New Year Brings Some Good News for Earth’s Imperiled Oceans

January 17th, 2016 - by admin

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson / Waitt Institute & Victoria Woollastron / The Mail Online – 2016-01-17 15:49:58

The Rock Islands in Palau in the Pacific Ocean are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photo credit: Matt Rand / The Pew Charitable Trusts

15 Huge Ocean Conservation Victories of 2015
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson / Waitt Institute

(December 27, 2015) — Overfishing, climate change, habitat destruction and pollution remain major threats to the world’s ocean. But amidst all that there is some seriously good ocean conservation news worth celebrating. So, to continue the tradition started last year with listing 14 Ocean Conservation Wins of 2014, here’s a rundown for 2015 that will hopefully fill you with #OceanOptimism. These wins represent the diligent efforts of organizations and individuals too numerous to list, so let’s just start with a blanket shoutout to all of #TeamOcean for a great year.

1. More than 2 million square kilometers of ocean was protected in big new marine reserves. Marine reserves are areas completely closed to fishing, and 2015 saw more ocean protected in a single year than ever before.

Chile created Desventuradas Marine Park (297,000 square kilometers) and Easter Island Marine Park (631,000 square kilometers).

New Zealand created Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (620,000 square kilometers).

Palau created Palau National Marine Sanctuary (500,000 square kilometers).

The UK announced the Pitcairn Island Reserve (833,000 square kilometers), and protected areas are in the works for Patagonia.

However, there is a broad consensus that 30 percent of the ocean should be fully protected in reserves, and these new designations only get us up to 1 percent — but we’ll take it!

2. New technology is being developed to combat illegal fishing. Designating all these new reserves means little without enforcement, and we can’t enforce unless we know what’s happening out on the water. One big tech effort launched this year is Global Fishing Watch, a partnership between Skytruth, Google and Oceana to track fishing vessels and identify illegal fishing. Another similar program is the Pew Charitable Trust’s Virtual Watch Room. These technologies are in prototype phase and need significant improvement before they live up to expectations, but it’s a promising and exciting development.

3. Illegal fishing boats are being chased down and caught! Sea Shepherd chased a pirate fishing boat on Interpol’s most wanted list for 10,000 miles, until the boat sank (potentially on purpose to drown the evidence of illegal fishing).

Another boat was chased for four days, caught, and fined $2 million for illegally fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. The Black Fish and Environmental Justice Foundation have also been stepping up to make sure enforcement happens, but hopefully we can soon rely on law enforcement organizations, not environmental groups, to do this work.

4. Ocean conservation is one of the UN’s new sustainable development goals. These goals set the UN’s agenda for the next 15 years, and it wasn’t clear the ocean would make the cut, but (voila!) Goal 14 is to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

Specific targets include, by 2020, conserving 10 percent of the ocean (but see #1 above for how far we have to go and whether 10 percent is even enough), halting overfishing and illegal fishing, and ending the subsidies that encourage them. Addressing marine pollution and ocean acidification, and supporting small island states and small-scale artisanal fisheries are also priorities.

5. The Port State Measures Agreement is close to being ratified. Another one from the UN, this is an agreement aiming to “to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing through the implementation of robust port State measures.”

In other words, boats have to come into port eventually, so it’s important to have international cooperation in place to prosecute the bad guys when they come ashore. IUU fishing is a major issue, representing ~$20 billion annually, and this measure will greatly increase enforcement capacity. The agreement will enter into force after 25 countries ratify it — nine more ratifications to go, all expected in 2016.

6. The ocean is getting some good ink and screen time. Racing Extinction premiered in theaters, bringing the issues of trade in endangered species, overfishing and ocean acidification to the big screen.

The Discovery Channel promised to stop with all the fear-mongering and straight up fake documentaries during Shark Week. Richard Branson’s philanthropy launched Ocean Unite, to pull together and support the ocean conservation community on communications.

“Racing Extinction” Trailer from Oceanic Preservation Society on Vimeo.

7. Sustainable fishing became understood as a human rights issue. Reporter Ian Urbina produced a slew of impressive investigative articles exposing the widespread human trafficking, slave labor and other horrors associated with major fisheries. Upworthy produced a series of pieces to get this info to a broader audience. Greenpeace has been fighting for fishers’ rights, teaming up with five of the largest labor unions.

The “Statement of Solidarity With Greenpeace Campaign to Reform the Tuna Industry” begins: “We know that environmental and social justice issues are absolutely intertwined and increasingly solutions that protect workers are the same solutions that safeguard the environment and natural resources.”

Hear, hear! And if you eat shrimp, unless you’re paying like $20 a pound, it’s totally unsustainable and slaves probably peeled it for you, so please find something else to dip in cocktail sauce.

8. Small island states are leading the way and getting support on ocean management. Not only did small island states come together as a powerful voice at COP 21 in Paris, this year also saw the launch of Blue Guardians at the Clinton Global Initiative.

This new partnership that includes a broad collaboration of organizations (SIDS DOCK, Digital Globe, The Nature Conservancy, World Bank, Clinton Climate Initiative, Waitt Institute and others), and is focused on simultaneously protecting oceans and supporting coastal economies in the context of a changing climate.

9. A nonpartisan coalition is bringing ocean issues into the 2016 US elections. The Sea Party Coalition was launched by Blue Frontier, with tea party and liberal Congressmen, environmental NGOs, an evangelical minister, climate activists, ocean scientists and philanthropists participating. The hope is to use the crosscutting sentiments for ocean conservation and against offshore drilling to get some traction for ocean issues in the 2016 elections.

10. Anonymous is hacking for ocean conservation. The hacking collective claims credit for shutting down government websites of Japan and Iceland in retribution for their whaling. Both countries continue to kill whales via a loophole in the International Whaling Commission agreement that allows whaling for “scientific research.”

11. Oil companies may be giving up on drilling in the Arctic. Greenpeace activists suspended themselves from a Portland bridge for two days attempting to block a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker from heading to the Arctic. This year also saw the rise of “kayaktivists” forming barriers to oil drilling equipment leaving port in Portland and Seattle. Shell has at least temporarily ceased oil exploration in Alaska, and, though the fight isn’t over, the Obama administration has put a two-year ban on drilling there. Greenpeace has shared the inside story of the #ShellNo protests in “People vs. Shell.”

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest. Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, in Seattle’s Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans. Photo credit: Greenpeace

12. Ocean zoning continues to gain traction as a key policy approach. The Waitt Institute’s zoning-focused Blue Halo Initiative has been scaled up from the pilot project in Barbuda to launch two new partnerships, with the governments of Montserrat and Curaçao. Perhaps more importantly, at least a dozen other island nations are interested in developing similar comprehensive, science-based, community-driven sustainable ocean management plans for their waters.

13. Plastic microbeads are getting banned. New research shows that there are at least 15 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, at least three times more than previously thought. Plastic microbeads, the sneakiest tiny bits of plastic, are in all sorts of toiletries (like face scrubs and toothpaste). They end up in the ocean in droves, then in creatures’ bellies and gills, and cause all sorts of problems. The good news is the US Senate and House of Representatives have passed bills that will ban the use of microbeads. Fear not! — there are plenty of non-plastic, non-toxic ways to exfoliate.

14. An end to subsidies for unsustainable fishing is gaining steam. Much of the world’s overfishing and illegal fishing is financed by government subsidies. But now, in a WTO Ministerial Statement, 27 countries have committed to ending subsidies “that negatively affect overfished fish stocks” or that support IUU fishing. This is also a target of the UN’s new ocean goal (see #2 above).

15. The COP 21 climate agreement mentioned the ocean. Given that the ocean is the majority of the planet and a lynchpin of the climate system and carbon cycle, it’s a bit nutty that just getting the ocean mentioned was something we needed to fight for. However, the ocean was not originally included in the agreement’s text, and it is due to strong collective presence of the ocean community at COP 21 that the ocean got mentions in the final document. Yet, note this analysis of how the agreement is not nearly as lovely, equitable, and transformative as most reporting would have you believe, and that it’s certainly insufficient for saving coral reefs.

Other good oceany things happened this year too. The US and Cuba agreed to collaborate on management of marine protected areas. XPrize launched a $7 million ocean exploration prize competition. Adidas and Parley teamed up to launch 3-D printed shoes made of plastic ocean trash. World leaders gathered at the Our Ocean conference, which is becoming a key annual diplomatic event.

Citizen science is on the rise. And Atlantic salmon just spawned in Connecticut for the first time since the 1700s. There are invariably other wins I’ve missed — please shout them out in the comments!

If this trend of ocean wins from last year and this year continues, we may well avoid the most dire predictions of ocean ecosystem collapse. To maintain this positive inertia, we must keep coming together and collaborating, and draw others into the fold to ensure (as we say at the Waitt Institute) sustainable, profitable and enjoyable use of the ocean for this and future generations. Hopefully 2016 will be the year of really coming to grips with how to use the ocean without using it up. Happy new year!

21-year-old Inventor Builds Giant Floating Dam
To Trap Debris in Oceans, Lakes and Waterways

Victoria Woollastron / The Mail Online

Boyan Slat’s idea on how to rid the seas of the eight millions tons of plastic it holds is being put to the test. Technology has already been trialed in Dutch lakes and Japanese waterways but next year’s test will be its first sea. It works by using the current to capture floating plastic, allowing aquatic life to safely escape under the buffer.

If the Ocean Cleanup trials are successful, more trials could be installed around the globe. Giant floating dam that promises to rid the oceans of plastic gets its first trial on open water: Revolutionary 328ft barrier will be installed in the North Sea next year.

(January 1, 2016) — A revolutionary floating dam that traps plastic bags, bottles and other waste choking the world’s oceans will be tested at sea for the first time next year.

The Ocean Cleanup Organisation will be installing a 328ft-long (100 metre) barrier segment in the summer of 2016 in the North Sea, 14 miles (23km) off the coast of The Netherlands.

A revolutionary floating dam (illustrated) that traps plastic bags, bottles and other waste choking the world’s oceans will be tested at sea for the first time next year. The technology has already tested the technology in Dutch lakes

Most ocean waste collection schemes use boats to scour for the plastic in which dolphins, seals and other sea creatures become entangled. Ocean Cleanup’s barrier, however, uses currents to passively ensnare waves of garbage, while allowing fish and other sea creatures through.

‘It will be the first time our barrier design will be put to the test in open waters,’ the foundation said. ‘The main objective of the North Sea test is to monitor the effects of real-life sea conditions, with a focus on waves and currents. The motions of the barrier and the loads on the system will be monitored by cameras and sensors.’

The floating barriers are regarded as one of the most critical elements of the concept, since they are responsible for capturing and concentrating the plastic debris.

After extensive computer modeling and scale model testing in controlled environments at the Deltares and MARIN basins, engineers involved in the project now believe it is time to move the barrier to the next stage of development.

By 2020, the Ocean Clean project hopes to have installed a 62 mile-long (100-km) V-shaped floating barrier in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a vortex in the North Pacific where trash collects.

The area has a severe pollution problem, with approximately one cubic meter of pollution per person washed up each year, and the local government hopes the initiative will be solution to the problem.

The method will be environmentally-friendly as aquatic life and the currents are able to safely pass underneath the buffers, but the plastic will be gathered on the surface.

Each arm of the V will consist of a screen 10 feet (3 metres) deep that blocks waste and directs it to a central point where it can be collected for recycling.

The technology was designed by Boyan Slat, 21 (pictured). The Ocean Cleanup aims to halve the amount of plastic debris floating in the Pacific within a decade using giant V-shaped floating barriers that will naturally capture waste using the current to their advantage.

The technology was designed by Dutch innovator Boyan Slat, 21. His aim is to rid the seas of millions of tons of plastic waste, but instead of conducting a sweep of all the ocean’s junk, he plans to creatively let the ocean ‘clean itself.’

Slat wrote on The Ocean Cleanup’s website: ‘Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today.

‘Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ‘This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time.’

Once the buoyant plastic is captured, it will be concentrated at the water’s surface along the barriers for easy gathering and disposal. The company estimates that a 62-mile stationary cleanup array can remove 42 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over 10 years, representing a total of 70,320,000kg of plastic waste.

If the trial period proves successful, other Ocean Cleanup floating barriers, known as gyres, could be placed around the world to tackle the eight million tons of plastic in the seas. However not everyone is convinced about whether or not the ocean-cleaning plans will be successful.

Deep Sea News outlined an analysis of the project and its feasibility, addressing issues like bio-fouling of the equipment, which it claimed had not been properly thought out.

Slat has a team of 100 oceanographers, naval engineers, translators, and designers on hand to develop the technology. He began the Ocean Cleanup with a crowd-funding campaign last year that raised $2million (£1.3 million).

Earlier this year, Dr Jenna Jambeck, a researcher from the University of Georgia in the US, said we are becoming ‘overwhelmed by our waste’ and warned how dangerous it is to sea life.

Turtles can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them. The bags then block their stomachs, which causes them to starve to death. Sea birds also often mistake floating plastic for food; over 90 per cent of fulmars found dead around the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs. It is also feared that it could harm our health to eat fish that have consumed plastic.

The university researchers estimated that between 4.7 million and 12.7 million tons of plastic made its way into the world’s oceans in 2010, with a best estimate of 8million tons. The figure is expected to rise each year.

Between 2010 and 2025, some 155 million tons of plastic could be dumped into the ocean – enough to fill 100 bags per foot of coastline. Piled one on top of the other, the bags would create a wall of rubbish 100 feet (30 metres) high.


More than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

The only industrialized western country on the list of top 20 plastic polluters is the United States at No. 20.

The US and Europe are not mismanaging their collected waste, so the plastic trash coming from those countries is due to litter, researchers said.

While China is responsible for 2.4 million tons of plastic that makes its way into the ocean, nearly 28 percent of the world total, the United States contributes just 77,000 tons, which is less than 1 percent, according to the study published earlier this year in the journal Science.

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