxygen not only curtails habitats for creatures that live on the seafloor, but also affects fish stocks and can lead to blooms of toxic cyanobacteria.

But it is not a problem confined to the Baltic. Earlier this year a study revealed that ocean dead zones have quadrupled in size since the 1950s, and are found the world over in coastal regions of high population, from Europe to North America and China.

Researchers behind the latest study say that while nations are taking action to help waters rebound, individuals can help.

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The last (plastic) straw: Travel and its environmental responsibilities
4 Jul 2018 - Some airlines, hotels and tour operators are now addressing the issue of plastics pollution but activists believe the solution requires everyone to take a stand.

For decades the image of a brightly coloured plastic straw in a cocktail against a backdrop of sea and sunset signalled one thing – carefree holidays. But 2018 is the year the travel industry will say adios not just to plastic straws but all single-use plastic.

Today, those little plastic tubes are a symbol not of fun times but of the catastrophic damage our throw-away culture is doing to the planet. Photographs of straws littering the seabed and beaches are on every news site and eco-conscious social media account – along with a litany of grim statistics and stark warnings: 480 billion plastic bottles sold worldwide in 2016; one trillion single-use plastic bags used every year; more than half a million plastic straws used every day around the world. If we continue to generate plastic waste at the current rate approximately 12 billion tonnes will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.

Figures like these combined with the ‘Blue Planet effect’ have prompted travel companies to act. In the past six months cruise companies Hurtigruten and Fred Olsen, adventure operators Exodus, Lindblad Expeditions and KE Adventure, Edition hotels, US glamping site Under Canvas and the Travel Corporation, whose brands include Red Carnation hotels, Contiki and Uniworld, have all introduced a part or complete ban on single-use plastics on their trips.

Plastic waste seen at the ALBA Group recycling plant in Berlin, Germany. ‘ If we continue to generate plastic waste at the current rate approximately 12 billion tonnes will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.’ Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Others companies are building rubbish collection into holidays in remote locations. This year the Mountain Company is asking each trekker booked onto one of its trips to Nepal, Pakistan, India or Bhutan to pick up 1kg of rubbish. The long-term goal is for litter-picking to become standard procedure for every Mountain Company group.

Some tour operators have gone further, introducing holidays aimed specifically at helping travellers “quit” plastic. This month up to 15 travellers are taking part in the first Peloton Against Plastic, a 27-day cycling tour launched by adventure specialist Intrepid. Along the way cyclists will meet local organisations tackling the problem and 10% of the profits will go towards Cambodian charity, Rehash Trash. Undiscovered Mountains, a much smaller adventure operator based in the southern French Alps, has advised travellers to leave all plastic behind and is to provide plastic-free accommodation on a dedicated trip.

These initiatives are not ground-breaking: luxury resort group Soneva banned plastic straws in 1998 and stopped importing bottled water in 2008, but from this year companies pledging to reduce plastic waste will be the majority rather than the pioneering few. We may be drowning in plastic but the tide is starting to turn.

“This is the year the corporate world woke up to the scale of our plastic problem and the travel industry is no exception. From airlines to cruise lines we have heard a raft of measures aimed at cutting throwaway plastic,” says Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“But there’s a lot more ground to cover. Some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations are in coastal areas, sometimes in countries already awash with plastic waste. Unless we tackle the problem at the source, more plastic will keep washing up on beaches. There’s a lot that travel operators and hotel chains can do to cut plastic waste, from eliminating sachets and disposable cups to encouraging the use of refill stations,” says Edge.

So far, most of the action has been taken by large companies with dedicated sustainability managers and a vested economic interest in keeping the environment they sell as pristine as possible. However, Joanne Hendrickx hopes to target smaller, three- and four-star hotels through her online toolkit Travel without Plastic.

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/jul/04/plastic-straw-pollution-travel-environmental-responsibilities?CMP=share_btn_tw

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Coconut-leaf plates on the table as Samoa looks beyond single-use plastics

28 Jun 2018 - In a bid to protect the precious “blue Pacific” the Samoan government will ban all single-use plastic bags and straws by January next year.

28 Jun 2018 - In a bid to protect the precious “blue Pacific” the Samoan government will ban all single-use plastic bags and straws by January next year.

Styrofoam food containers and cups will also be banned once environmentally sustainable alternatives are sourced, the government said in a statement.

“A new era is in place for Samoa ... as we enhance our blue Pacific and join the global fight to restore our ocean and address damage caused by plastic,” said Ulu Bismarck Crawley, chief executive at the ministry of natural resources and environment.

James Atherton of the Samoa Conservation Society told Radio NZ there was increasing research into sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic bags and food containers, including plates made from coconut leaves, which is found in abundance in the Pacific islands.

Other research has identified hemp, chicken feathers and cassava as potential alternatives.

A survey conducted by the ministry revealed a significant increase in waste from 26,000 tonnes a year in 2011 to 32,850 tonnes in 2017 – an increase of more than 20% in six years.

It is estimated that Samoa generates about 8,869 tonnes of plastic a year, and that about 70% of the litter in urban coastal waters is made of plastic, which chokes mangrove systems, kills marine wildlife and pollutes many of the tourist island’s beaches and scenic areas.

“This issue is too large for us to sit by without taking any action,” said Crawley. “By making these changes as a nation, our positive impact will be felt not only by us in Samoa, but also by our global community.”

Last year prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi pledged at the United Nations ocean conference to crack down on plastic pollution, a key environmental threat facing numerous Pacific islands, many of whom are in the process of banning plastics or reducing plastic consumption.

Mr Kosi Latu, director general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, said: “We congratulate Samoa for taking bold action and working together to make changes that will benefit us all.

“This will also have a positive impact as Samoa prepares for Pacific Games in 2019 in greening of the games. This could be the first plastic-free Pacific games.”

CONTINUE READING HERE: 

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Could seaweed solve Indonesia's plastic crisis?

27 June 2018 - In a country of more than 17000 islands, seaweed might be the ideal raw material for a bio-plastics revolution.

27 June 2018 - Johnny Langenheim - In a country of more than 17000 islands, seaweed might be the ideal raw material for a bio-plastics revolution.

Indonesia produces more marine plastic pollution than any other country except China. This is perhaps unsurprising: the world’s biggest archipelago is also its fourth most populous. Limited income and cash flow means that poorer communities rely on cheap single-use plastics like bags, water cups and shampoo sachets. Waste management systems are rudimentary and each year millions of tonnes of trash ends up in waterways and eventually the ocean. 

Last year Indonesia pledged US$1 billion to cut its marine waste by 70% by 2025. The country will have to tackle the issue on multiple fronts if this ambitious target is to be met. Besides changing consumer habits and improving waste management infrastructure, industry needs to move away from single use plastics and quickly introduce and scale up biodegradable alternatives. 

This is where seaweed comes in. Indonesia’s seaweed production is second only to China and is increasing by an estimated 30% a year. Indonesia is also the world’s biggest producer of red seaweed, a variety that’s ideal for creating bio-plastics and packaging. 

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2018/jun/27/could-seaweed-solve-indonesias-plastic-crisis

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The plastics crisis is more urgent than you know. Recycling bottles won’t fix it

29 Mar 2018 - A deposit scheme for bottles won’t make a scrap of difference. This stuff is in our food, our clothes – and in us.

29 Mar 2018 - West Wales, last weekend. The old foam mattress lying waterlogged on an otherwise clean beach might have been at sea for months before it was washed up on the tide. A large bit of it had broken off, and the rest was crumbling. It was a clear threat to wildlife, so we heaved what was left of it above the wave line and promised to come back to dispose of it properly when it was dry.

But how do you safely dispose of an old mattress made of billions of tiny plastic particles leaking formaldehyde and other potentially dangerous chemicals? Do you burn it? Bury it? Do you expect the company who made it to come to collect it? Answers to environment secretary Michael Gove, who today pledged to stem the tide of plastic debris by announcing a consultation on a plastic-bottle return scheme for England, which aims to get people to recycle more.

Gove’s initiative is welcome, but minimal, and will have zero impact on the vast and growing scale of the plastic problem. The scheme is aimed at people fed up with litter, and to Blue Planet viewers who are shocked by images of birds swallowing plastic straws and turtles being choked by plastic bags. It is no more use than a heavy smoker forgoing a single cigarette.

Since we started engineering polymers to make plastic on a mass scale in the 1950s, this byproduct of the petrochemical industry, which uses about 6% of all the oil we extract a year, has spread to myriad manufacturing processes. Plastic is now ubiquitous, insidious and impossible to avoid. It makes up our clothes, containers, bottles, electronics, food trays, cups and paints. Our cars depend on it, so do our computers, roofs and drain pipes. It’s the global packaging material of choice. We sleep on it, wear it, watch it, and are in direct bodily contact with it in one form or other all day and night.

It may have profound societal benefits, but this most successful of all manmade materials sticks around for centuries. When exposed to sunlight, oxygen or the action of waves, it doesn’t biodegrade but simply fragments into smaller and smaller bits, until microscopic or nano-sized particles enter the food chain, the air, the soil and the water we drink.

The BBC’s hugely popular Blue Planet series and a stream of scientific studies have made us aware of how the oceans are being polluted, but we still have little understanding of how human health is impacted by the many synthetic chemicals and additives that are used to give plastic its qualities. In the past few years, minute microplastics and fibres, measuring the width of a human hair or far less, have been found in an extraordinary range of products, such as honey and sugarshellfishbottled and tap waterbeer, processed foods, table salt and soft drinks.

In one study, 95% of all adults tested in the US had known carcinogenic chemical bisphenol A in their urine. In another, 83% of samples of tap water tested in seven countries were found to contain plastic microfibres. A study published last week revealed plastics contamination in more than 90% of bottled-water samples, which were from 11 different brands. And earlier this year the River Tame in Manchester was found to have 517,000 particles of plastic per cubic metre of sediment – that’s nearly double the highest concentration ever measured across the world.

The more researchers look, the more they find in the human body. The same scientists who raised the alarm on air pollution from the deadly particles emitted by diesel vehicles are now finding plastic microparticles raining down on cities, and blown into the air from cars and construction sites, washing lines and food packaging. Indoor plastic pollution may be even worse than outdoors, with a single wash of sports kit or manmade textiles found to release thousands of microfibres into the air.

At a recent UK workshop convened by the marine group Common Seas, 30 scientists, doctors and others compared notes, and agreed unanimously that plastic is now in what we eat, drink and breathe, and constitutes a significant and growing threat to human health.

If we can breathe in these micro- and nano-sized particles and fibres, the scientists conjecture, they are likely to get into the human bloodstream, lung tissue and breast milk, or become lodged in the gut and respiratory systems. Some microparticles may pass through the body without causing harm, others may lodge there dangerously. Many are suspected to be carcinogenic or to have hormone-disrupting properties.

The consensus is that there are great gaps in what we know about how microplastics affect human health, and that we need more robust science. We don’t know the risk when we drink contaminated bottled or tap water every day. We don’t know how much we are ingesting or breathing, or what effect exposure to hazardous plastic particles may have over years. We don’t know the concentrations that are safe for adults, let alone infants. There is mounting concern that under-studied microplastic particles threaten health by presenting a potentially major source of toxic chemicals to the human body.

Although we have known for years that some of the additives used to make plastics flexible, transparent or durable are chemically dangerous, few have been tested on humans. Some countries have banned some chemicals – but there is no consistency, and the chemical companies have found it easy to avoid regulation, finding substitutes that are potentially just as dangerous.

It is not enough to single out plastic bottles, coffee cups, or the microbeads found in cosmetics. We urgently need the government to form a comprehensive plastic action plan. Banning all plastic bags and single-use packaging would be a good start, but we need to go way beyond that. Plastic production has to be reduced, just as alternatives should be encouraged. Regulators must think about phasing out whole groups of chemicals of concern, rather than slowly restricting individual chemicals one at a time, and consumers must be helped to understand what they are being exposed to, and to navigate the complexity of what can be recycled, composted or burned.

In the 1950s the world made about 2m tonnes of plastic a year. Now that figure is 330m tonnes a year – and it is set to treble again by 2050. It’s not enough to return a few plastic bottles, or even to pick up an old mattress on a beach.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/28/plastic-crisis-urg...

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