Conservation & Science

Tackling a rising tide of plastic pollution

A torrent of plastic pollution flows into the ocean each year—stuff like discarded drink bottles, food wrappers, cigarette butts and straws. California voters are about to decide whether to uphold a statewide ban on single-use carryout shopping bags, which rank fourth among the types of trash found in coastal cleanups.

8 million tons of plastic debris enter the ocean each year. That's more than the total global production of plastic in 1961.
8 million tons of plastic debris enter the ocean each year. That’s more than the total global production of plastic in 1961. Photo courtesy CNN

Top ocean scientists recently put the scope of the challenge in perspective. The UC-Santa Barbara Benioff Ocean Initiative and the Monterey Bay Aquarium collaborated on a half-day plastic pollution science summit at the University of Southern California.

“We have to get our heads collectively around how much [plastic] might be entering the ocean every year,” said Dr. Roland Geyer, an associate professor of industrial ecology and green supply chain management with the Bren School at UCSB.

Global plastic production has far surpassed the production of metals like aluminum and steel. Globally, people have created and used 7 billion metric tons of plastic over the past 65 years—half of that in just the past 15 years.

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Voices for change: Spreading the word on sustainable seafood

Twenty food experts—chefs, culinary instructors, media and writers—gathered around a table, brainstorming about what it means to make an impact.

Blue Ribbon Task Force members swap ideas at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“Changing minds,” someone called out.

“Inspiring action,” said another.

The 20 are members of the Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, a group of 63 culinarians who are actively promoting sustainable seafood nationwide. Each year, a subset of the Task Force meets in Monterey to learn, swap ideas with their peers, and get inspired.

Sheila Bowman, the Aquarium’s Manager of Culinary and Strategic Initiatives, runs the program. “Task Force members come from a variety of culinary fields. They include chefs, educators, food media and others,” she explains.

“What unites them is that they are all the kind of person who speaks out. Rather than just working in their kitchens or at their desks, they’re actually out in public and on social media, talking about sustainable seafood and doing something about it.”

The Task Force convened alongside the Aquarium’s Sustainable Foods Institute in mid-September. Read more…

What’s the deal with plastic pollution?

You’re probably hearing a lot about plastic bags and why Californians should vote YES on Prop 67, but the issue is not just about plastic bags. It’s about plastic pollution, and it affects all of us.

For example, did you know that plastic pollution is found in the ocean at every depth, and most marine life can’t escape it? Or that young people are fighting back on this issue—and some of their ideas are wildly successful?

Monterey Bay Aquarium explores this issue in our new podcast series, “Breaking Down:  The Problem with Plastic Pollution.”  The six-part series covers the impacts of plastic pollution—from threats to humans and wildlife to how the issue has energized students and policymakers.

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Going to school on plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is everywhere—especially stuff like coffee cup lids and plastic bags, which are used just once before they’re thrown away. You’ve probably come across plastic trash while walking your dog or on your way to the coffee shop. For teachers and students, encounters with plastic trash often happen in the steps between classrooms.

Students ask questions during a talk on the importance of recycling at the Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit.

Working with Monterey Bay Aquarium, they’re doing something about it. For the last five years, teachers and students enrolled in the Aquarium’s Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit have been on a mission: to be a part of the plastic pollution solution.

The Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit began in 2012, after teachers approached the Aquarium’s Education Department staff, eager to learn more about the conservation issues surrounding single-use plastic. They kept finding plastic litter on and around their school campuses—but instead of seeing an insurmountable problem, they saw a teaching opportunity.

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White House honors sustainable seafood champions

Nominee Mary Sue Milliken serves Alaska Bairdi crab passionfruit aguachile at the Champions of Change reception.

This week, the White House named 12 “Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood.” The awards recognize the people at the heart of America’s seafood industry—the fishermen, business owners, entrepreneurs, chefs and coastal leaders—who work tirelessly to support both the economic and ecological viability of our nation’s fisheries.

Thanks to their efforts and strong federal oversight, the U.S. remains a global model of seafood sustainability.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is pleased to count several of the winners and nominees among our Seafood Watch Business and Restaurant Partners, Blue Ribbon Task Force members and other collaborators. Working with Seafood Watch, they help raise consumer awareness about seafood sustainability and push for improvements in the supply chain.

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Bags on the Ballot: Vote YES on 67, NO on 65

This November, California will have 18 statewide propositions on the ballot. That’s a lot. Two of them, Proposition 65 and Proposition 67, deal with single-use plastic bags. Naturally, that’s confusing voters—and confusion is just what the plastics industry wants.

Plastic bags are a significant source of ocean plastic pollution. Photo by NOAA

Here’s a little background. In 2014, California legislators passed a bill (SB 270) to ban single-use carryout plastic bags in grocery and other retail stores. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, and it should have gone into effect on July 1, 2015. Instead, out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers blocked implementation—spending millions of dollars to gather signatures and force it to a public vote.

As part of that law, stores can charge customers who don’t bring their own bags a minimum of 10 cents for recycled paper, compostable or reusable alternatives. The law also allocates $2 million to support jobs making eco-friendly bags.

So, what’s the difference between the two propositions? Here are a few tips to help sort it out.

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The science that backs California’s plastic bag ban

Like shards of plastic litter on the beach, the science on ocean plastic pollution comes in bits and pieces. One study found plastic debris in one-fourth of all fish sampled from a San Francisco market. Another concluded if we don’t slow the flow of plastic pollution, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

Balloons marine debris Santa Cruz Island
Balloons pollute the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by CINMS/Natalie Senyk

Research suggests almost every juvenile Hawaiian hawksbill turtle has either gotten tangled in, or has eaten, plastic. An estimated 90% of seabirds swallow plastic, too.

As the amount of plastic pollution in our ocean grows, so does the need for scientific research to help guide solutions.

In our effort to assess the scope of the problem, Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will co-host a science summit on the subject in Los Angeles.

Read more…

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