Ocean Action Hub

Resource title

We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?

30 Aug 2018 - There often are tiny bits of plastic in the fish and shellfish we eat. Scientists are racing to figure out what that means for our health.

30 Aug 2018 - In a laboratory at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, New York, Debra Lee Magadini positions a slide under a microscope and flicks on an ultraviolet light. Scrutinizing the liquefied digestive tract of a shrimp she bought at a fish market, she makes a tsk-ing sound. After examining every millimeter of the slide, she blurts, “This shrimp is fiber city!” Inside its gut, seven squiggles of plastic, dyed with Nile red stain, fluoresce.

All over the world, researchers like Magadini are staring through microscopes at tiny pieces of plastic—fibers, fragments, or microbeads—that have made their way into marine and freshwater species, both wild caught and farmed. Scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, and more than half of those end up on our dinner plates. Now they are trying to determine what that means for human health.

So far science lacks evidence that microplastics—pieces smaller than one-fifth of an inch—are affecting fish at the population level. Our food supply doesn’t seem to be under threat—at least as far as we know. But enough research has been done now to show that the fish and shellfish we enjoy are suffering from the omnipresence of this plastic. Every year five million to 14 million tons flow into our oceans from coastal areas. Sunlight, wind, waves, and heat break down that material into smaller bits that look—to plankton, bivalves, fish, and even whales—a lot like food.

Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: They block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.

In addition to mechanical effects, microplastics have chemical impacts, because free-floating pollutants that wash off the land and into our seas—such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals—tend to adhere to their surfaces.

Chelsea Rochman, a professor of ecology at the University of Toronto, soaked ground-up polyethylene, which is used to make some types of plastic bags, in San Diego Bay for three months. She then offered this contaminated plastic, along with a laboratory diet, to Japanese medakas, small fish commonly used for research, for two months. The fish that had ingested the treated plastic suffered more liver damage than those that had consumed virgin plastic. (Fish with compromised livers are less able to metabolize drugs, pesticides, and other pollutants.) Another experiment demonstrated that oysters exposed to tiny pieces of polystyrene—the stuff of take-out food containers—produce fewer eggs and less motile sperm.

The list of freshwater and marine organisms that are harmed by plastics stretches to hundreds of species.

It's difficult to parse whether microplastics affect us as individual consumers of seafood, because we’re steeped in this material—from the air we breathe to both the tap and bottled water we drink, the food we eat, and the clothing we wear. Moreover, plastic isn’t one thing. It comes in many forms and contains a wide range of additives—pigments, ultraviolet stabilizers, water repellents, flame retardants, stiffeners such as bisphenol A (BPA), and softeners called phthalates—that can leach into their surroundings.

Some of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors—chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function, even contributing to weight gain. Flame retardants may interfere with brain development in fetuses and children; other compounds that cling to plastics can cause cancer or birth defects. A basic tenet of toxicology holds that the dose makes the poison, but many of these chemicals—BPA and its close relatives, for example—appear to impair lab animals at levels some governments consider safe for humans.

Studying the impacts of marine microplastics on human health is challenging because people can’t be asked to eat plastics for experiments, because plastics and their additives act differently depending on physical and chemical contexts, and because their characteristics may change as creatures along the food chain consume, metabolize, or excrete them. We know virtually nothing about how food processing or cooking affects the toxicity of plastics in aquatic organisms or what level of contamination might hurt us.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-healt...

Resource title

This Machine Transforms Waste Into Walls

29 Aug 2018 - The portable Trashpresso is turning trash into building supplies.

29 Aug 2018 - Forget Bitcoin. The hottest potential new currency lies in our trash bins, Arthur Huang says, and he’s built a portable recycling plant to prove it. His solar-powered Trashpresso turns plastic waste into small tiles that can be used to build walls and floors.

“These machines are a prototype of what we think the future of recycling should be,” says Huang, a National Geographic emerging explorer. Huang has fully built two Trashpresso machines so far, hauling them by truck on 40-foot platforms to far-flung places like Yushu, a county on the Tibetan Plateau. Film star Jackie Chan features the expedition in his National Geographic television documentary Green Heroes.

No matter where a Trashpresso goes, it finds plenty of plastic to shred and compress: Yushu was no different. “That microcosm of a tiny township has exactly the same problem as big cities,” Huang says. Water bottles and other trash, often brought in by visitors, end up in rivers and eventually the oceans.

Huang imagines a network of hyperlocal trash-processing plants generating new products—and new ideas. His company, Miniwiz, is devoted to building such a circular economy. Since 2005, it has been transforming waste into furniture, accessories, buildings, even a small airplane—and encouraging people to think about packaging as a valuable commodity.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/genius-arthur-huang-...

Resource title

Can the Ocean Feed a Growing World?

17 Aug 2018 - Healthy fisheries may be the key to feeding ten billion people-if they're managed correctly.

17 Aug 2018 - If current population trends continue, experts estimate the world will need to double food production by 2050, and those same experts say fish are the answer.

“We're running out of options on land,” says Vera Agostini from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. “There's only so much we can take from the planet, so fisheries and aquaculture will be critical.”

In 2016, fisheries yielded 171 million tons of fish for consumption. By 2030, that number is expected to reach 201 million tons.

To reach that goal, fisheries face a host of environmental issues and economic concerns, and advocates are saying not all fishing might be worth the effort.

What Does the Fishing Industry Look Like?

Earlier this summer, the FAO published a comprehensive overview of the fishing industry called The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. It outlined the history of an industry they expect to play a critical role in meeting food consumption targets.

As a food source, fish can be a key source of protein. Just 150 grams of fish can provide the average adult with over half of their daily protein requirement. In developing countries with growing economies and individual wealth, like China, fish consumption is booming. In 2016, Europe, Japan, and the U.S. were consuming just under half the world's caught fish. By 2015, Asia was consuming two thirds of the world's caught fish.

Both a growing population and an increasingly wealthy one demand foods rich in protein and nutrition. A 2015 study published in the journal Food Security found that fish accounted for 10 percent of the world's food security.

The paper's authors, some former FAO analysts, wrote that they were making the case for fish to be increasingly added to the “overall debate and future policy about food security and nutrition.”

Catching Fish at Sea

Other researchers have been more skeptical about how fish can become a more bountiful food supply, particularly fish that comes from the high seas.

A paper published last week in the journal Science Advances found that fishing done on the high seas (any region 200 miles offshore any land) plays a negligible role in ensuring global food security.

“Most of the fish are sold as an upscale food items,” says ecologist Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer who authored the study. “Small local operations don't fish in the high seas. The fishing on the high seas is conducted by larger industrial fleets.”

That's because, between fuel and labor costs, high seas fishing is expensive. In another paper published by Sala in Science Advances last June, a team of researchers found that as much as 54 percent of high seas fishing would be unprofitable were it not for government subsidies.

To reach the most expansive parts of the globe, fishing vessels generally come from wealthier nations. Eighty-five percent of high seas fishing is done by China, Spain, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.

It's not just the high seas that are dominated by wealthy nations. On August 1, another Science Advances study confirmed that, even beyond the high seas, those five countries dominate industrial fishing as a whole.

Critics of industrial fishing, like Sala, argue that the FAO should focus on small-scale fisheries, not industrial ones, when strategizing how to feed the world.

A Rising Interest in Aquaculture

Unlike wild fish, farm-raised fish are grown in fresh water or salt water pens.

In 2014, the World Bank published a report stating that, by 2030, 62 percent of the world's seafood will be farm-raised.

In their 2016 report, the FAO found that aquaculture already accounted for 47 percent of the seafood we consume.

Nature study published in August of last year ambitiously outlined how aquaculture could potentially be scaled up to meet the world's demand for seafood without depleting ocean stocks.

In certain parts of the ocean, the study identified regions as deep as 650 feet that could be used to grow certain kinds of fish. By leveraging the available space they estimated, the study's authors concluded that 15 billion metric tones of fish could be farmed every year.

Will It Take a Toll on the Environment?

A greater emphasis on fishing worries some environmental activists.

At sea, increasing the number of wild-caught fish has led to overfishing, or entirely depleted fisheries. Strict regulations on where fishers can fish and what they can catch has been effective, says NOAA. In 2017, the organization published a report finding that overfished stocks in U.S. waters remained low. It's a significant improvement, they say, from nearly 20 years ago when several commonly eaten species were almost fished to extinction.

Fishing nets can also harm the environment. Some accidentally ensnare animals like marine mammals. Trawls can tear up habitats like coral. And old fishing nets are one of the top sources of ocean pollution.

The U.N. also intends to increase the amount of protected areas in the ocean. While some MPAs allow fishing, others are completely restricted and have previously left industry and activists competing for the same space. Both Sala and Agostini say they hope MPAs can be used as a tool to improve the health of adjacent stocks, making them more lucrative.

Farming fish, instead of catching them wild, isn’t always the silver bullet it sometimes seems.

Some fish species cope with small, contained spaces better than others, and those that don't are prone to developing and spreading diseases.

In offshore aquaculture farms, faulty cages or storms could allow diseased fish to escape, infecting wild populations nearby. Sites that are inland are also at risk from disease spread.

At the FAO, Agostini says the organization is optimistically planning to create more sustainable ocean practices while drastically increasing fish as a food source over the next 18 years.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/08/news-fisheries-aq...

Resource title

Meet Two Generations of Leading Ocean Protectors

19 Jul 2018 - Sylvia Earle and Jessica Cramp share what inspires them and how everyone can help make a cleaner, bluer world.

19 Jul 2018 - As one of conservation’s most accomplished and recognizable leaders, Sylvia Earle has campaigned on behalf of the ocean for half a century. Now well into her eighties, Earle maintains a demanding schedule of exploration, education, and advocacy work that has her spanning the globe and meeting with everyone from world leaders to school children.

Although it is often out of mind to the general public, the ocean is critical to life on Earth, says Earle, who has broken many exploration records in her long career, earning her the nickname “Her Deepness.”

“The ocean is so much more than fish,” says Earle, who is also a Rolex Testimonee. “Think carbon cycle, think climate, think the chemistry of the planet that has shaped all life on Earth.”

Earle has inspired millions of people around the world to care about the ocean, as well as conservation more broadly. One of the people she has reached is National Geographic explorer Jessica Cramp. Since 2011, Cramp has been living and working in the Cook Islands, where she studies sharks and marine ecosystems and advocates on their behalf. Her work helped build the case for the islands creating the world’s largest shark sanctuary at the time.

National Geographic sat down with Earle and Cramp for a conversation on their careers and the big issues affecting our ocean and the planet.

Coming from different generations of women marine scientists, what have you learned from each other?

SE: I love what Jessica does. She’s out there on the islands, just doing it. She’s seized this moment in time.

JC: I am very inspired by Sylvia. I think my work has only been possible because of her, and a handful of others who paved the way. It’s easier for me than it was for you, Sylvia.

What challenges have you both faced?

SE: The idea of a woman as equally competent is now more acceptable. We are getting there.

JC: There is still a lot of work to do, even in the country where I live [the Cook Islands]. I was recently the leader of an expedition there, and some of the locals didn’t know how to handle that. They kept looking to the men on my team for direction. They’d say things like, “Wait, she’s the boss? Really? There must be something really special about her.” They told me, “Why don’t you let the men do that and go learn the hula?”

SE: The media used to ask me questions about my hair and lipstick. They asked why I brought a hair dryer on expeditions. Well it wasn’t for our hair, it was for our ears. But I realized, at least I had their attention, so I would use that to tell the story of the ocean.

JC: A reporter recently told me that they didn’t know that scientists looked like me. Well, what does a scientist look like?

JC: Sylvia, I wanted to ask you, how did you get started on your journey?

SE: I started as a witness. As a kid, I saw the woodlands of New Jersey where I lived turned into housing developments. When my family moved to Florida when I was 12 it was a very different world, wonderful. I immersed myself in nature and the sea. But over time, I saw more transformation into bricks and mortar. Tampa Bay was so quickly altered. So I became a scientist.

At first, I just wanted to focus on the science. But I was eventually forced out of my shell by the media and public attention. Before long, I was testifying to the City of Chicago or to Congress on important issues. (Watch Earle introducing a president to his namesake fish.)

Jess, much of your work involves trying to get local communities involved in marine conservation. Why is that so important?

JC: I am a scientist, but all the science I do is policy oriented. Working with the local community is the central core to everything I’m doing. If you don’t follow up with the community, you have no backbone to any conservation protections. It won’t stick.

Sylvia, your work often spans from the local to the global. Can you share how you navigate such a wide scope?

SE: We need to work with local communities, just as we need to work with presidents, ministers, CEOs, and everyone else. And the fishermen, too, because they are out there all the time on the water and they know so much. It is often the fishermen who are the first to notice something, like crashing catches. Scientists sometimes fail to engage the people who are the best witnesses of all.

It is our role as scientists to convey to the public what we know. Generally, people want to have protected areas because they see it really matters.

You have both used advanced technology in service of ocean conservation; how important has that been as a tool?

SE: Millions of people are now getting out into the ocean, thanks to advances in technology like SCUBA gear. Rachel Carson only got to dive once in her life. In a copper diving helmet, she went about 10 feet down a ladder in murky water. But imagine if she had the ability to see what any hobbyist can see now? Let alone sophisticated tools like drones, ROVs, subs, and monitoring stations.

JC: You even lived underwater, didn’t you?

S: 10 times. Spending so much time underwater led to a breakthrough: I got to know fish as individuals. They do not behave the same. They each have their own attitude.

JC: Speaking of technology, a lot of data I rely on now in my conservation work comes from satellite tracking. We can see where commercial fishermen are operating, which is key to enforcement. Are they fishing where they are supposed to? It allows me to follow wide-ranging sharks and sea birds, which don’t respect national or park boundaries.

SE: That kind of work has led to shipping industries slowing down in critical migration pathways for whales and turtles.

JC: Technology has helped us develop policy to protect what we love.

SE: Technology does cut both ways. It’s a boon for science and a boon for exploitation. Fishing magazines are full of ads that say fish have no place to hide, because of sonar. The pinpoint navigation that is so important for science also gives fishermen an edge to go back to places precisely. When I was first starting out, it was very difficult to find the same exact spot in the ocean again.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/sylvia-earle-jess...

Resource title

How India’s Fishermen Turn Ocean Plastic Into Roads

23 May 2018 - In an innovative project, fishermen in Kerala collect ocean plastic for recycling, cleaning the ocean in the process.

23 May 2018 - KOLLAM, INDIAKadalamma—Mother Sea—that’s what Xavier Peter calls the Arabian Sea. His own mother gave him life, but Kadalamma gave him purpose, a livelihood. She has provided for him, offering up enough fish to feed his family and sell at the market. And she has protected him, sparing him thrice from cyclones and once from a tsunami.

Xavier has been trawling for shrimp and fish off India’s southwestern coast for more than three decades, his whole adult life. But lately, when he casts out his nets, he often comes up with more plastic than fish.

“Pulling the nets out of the water is extra effort, with all this plastic tangled in them,” he says. “It’s a bit like trying to draw water from a well—your bucket is somehow being weighed back down.”

He and his crew of six then spend hours separating the garbage from their catch.

For Xavier, the whole ordeal is a regular reminder that Kadalamma is sick, and that he and his community have made her so. “This is India’s greatest failure,” he says.

He used to just sigh and chuck the plastic back overboard. Not anymore.

Since August last year, he and nearly 5,000 other fishermen and boat owners in Kollam—a fishing town of 400,000 in India’s southernmost state, Kerala—have been hauling back to land all the plastic that they find while they’re out at sea. With help from several government agencies, they’ve also set up the first-ever recycling center in the region, to clean, sort, and process all the sea-tossed plastic bags, bottles, straws, flip-flops, and drowned Barbies that they fish out. So far, they’ve collected about 65 metric tons (71 short tons) of plastic waste. (Learn more about the plastic pollution crisis.)

WAVES OF FRUSTRATION

It doesn’t take much to persuade coastal communities of the dangers of plastic, says Peter Mathias, who heads a regional union for fishing boat owners and operators. For years, he says, fishermen have been complaining to him about plastic getting caught in their gear.

And that isn’t even the worst of it. A decade back, a small crew like Xavier’s could easily pull in up to four tons of fish over the course of a 10-day expedition. These days, he’s lucky to get a fifth of that. Although many factors, including climate change and overfishing, are affecting fish stock, plastic is the most dramatically visible culprit.

Many types of fish easily mistake plastic for prey, and studies show that they can die of either poisoning or malnutrition as a result. Other sea life gets caught in and strangled by abandoned nylon fishing nets. Large patches of plastic on the sea bed are also blocking some species’ access to their breeding grounds.

“It is affecting our work,” Mathias says. “So in this way it’s our responsibility, and necessary for our survival as fishermen to keep the sea clean.”

Upholding that responsibility, however, proved to be a bit more complicated than Mathias initially anticipated. Fishermen were dredging up plastic without even meaning to; asking them to do so on purpose was an obvious next step. The problem was, their region had no system for municipal waste collection, let alone a recycling program. When a nearby village of clam divers in Kerala tried to start a similar program to clean up Kerala’s backwaters, they realized they had no way to dispose of all the garbage they scooped up. They were effectively just transferring litter from lake and riverbeds back to land.

A SURGE OF SUPPORT

Last summer, Mathias approached J. Mercykutty Amma, the state minister of fisheries, and a fellow Kollam native, for help. “I said, if we take it upon ourselves to collect plastic from the sea and bring it back to land, can you help us do something with it?” he says.

She said sure, but she probably couldn’t make it happen on her own. So, about a month later, she roped in five other government agencies, including the department of civil engineers, who agreed to help build a recycling facility, and the department for women’s empowerment. That agency is tasked with improving employment opportunities for women, in an area where many fields, like fishing, had long been dominated by men. So the agency helped hire an all-female crew to work there.

For the past several months, a group of 30 women have been working full time to painstakingly wash and sort plastic that the fishermen collect. Most of it is too damaged and eroded to recycle in traditional ways. Instead, it’s shredded into a fine confetti and sold to local construction crews who use it to strengthen asphalt for paving roads. The proceeds—along with government grant money—cover the women’s salaries, about 350 rupees ($5) per day. The system isn’t completely self sufficient, but it will be by next year, Mathias hopes.

“We’ve roped in so many groups, so quickly for this effort,” he says. But he’s proudest of the fact that “this comes from us, it comes from the fishermen.”

They’ve already helped a couple of nearby fishing communities, including the aforementioned clam collectors, procure funding to start up their own plastic collection and recycling programs. Soon, he says, fishermen “through all of Kerala, all of India, and all of the world will join us.”

It’s a strong statement, but his confidence isn’t necessarily misplaced, says Sabine Pahl, a psychologist with the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth in the U.K. Pahl, who researches how to convince people to take better care of the planet, says involving fishing communities in the fight against ocean pollution makes sense, and has worked in the past. Since 2009, the northern European environmental group KIMO has been recruiting fishermen in parts of the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands for a similar program called Fishing for Litter.

SPREADING THE WORD

The Indian program may have even wider potential, based on “the fact that it’s the fishermen taking the initiative,” Pahl says. In her research, she’s found that the most effective environmental initiatives are community-led, and “intrinsically motivated”—meaning motivated by altruism and a love for nature and wildlife.

“It’s truly powerful, because the fishermen are also in the best position to convince the rest of the community-—their families, their neighbors—of the dangers of plastic,” she says.

That’s exactly what they’re doing. Many of the fishermen at Kollam harbour say that nine months into the program, the amount of debris that gets caught in their nets has markedly reduced. But ultimately, they’re hoping to altogether stop the flow of plastic into the ocean. To that end, all 5,000 of them have pledged to reduce their personal use of plastic, or at the very least make sure it ends up at the recycling plant rather than in the ocean. Mathias and Xavier say they also aren’t opposed to strategically using guilt to stop people from littering.

“I tell them, ‘If you keep polluting the ocean with plastic… as fishermen, our livelihoods will cease to exist,” Mathias says. That, he says, gets through to them almost every time.

CONTINUE READING: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/05/fishermen-kerala-india-recyc...

Resource title

Planet or Plastic? We made plastic. We depend on it. Now we're drowning in it.

16 May 2018 - The miracle material has made modern life possible. But more than 40 percent of it is used just once, and it’s choking our waterways.

16 May 2018 - If plastic had been invented when the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England, to North America—and the Mayflower had been stocked with bottled water and plastic-wrapped snacks—their plastic trash would likely still be around, four centuries later.

If the Pilgrims had been like many people today and simply tossed their empty bottles and wrappers over the side, Atlantic waves and sunlight would have worn all that plastic into tiny bits. And those bits might still be floating around the world’s oceans today, sponging up toxins to add to the ones already in them, waiting to be eaten by some hapless fish or oyster, and ultimately perhaps by one of us.

We should give thanks that the Pilgrims didn’t have plastic, I thought recently as I rode a train to Plymouth along England’s south coast. I was on my way to see a man who would help me make sense of the whole mess we’ve made with plastic, especially in the ocean.

Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.

No one knows how much unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean, Earth’s last sink. In 2015, Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor, caught everyone’s attention with a rough estimate: between 5.3 million and 14 million tons each year just from coastal regions. Most of it isn’t thrown off ships, she and her colleagues say, but is dumped carelessly on land or in rivers, mostly in Asia. It’s then blown or washed into the sea. Imagine five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash, Jambeck says, sitting on every foot of coastline around the world—that would correspond to about 8.8 million tons, her middle-of-the-road estimate of what the ocean gets from us annually. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.

Meanwhile, ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by it. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. Many more are probably harmed invisibly. Marine species of all sizes, from zooplankton to whales, now eat microplastics, the bits smaller than one-fifth of an inch across. On Hawaii’s Big Island, on a beach that seemingly should have been pristine—no paved road leads to it—I walked ankle-deep through microplastics. They crunched like Rice Krispies under my feet. After that, I could understand why some people see ocean plastic as a looming catastrophe, worth mentioning in the same breath as climate change. At a global summit in Nairobi last December, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme spoke of an “ocean Armageddon.”

And yet there’s a key difference: Ocean plastic is not as complicated as climate change. There are no ocean trash deniers, at least so far. To do something about it, we don’t have to remake our planet’s entire energy system.

“This isn’t a problem where we don’t know what the solution is,” says Ted Siegler, a Vermont resource economist who has spent more than 25 years working with developing nations on garbage. “We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle.” It’s a matter of building the necessary institutions and systems, he says—ideally before the ocean turns, irretrievably and for centuries to come, into a thin soup of plastic.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-waste...

Resource title

Here Are Some Alternatives to Reef-Damaging Sunscreen

23 Apr 2018 - Harmful chemicals from sunscreen can leach into the ocean and damage coral. Here are some sun-blocking alternatives.

23 Apr 2018 - From a distance, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is an underwater gem. The reef’s colorful corals serve as a submerged garden for a vibrant marine ecosystem that draws visitors to the area from all over the world. Snorkelers and scuba-divers alike can swim alongside some of the thousands of species of fish that make the reef their home. Lucky travelers might even catch a glimpse of the ecosystem’s dugongs or sea turtles.

But the ecosystem is fragile. Rising temperatures and harmful chemicals leaching into the water are bleaching the once-thriving reef. Human visitors might even be carrying some of these toxins on their skin.

When you swim with sunscreen on, chemicals like oxybenzone can seep into the water, where they’re absorbed by corals. These substances can disrupt coral’s reproduction and growth cycles, ultimately leading to bleaching. Even if you don’t go swimming after applying sunscreen, it can still go down drains when you shower. Aerosol can often spray large amounts of sunscreen onto sand, where it gets washed into our oceans.

Humans might be responsible for this contamination, but we’re also capable of helping heal these fragile underwater ecosystems.

AT-RISK REEFS

Coral reefs all over the world are threatened by pollution, and many of the most popular destination spots have the most at-risk coral. In addition to the Great Barrier Reef, heavy human traffic in the bays of Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Israel are especially vulnerable.

Oahu’s Hanauma Baya state park that was formed within a volcanic cone, is one such example. The area’s turquoise surf and vibrant coral gardens draw nearly 1 million tourists each year, making the spot one of Hawaii’s best places for snorkeling. The bay is home to 450 species of fish and has the largest mass of reef anywhere in Oahu.

Hurricane Hole at the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, located off Saint John, is another popular spot. The submersed monument protects 22 miles of marine habitat, including 30 out of the 45 known coral species. Here, visitors can snorkel in the mangroves with coral, fish, and marine invertebrates.

Israel’s popular Eilat Coral Beach Nature Reserve is another example. The Gulf of Eilat houses the country’s only coral reefs, which are a major draw for tourists. Bridges built over top of the reefs allow visitors to get a peek at the coral and colorful fish it houses. Scuba divers can also dive along the front and slope of the reef for a more intimate view.

If we lose coral reefs, we will have lost a vital ecosystem. We could also hurt our global economy—coral reefs are a major tourist attraction and source of income for these popular vacation spots.

STEPS FOR REEF SAFETY

Hawaii has taken steps to ban sunscreen that’s not safe for coral, and lawmakers will vote on it at the end of the month. The bill could go into effect by July 2019.

But governments don’t want people to stop using sunscreen all together, due to risks of burns and skin cancer. The good news is there are alternatives that are safer—for people and for coral—that don’t include oxybenzone.

Haereticus Environmental Lab publishes a list each year of what sunscreens are safe for the environment, and organizations like the Environmental Working Group also publish a safe sunscreen guide. Mineral-based sunblocks that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are safer than the oxybenzone-containing alternatives. Sunscreens with “non-nano” size particles are safer because they can’t be ingested by corals. Some sunscreens have a combination of nano-size and non-nano size particles, and the Consumer Products Inventory has a database that can tell you if your sunscreen contains nanoparticles.

Some tour companies in popular destinations like Mexico make it mandatory for visitors to wear only biodegradable sunscreen. Select Hawaiian resorts give out free reef-safe sunscreen samples that don’t contain harmful chemicals. Many of these resorts will let patrons know of these restrictions in advance or list it on their websites.

Dermatologists say clothing is just as effective as sunscreen at protecting from the sun, with the only downside being it doesn’t completely cover the body. Many companies offer sun-protecting clothing, such as long-sleeve rash guards or full-body swimsuits. When all else fails, put on a t-shirt.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/sunscreen-destroying-...

Resource title

Why This Country is Moving Its Coral Reefs

13 Apr 2018 - Jordan could become a model for other marine destinations.

13 Apr 2018 - The streets of Aqaba, Jordan, are dotted with falafel stands and seafood restaurants touting the day's catch. Locals sit along the sidewalks at small tables, taking in the afternoon sun whilst smoking grape- and mint-flavored shisha tobacco.

Julia Adriana Tapies walks by a tourist shop, selling assorted trays of Arabic pastries and bath salts from the Dead Sea to the north. But Tapies has been drawn here by a much livelier body of water. A self-proclaimed scuba fanatic, the Spaniard has always dreamed of diving the Red Sea, a place "full of life and colors you can't find elsewhere."

But unbeknownst to many of the 12,000 scuba divers who traveled here last year, some of the vibrant coral reefs they came to explore have been artificially planted.

A LATERAL MOVE

As urban development increases along the Gulf of Aqaba, some popular dive sites will no longer be accessible. To meet touristic demand, and to protect the area's marine life, certain coral reefs were relocated by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In 2012, corals from the southern region of the coast and the Al Derreh area were placed in baskets by a team of divers working on the project and transported almost two miles north, while continuously submerged underwater. The corals were then replanted at damaged reefs and a cave site using marine cement, metal structures, the latter of which was created solely for the translocated coral. Smaller coral colonies were moved to a nursery site. After a protection period ensuring the transplants' success, the new sites, just in front of the Aqaba Marine Park, opened to the public in 2018.

The effect of the relocation process on the marine ecosystem is being closely monitored, according to Nedal Al-Ouran, head of the Environment, Climate Change and DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) Portfolio at the UNDP and one of the scientists behind the coral relocation.

Aqaba’s delicate 6,000-year-old corals aren’t just surviving in their new homes, but also regenerating, Al-Ouran says. In the last four years, the replanted coral has steadily grown up to two inches per year, with a survival rate of more than 85 percent, compared to the average of 60 to 65 percent.

Many of the 127 coral species found in the Gulf of Aqaba are particularly resilient to high temperatures, an adaptation that may spare them the worst of the bleaching many reefs experience as oceans become hotter and more acidic. If they’re able to survive local pollution, these corals may even one day be used to re-seed dying reefs in some parts of the world.

EYE ON THE DIVES

While Jordan’s is not the first major coral relocation to take place—Hawaii and Singapore, among others, have experimented with similar programs—it’s unique in its focus on encouraging tourism.

To alleviate scuba divers’ impact on reef health, alternative dive sites are also being opened. In November 2017, a decommissioned Royal Jordanian Air Force plane was deliberately sunk as part of an initiative “to create new dive sites interesting enough” to attract divers and unburden reefs, says Omar Madain, an experienced local diving instructor.

The Gulf’s joint efforts are paying off. After her first day of diving, Tapies couldn’t bring herself to leave—in fact, she decided to spend the entire month in Jordan.

"I really felt at home there" she says of her time in the town of Aqaba and “its beautiful underwater world."

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/asia/jordan/aqaba...

Resource title

The UN Starts a Conservation Treaty for the High Seas

24 Dec 2017 - A new international effort hopes to stem the tide of illegal and under-regulated fishing and otherwise protect the ocean from a range of threats, to benefit everyone.

24 Dec 2017 - The nations of the world have launched a historic two-year process to create the first-ever international treaty to protect life in the high seas.

Covering nearly half of the planet, the high seas are international waters where no country has jurisdiction. These waters, which reach depths of nearly seven miles, are filled with life, from valuable fish to plankton. They help generate the oxygen we breathe and regulate the global climate.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get ocean governance that puts conservation and sustainable use first,” says Liz Karan, senior manager for the high seas program at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “It’s said we should thank the ocean for every second breath of oxygen we take.”

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/12/un-high-seas-conservation-treaty-ocean-protection-spd/

Resource title

NEW OCEAN RESERVE, LARGEST IN AFRICA, PROTECTS WHALES AND TURTLES

13 June 2017 - Gabon’s announcement also restricts overfishing and may help with climate resilience.

13 June 2017 - The central African nation of Gabon announced Monday the creation of Africa’s largest network of marine protected areas, home to a diverse array of threatened marine life, including the largest breeding populations of leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles and 20 species of dolphins and whales.

The network of 20 marine parks and aquatic reserves will protect 26 percent of Gabon’s territorial seas and extend across 20,500 square miles (53,000 square kilometres). In creating the protected areas, the Gabon government also set up what scientists call the most sustainable fisheries management plan for West Africa—an area long known for rampant overfishing and abuses by foreign fleets. Separate zones have been established for commercial and artisanal fishing fleets, in an effort to restore sustainable fishing.

“West Africa is an area which has incredibly rich oceans, but it is being bled dry by international fishing fleets,” says Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York in Great Britain. “In the space of a few decades, the waters of West Africa have moved from being a cornucopia of marine life to something that is far reduced from that. Protection is urgently needed to rebalance fish resources.”

Roberts, who has spent more than three decades studying ocean health, argues in a new paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that marine protected areas, which already help restore fish populations, also help marine ecosystems adapt to the impacts of climate change. Large, fully intact ecosystems are healthier and better armed to adapt to what Roberts calls the “killer cocktail” of ocean acidification, intense storms, sea-level rise, shifts in species distribution, and decreased oxygen availability in the deep ocean. Reduced oxygen is already visible in the Pacific and Atlantic, Roberts says, where nutrient-poor “ocean deserts” increased by 15 percent between 1998 and 2006.

“Fishing has had the greatest impact on the ocean ecosystems,” Roberts says. “But climate change is rapidly catching up, and in some ecosystems, has taken the lead.”

Roberts doesn’t claim marine protected areas help marine habitats resist climate change. Rather, he says that healthier habitats makes them more resilient. Coral reefs, for example, can’t be protected from rising ocean temperatures. But protecting reefs from overfishing, dredging, and runoff pollution can decrease the sensitivity of corals to ocean warming and help them recover from floods or bleaching events. The Chagos Marine Protected Area in the remote Indian Ocean now has a reef free from human-caused stresses that, in turn, contributed to a remarkable capacity to recover. More than 90 percent of the reef died in a 1998 bleaching event. But by 2010, the reef had recovered.

Likewise, a marine protected area in Baja, California saw a ten-fold increase of predatory fish within a decade after a marine protection area was established.

Networks of marine protected areas can also provide stepping stones, or safe “landing zones” for colonising species as they move northward to cooler waters, he says. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the north-west Hawaiian Islands provided a “strategic refuge” for coral reef ecosystems that may be forced poleward by climate change.

“When we introduce protection, the only way to go is up,” he says. “We see it in recoveries of big species that grow to very old ages. The bigger and older things get in the sea, the more productive they begin to be in terms of offspring. They are like fountains, pouring offspring, like larvae, into the water, which then gets transported by ocean currents and reseeds other areas. This is a positive way to counter climate change.”

LESS THAN THREE PERCENT CURRENTLY PROTECTED

The world has 11,212 marine protected areas. But combined, they protect just 2.98 percent of the oceans, according to the Marine Conservation Institute, a marine science nonprofit based in Seattle.

Two other measures fill in the picture. If the high seas is discounted, the remaining marine reserves protect 7.29 percent of marine habitats that lie within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones of all countries. And if only no-take protected areas are counted, where fishing and all other extraction, such as mining, is prohibited, only 1.63 percent of the world’s oceans are covered.

The no-take reserves are the strongest, but not well distributed across the globe, says Russell Moffitt, the institute’s conservation analyst. There are only about a dozen very large protected areas, including those in offshore territories of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments, and Great Britain’s Pitcairn, and Chagos marine reserves.

CONTINUE READING: http://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/new-ocean-reserve-largest-i...

socrates