A couple hundred pebble-size diamonds, plucked from Brazilian mud, sit inside a safe at Northwestern University. To some, they might be worthless. “They’re battered,” said Steve Jacobsen, a mineralogist at Northwestern. “They look like they’ve been through a washing machine.” Many are dark or yellow, far from the pristine gems of jewelers’ dreams.
Yet, for researchers like Jacobsen, these fragments of crystalline carbon are every bit as precious — not for the diamond itself, but for what is locked inside: specks of minerals forged hundreds of kilometers underground, deep in Earth’s mantle.
These mineral flecks — some too small to see even under a microscope — offer a peek into Earth’s otherwise unreachable interior. In 2014, researchers glimpsed something embedded in these minerals that, if not for its deep origins, would’ve been unremarkable: water.
Not actual drops of water, or even molecules of H20, but its ingredients, atoms of hydrogen and oxygen embedded in the crystal structure of the mineral itself. This hydrous mineral isn’t wet. But when it melts, out spills water. The discovery was the first direct proof that water-rich minerals exist this deep, between 410 and 660 kilometers down, in a region called the transition zone, sandwiched between the upper and lower mantles.
Since then, scientists have found more tantalizing evidence of water. In March 2018, a team announced that they had discovered diamonds from Earth’s mantle that have actual water encased inside. Seismic data has also mapped water-friendly minerals across a large portion of Earth’s interior. Some scientists now argue that a huge reservoir of water could be lurking far beneath our feet. If we consider all of the planet’s surface water as one ocean, and there turn out to be even a few oceans underground, it would change how scientists think of Earth’s interior. But it also raises another question: Where could it have all come from?
Without water, life as we know it would not exist. Neither would the living, dynamic planet we’re familiar with today. Water plays an integral role in plate tectonics, triggering volcanoes and helping parts of the upper mantle flow more freely. Still, most of the mantle is relatively dry. The upper mantle, for instance, is primarily made of a mineral called olivine, which can’t store much water.
But below 410 kilometers, in the transition zone, high temperatures and pressures squeeze the olivine into a new crystal configuration called wadsleyite. In 1987, Joe Smyth, a mineralogist at the University of Colorado, realized that wadsleyite’s crystal structure would be afflicted with gaps. These gaps turn out to be perfect fits for hydrogen atoms, which could snuggle into these defects and bond with the adjacent oxygen atoms already in the mineral. Wadsleyite, Smyth found, can potentially grab onto lots of hydrogen, turning it into a hydrous mineral that produces water when it melts. For scientists like Smyth, hydrogen means water.
Deeper in the transition zone, wadsleyite becomes ringwoodite. And in the lab, Jacobsen (who was Smyth’s graduate student in the 1990s) would squeeze and heat bits of ringwoodite to mimic the extreme conditions of the transition zone. Researchers doing similar experiments with both wadsleyite and ringwoodite found that in the transition zone, these minerals could hold 1 to 3 percent of their weight in water. Considering that the transition zone is a roughly 250-kilometer-thick shell that accounts for about 7 percent of Earth’s mass (by comparison, the crust is only 1 percent), it could contain several times the water of Earth’s oceans.
These experiments, however, only gauge water capacity. “It’s not a measurement of how wet the sponge is, it’s a measurement of how much the sponge can hold,” said Wendy Panero, a geophysicist at Ohio State University.
Neither were the experiments necessarily realistic, since researchers could only test lab-grown ringwoodite. Apart from a few meteorites, no one had ever seen ringwoodite in nature. That is, until 2014.
While soccer fans converged on Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, a small group of geologists headed to the farmlands around Juína, a city almost 2,000 kilometers west of Brasilia. They were on the hunt for diamonds that had been panned from local rivers.
As diamonds form in the heat and high pressure of the mantle, they can trap bits of minerals. Because diamonds are so tough and rigid, they preserve these mantle minerals as they’re blasted to the surface via volcanic eruptions.
The researchers bought more than a thousand of the most speckled, mineral-filled crystals. One of the scientists, Graham Pearson, took several hundred back to his lab at the University of Alberta, where, inside one particular diamond, he and his colleagues discovered ringwoodite from the transition zone. Not only that, but it was hydrous ringwoodite, which meant it contained water — about 1 percent by weight.
“It’s an important discovery in terms of plausibility,” said Brandon Schmandt, a seismologist at the University of New Mexico. For the first time, scientists had a sample of the transition zone — and it was hydrated. “It’s definitely not crazy, then, to think other parts of the transition zone are also hydrated.”
But, he added, “it would also be a little crazy to think that one crystal represents the average of the entire transition zone.” Diamonds, after all, form only in certain conditions, and this sample might come from a uniquely watery place.
To see how widespread hydrous ringwoodite could be, Schmandt teamed with Jacobsen and others to map it using seismic waves. Due to convection, hydrous ringwoodite can sink, and as it drops below the transition zone, the rising pressure wrings water out, causing the mineral to melt. Just beneath the transition zone where mantle material is descending, these pools of molten minerals can abruptly slow seismic waves. By measuring seismic speeds under North America, the researchers found that, indeed, such pools appear common below the transition zone. Another study measuring the seismic waves under the European Alps found a similar pattern.
Abundant mantle water got yet another boost in March when a team led by Oliver Tschauner, a mineralogist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, discovered diamonds that contain actual pieces of water ice — the first observation of freely existing H2O from the mantle. The samples might say more about the wet conditions that formed the diamond than the existence of any ubiquitous reservoir. But because this water — a high-pressure form called ice-VII — was found in a variety of locations across southern Africa and China, it could turn out to be relatively widespread.
“A couple years from now, we’ll find ice-VII is much more common,” said Steve Shirey, a geologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “It’s telling us we have the same story that hydrous ringwoodite is telling us.”
But if the story is that the mantle is brimming with water, the cliffhanger leaves us wondering how it all got there.
According to the standard tale, Earth’s water was imported. The region around the sun where the planet formed was too hot for volatile compounds like water to condense. So the nascent Earth started out dry, getting wet only after water-rich bodies from the distant solar system crashed into the planet, delivering water to the surface. Most of these were likely not comets but rather asteroids called carbonaceous chondrites, which can be up to 20 percent water by weight, storing it in a form of hydrogen like ringwoodite.
But if there’s a huge stockpile of water in the transition zone, this story of water’s origin would have to change. If the transition zone could store 1 percent of its weight in water — a moderate estimate, Jacobsen said — it would contain twice the world’s oceans. The lower mantle is much drier but also voluminous. It could amount to all the world’s oceans (again). There’s water in the crust, too. For subduction to incorporate that much water from the surface at the current rate, it would take much longer than the age of the planet, Jacobsen said.
If that’s the case, at least some of Earth’s interior water must have always been here. Despite the heat in the early solar system, water molecules could have stuck to the dust particles that coalesced to form Earth, according to some theories.
Yet the total amount of water in the mantle is a highly uncertain figure. At the low end, the mantle might hold only half as much water as in the world’s oceans, according to Schmandt and others.
On the high end, the mantle could hold two or three times the amount of water in the oceans. If there were much more than that, the additional heat of the younger Earth would have made the mantle too watery and runny to fracture the continental plates, and today’s plate tectonics may never have gotten started. “If you have a bunch of water in the surface, it’s great,” said Jun Korenaga, a geophysicist at Yale University. “If you have a bunch of water in the mantle, it’s not great.”
But many uncertainties remain. One big question mark is the lower mantle, where extreme pressures turn ringwoodite into bridgmanite, which can’t hold much water at all. Recent studies, however, suggest the presence of new water-bearing minerals dubbed phase D and phase H. Exactly what these minerals are like and how much water they might store remains an open question, Panero said. “Because it is a wide-open question, I think that the water content in the mantle remains open for debate — wide open.”
Measuring Earth’s interior water storage isn’t easy. One promising way is to measure the electrical conductivity of the mantle, Korenaga said. But those techniques aren’t yet as advanced as, say, using seismic waves. And while seismic waves offer a global view of Earth’s interior, the picture isn’t always clear. The signals are subtle, and researchers need more precise data and a better understanding of the properties of more realistic mantle material, instead of just ringwoodite and wadsleyite. Those two minerals constitute about 60 percent of the transition zone, the rest being a complex mix of other minerals and compounds.
Finding more diamonds with hydrous minerals would help, too. In Jacobsen’s lab, that job falls to graduate student Michelle Wenz. For each diamond, she uses powerful X-rays at Argonne National Laboratory to map the location of every mineral speck, of which there may be half a dozen. Then, to identify the minerals, she blasts X-rays onto each bit and measures how the rays scatter off its crystal structure. Of the hundreds of diamonds in the lab, all from Brazil, she’s gone through about 60. No water yet.
Water or not, she said, these capsules from the deep are still amazing. “Each one is so unique,” she said. “They’re a lot like snowflakes.”
Marcus Woo is a science journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The solid waste division of Pinellas County, where Tampa Bay is located, said they had picked up 600 tons of dead marine life since late June, as NPR reported.
“The bay is really hurting right now,” Pinellas County resident Maya Burke told NPR. “It’s significant numbers of dead fish all up and down the food chain, from small forage fish all the way up to tarpon, manatees, dolphins… If it’s swimming in the bay, right now it’s washing up dead.”
The devastation prompted more than 100 protestors to march along the St. Petersburg waterfront on Saturday, as The AP reported. The demonstrators called on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in order to provide funds to address the problem.
“This is not political,” protest organizer Aimee Conlee said at the demonstration, as The AP reported. “This is life. This is water, and water is life.”
The St. Petersburg City Council backed the call with a resolution passed last week, but DeSantis has said there is enough funding available from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection without a declaration.
Red tides are caused by an overabundance of the algae Karenia brevis, The Smithsonian explained. This algae is naturally occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, but is made worse by nutrient pollution, according to The AP. It is unusual for these blooms to occur in Tampa Bay during the summer months, NPR reported. Instead, they typically begin in the fall and end by January. The last serious summer red tide was in 2018, and this year’s outbreak looks to be worse.
“This is not normal,” NOAA oceanographer Richard Stumpf told NPR. “The fact that it’s been three years since the last one is not good.”
The outbreak comes around three months after a major leak at a phosphate plant wastewater pond located in a Piney Point reservoir near Tampa Bay. Experts say pollutants from the leak could be worsening the tide, but are unlikely to be its original source.
“I don’t think that the red tide was originated as a consequence of Piney Point,” Tom Frazer, Florida’s former chief science officer and a professor and dean at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, said in a public discussion reported by WUSF. “One of the things that we saw with the red tide early on was that it was south of the discharge area, with the red tide continuing to kind of migrate or move northward into lower Tampa Bay.”
He said that other sources of the outbreak could be runoff from septic tanks, stormwater systems and agricultural or lawn fertilizer.
The number of fish washing up dead on the beach could also have been increased by winds from Tropical Storm Elsa earlier this month, according to NPR. Pinellas County and St. Petersburg officials said they removed nine tons of fish in a 24-hour period following the storm, according to The Independent.
Red tides can also harm human health by worsening the effects of asthma and other respiratory conditions. Scientists warn these events may get even worse because of the climate crisis, since warmer waters favor the algae and more extreme precipitation events increase runoff and nutrient pollution.
“Because of climate change, we are at a crossroad with regard to control of harmful algal blooms, and must aggressively tackle the problem before it becomes so difficult that in many ecosystems we are faced with the option of allowing these micro-organisms to go unchecked,” experts warned in a 2015 letter published in Environmental Science & Technology.
Saving dolphins and whales is more than just ending their captivity. Dolphin Project believes that ocean conservation is vital to the survival of all marine animals. Marine species are currently facing more human-caused threats than ever before.
There are many ways we can help protect them. Here are a few ideas:
1. Ditch single-use plastics
Disposable straws, cups, lids, utensils, bags, water bottles and other single use plastics make up a huge percentage of marine pollution. With an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste entering the oceans each year, countless marine animals ingest plastics, become entangled in them, or worse, are killed by them. To minimize your impact, do a trash audit and see exactly how much you are throwing away. Think of what you could live without! Every reduction makes a difference. If every person in North America used just one fewer single use plastic item per year, there would be 579 million LESS pieces of plastic thrown away!
Plastic Garbage in Sea Pen
2. Join beach or community clean ups
Ocean conservation is vital to the survival of all marine species. In order to protect wild populations and continue to return captive dolphins and whales to the ocean, we must ensure a safe and clean habitat. Clean ups can take place anywhere – you don’t have to live near a beach to partake in one. Every piece of plastic and debris that you clean up is one fewer item of trash that will find its way into the ocean and potentially entangle and harm marine life. Cleanups can take place at a beach next to the ocean, at a park, a river, or just around your local town- or even join in our global beach clean up on July 14th!
3. Avoid items and experiences that exploit marine life
Certain products contribute to the harming of ocean habitats, which in turn affect the species that live in them. Avoid purchasing jewelry made from turtle shells or coral, and cosmetic products that contain squalene (a compound obtained for commercial use from sharks).
Experiences such as swim with dolphins programs, dolphin therapy and dolphin shows may be promoted as “educational” or “fun,” but in reality they are forms of exploitation. Not only do dolphins suffer greatly in captivity, but as long as these experiences are promoted this way it will fuel the demand for cruel wild dolphin captures to continue to fill the tanks of new marine parks around the world. Take the pledge NOT to buy a ticket!
Overcrowding at captive dolphin facility
4. Be mindful of what’s on your plate
Overfishing of the oceans is a tremendous problem on a global level. Fish populations around the world are rapidly being depleted due to seafood demand, loss of habitat, and unsustainable fishing practices. Commercial fishing methods often involve gear that entangles unintended species. Bycatch, or the incidental capture of non-target species such as dolphins, whales, pinnipeds, sharks, turtles and seabirds causes a staggering number of deaths each year.
If you consume seafood, stay informed about different fishing methods and their harmful impacts, and the health of populations that your seafood came from, so that you are able to make the meal choices with the smallest environmental impact. As an even better alternative, take a step further and avoid seafood all together!
5. Be an ocean-minded pet owner
Make sure to read the labels on your pet’s food, and to extend sustainable seafood practices to your pet’s diet. Be sure to responsibly dispose of your pet’s waste and to never flush cat litter; when owners neglect to pick up after their animals, pet waste can wash into storm drains, where it becomes a pollutant in drains and waterways, eventually ending up in the ocean. Both on land and in water, the waste left by our pets can spread harmful diseases through bacteria and parasites.
6. Contact representatives and lawmakers
Be aware of authorities and governmental figures with jurisdiction over your area. Contact them and let them know just how important the oceans are to the environment – and to us! Ask that they take action for the oceans such as banning single-use plastics, supporting renewable energy and other initiatives to ensure clean and healthy marine habitats. One urgent call to action we must continue to take now is to ask for the Snake River dams to be breached to save the Southern Resident orcas from extinction!
Southern Resident orca Scarlet/‘J50′ swimming with her mother Slick/‘J16′. Credit: NOAA Fisheries /Public Domain
7. Reduce your carbon emissions
There are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint both inside and outside your home: take a bus or bike to work, adjust your thermostat, turn off lights and electronics when you’re not using them, use cold water to wash your clothes and shop local to avoid products shipped over long distances.
8. Travel the seas responsibly
When boating or embarking on a marine eco-tour, make sure that responsible practices are used. Be a whale-wise boater and keep respectful distances from marine mammals that do not negatively affect their behavior. Make sure to contain any trash, so that it does not get blown into the water. When on the beach or in the water, be sure to use reef-safe sunscreen and keep mindful distances from animals that may be nesting on beaches.
9. Ignite change in your community
Tell family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and anyone else who will listen about why the oceans are so important. Share incredible facts about dolphins and other marine species that they may not know, and inspire them to love and protect the oceans! Present the facts about dolphin captivity to anyone who may be vacationing at or near captive facilities. Contact local restaurants about offering locally sourced produce and sustainable seafood (and more vegan options!).
Empty the Tanks Demo at Duisburg Zoo
10. Stay informed; make your voice count
Be informed of opportunities to vote on issues related to the ocean and the environment. Stay up to date on petitions, public demonstrations and opportunities for public commenting, making sure to add your voice! We often post these opportunities on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and additionally have ongoing petitions for several of our campaigns!
Every action we take makes a difference and collectively, the difference is huge! We must hold ourselves accountable to not only what we are comfortable doing, but capable of doing to help the environment.
Let’s all continue to care for the oceans!
Humpback whale fluke at sunset on the open ocean | Photo by Tracie Sugo
Featured image: Short beaked common dolphins frolic off the coast of Southern California, credit – Tracie Sugo
Earth’s oceans, covering two-thirds of the planet, are so vast and so deep that it’s easy to take their importance for granted.
They provide us with oxygen and regulate our climate by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — important functions for both humans and wildlife. Unfortunately, the world’s oceans — home to whales, sea otters, seals and sea lions, dolphins, manatees, seabirds, sea turtles, sharks, fish, corals, and countless other species of marine life — are in a sea of trouble. The oceans are overworked; they cannot remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere quickly enough to keep up with how much we create, leading to ever-increasing ocean acidification.
The Arctic Sea is now warming at twice the rate than in past years, reducing sea ice — a growing threat to threatened marine mammals such as polar bears and ice seals. Over a third of the Great Barrier Reef is dead, harming commercial and recreational fish stocks and impoverishing Australia’s iconic biodiversity. We are killing off marine mammals, sharks and rays, and fish stocks faster than they can replenish themselves. The health of the Earth’s oceans are indicators of our planet’s overall health; when they’re in trouble, so are we. It’s important to keep our oceans healthy not just for marine life, but also for the future health of the entire planet.
Myriad threats face our oceans and marine wildlife. Climate change causes ocean acidification, warming temperatures, changing ocean currents, sea level rise, and stronger storms. A warming planet makes it more likely for temperature-dependent species like sea turtles and manatees to face cold stress or venture past their usual habitats. Increased shipping traffic and offshore seismic blasting and drilling also increase noise pollution, threatening marine mammals and species at every level of the food chain. Shark finning, bycatch, overfishing and fisheries entanglements endanger sharks and rays, marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, and many other species. Contamination from pollution and plastics and the toxic effects of red tide and other harmful algal blooms caused by fertilizer runoff sicken and kill vulnerable marine species. To top it off, habitat loss and the loss of protected areas reduce the spaces already-vulnerable marine species need to forage and reproduce.
Defenders is fighting for ocean habitats and ocean protection off all our national shores and around the globe. We defend marine national monuments and national marine sanctuaries from administrative attacks. We are opposing seismic blasting and offshore drilling in the courts and in Congress.
We are working to develop best management practices for responsible wildlife-friendly offshore wind siting, construction and development. We defend the Marine Mammal Protection Act from legislative and regulatory rollbacks and work to protect individual marine species through the MMPA and the Endangered Species Act. We worked to gain international protections for sharks and rays and have worked to translate those protections into protections at the domestic level through the ESA.
In Washington State, we are actively engaged in the governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, working to protect the dwindling southern resident orca population and restore the Salish Sea.
In 2017, Defenders joined forces with the National Marine Fisheries Service, state agencies, local and national organizations and hundreds of local residents to redirect community science efforts into a new program called ‘Belugas Count!’ to help monitor Cook Inlet beluga whales in Alaska.
We advocate for North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales as a conservation member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, a stakeholder group under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that advises NMFS on how to implement fishery management measures to minimize or avoid the risk of deadly entanglements.
Tell Mattel: No More Plastic Packaging | Take Action @ The Animal Rescue Site
Sponsor: Free The Ocean
Every parent has seen it: the amount of plastic packaging for toys is ridiculous. The consequences for our oceans are dire.
Over 28 BILLION pounds of plastic enters the ocean each year.1 Plastic packaging is the single biggest contributor, representing a massive 42% of the plastic polluting our oceans.
Plastic in our oceans kills over ONE MILLION marine animals each year. Mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds die from entanglement in or ingestion of plastic.2 Sea turtles are especially susceptible as the plastic they consume gets trapped in their stomachs, preventing them from swallowing real food… and they starve.3 This is a serious issue.
Toys are one of the worst offenders when it comes to plastic packaging, and Mattel is one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers.4 The amount of plastic used to package their toys is staggering. Ironically, the kids opening the toys enclosed in plastic packaging are the ones who are going to be impacted the most. If nothing changes, by the time a 5-year old today turns 35, plastic in the oceans will outweigh the fish.5 Let’s not make children choose between toys packaged in plastic and a healthy ocean.
Although there’ll soon be a ‘How2Recycle’ sticker on some of Mattel’s products6, the truth is only 9% of plastic ever actually gets recycled.7 Mattel needs a wake-up call when it comes to the impact created by their plastic packaging. Not only would a change in packaging benefit our environment, the ocean, and marine life – it would also benefit the children who play with Mattel’s toys. We know this can be done, because Hasbro has already committed to phase out plastic in all of its packaging.8
When we speak out together, we can make companies take action. Tell the CEO of Mattel, Ynon Kreiz, to redesign Mattel’s packaging to eliminate plastic!
Plastic Pollution Affects Sea Life Throughout the Ocean
Pew Charitable Trusts, September 24, 2018
For Animals, Plastic Is Turning the Ocean Into a Minefield
National Geographic, June 2018
Just a Few Pieces of Plastic Can Kill Sea Turtles
New York Times, Sept. 13, 2018
The Top 7 Toy Companies Ranked by Market Share
Global Toy News, December 8, 2018
By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, study says
Washington Post, January 1, 2016
Mattel Joins How2Recycle
How2Recycle, February 07, 2019
Plastic recycling is a myth: what really happens to your rubbish?
The Guardian, August 17, 2019
Hasbro to Phase Out Plastic from New Toy and Game Packaging
Hasbro, August 20, 2019
To: Ynon Kreiz, CEO of Mattel, Inc.
Plastic packaging is the single biggest contributor to the plastic that ends up in our oceans – which is a staggering 18 billion pounds per year. Plastic pollution kills over 1 million marine animals every year and severely damages the marine ecosystem.
As one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers, Mattel’s product packaging contributes to a massive amount of plastic. I know you’re adding a ‘How2Recycle’ sticker to some of your products but unfortunately, only 9% of all plastic actually gets recycled. The reality is, this won’t meaningfully reduce plastic waste, but using plastic-free alternatives for your packaging will.
It’s estimated that by the time a 5-year-old today, turns 35, plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish. But we can change that. Let’s not give a child the choice between a toy packaged in plastic and a healthy ocean. Ynon, changing Mattel’s packaging would not only benefit the ocean and marine life but would also benefit the children who play with your toys. Please make the right decision and redesign Mattel’s packaging to eliminate plastic.
Tropical fish and turtle swim in the Red Sea, Egypt, an inlet of the Indian Ocean. vlad61 / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Saturday, June 8 is World Oceans Day, a chance to honor and celebrate our blue planet. Ocean lovers around the world will attend beach cleanings and other events or join a March for the Ocean to call for an end to activities that harm marine life, like offshore oil drilling and plastic pollution.
The oceans generate most of the oxygen we breathe, provide food and medicine and help keep our climate stable, according to the day’s organizers. They are also home to amazing animals and ecosystems, like whales and coral reefs, that make the earth a more wondrous place to live. But the world’s marine environments face unprecedented threats. Here are five things to know about the state of our oceans in 2019.
1. Ocean Plastics Are on the Rise
It’s well-known that eight million metric tons of plastics enter the world’s oceans every year. But a study published in April gave new insight into how plastic pollution has proliferated in the past six decades. Researchers found that equipment used to collect plankton had increasingly been disrupted by plastic since it first got entangled with fishing gear in 1957.
“The message is that marine plastic has increased significantly and we are seeing it all over the world, even in places where you would not want to, like the Northwest Passage and other parts of the Arctic,” Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, England researcher Clare Ostle told The Guardian.
2. Plastic Pollution Threatens Marine Oxygen Production
All that plastic floating in the ocean kills one million birds and more than 100,000 marine mammals every year, according to the UK government. But a study published in May found it could have a disturbing impact on some of the ocean’s smallest life forms as well. Scientists exposed the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria to chemicals that leach from plastic bags. The chemicals made it harder for the bacteria to grow and produce oxygen. This is scary because these bacteria are responsible for 10 percent of the oxygen we breathe.
“This study revealed a new and unanticipated danger of plastic pollution,” paper co-author and Macquarie University research fellow Lisa Moore told The Independent.
3. Global Warming Is Already Putting Fish in Hot Water
The oceans and the creatures in them are also threatened by climate change, and a groundbreaking study published in March found that rising ocean temperatures are already shrinking fish populations. A University of Rutgers-led team discovered that sustainable fish populations had declined by an average of 4.1 percent over 80 years. That might not sound like a lot, but it actually amounts to 1.4 million metric tons of fish lost between 1930 and 2010. And in some regions the decline was more extreme: sustainable fish populations fell by 34 percent in the northeast Atlantic and 35 percent in the Sea of Japan.
“We were stunned to find that fisheries around the world have already responded to ocean warming,” study co-author and Rutgers’ Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources associate professor Malin Pinsky told Rutgers Today. “These aren’t hypothetical changes sometime in the future.”
4. Marine Heatwaves Act Like Underwater Wildfires
Ocean warming doesn’t just damage individual species. It devastates entire ecosystems. A first-of-its-kind study published in March found that the number of ocean heat wave days per year is surging: The number has increased by more than 50 percent between two 29-year time chunks compared by the scientists. This has particularly harmed coral reefs in the Caribbean, Australian sea-grass beds and California’s kelp forests.
“You have heatwave-induced wildfires that take out huge areas of forest, but this is happening underwater as well,” lead author Dan Smale at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK told The Guardian. “You see the kelp and seagrasses dying in front of you. Within weeks or months they are just gone, along hundreds of kilometres of coastline.”
5. Ocean Acidification Makes Life Even Harder for Coral Reefs
Marine heat waves threaten coral reefs by causing coral bleaching, in which corals expel the algae that give them color and nutrients. But the greenhouse gasses we are pumping into the atmosphere also endanger coral in another way. They cause ocean acidification, which is what happens when carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater and changes its chemical makeup. This reduces the amount of calcium carbonate that animals like corals use to repair themselves after stressful events like bleachings. In research published just last week, scientists found that some corals and algae they studied were not able to adapt to more acidic waters. This could alter the composition and function of reefs.
“We found that corals and coralline algae weren’t able to acclimatize to ocean acidification,” study author Malcolm McCulloch said.
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Photo by jonathan leonardo on Unsplash
Carnival Corporation will now have to pay $20 million after a court filing submitted on Monday said Carnival released food waste and plastic into the ocean, failed to accurately record waste disposals, created false training records, and secretly examined ships to fix environmental-compliance issues before third-party inspections without reporting its findings to the inspectors.
The violations took place on Princess Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival.
The settlement reached this week will require Carnival to pay $20 million within seven days, receive additional inspections, invest in more resources to ensure compliance with its probation, reduce the number of single-use plastic items on its ships, and establish teams to improve waste management. If the requirements are not met, they will have to pay penalties of $1 million to $10 million per day.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz approved the terms of the deal during a hearing Monday in Miami. She had appeared to grow increasingly frustrated as the company has continued to defy environmental regulations over the past couple decades.
“You not only work for employees and shareholders. You are a steward of the environment,” she told Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, who attended the hearing with other senior executives. “The environment needs to be a core value, and I hope and pray it becomes your daily anthem.”
In 2013, a whistleblowing engineer exposed the illegal dumping of contaminated waste and oil from the company’s Caribbean Princess ship. He told authorities that engineers were using a special device called the “magic pipe” to bypass the ship’s water treatment system and dump oil waste straight into the ocean. The company also tried to cover up this practice from investigators, according to the Justice Department.
The Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act would permanently ban oil and gas leasing off the coast of the Pacific and Atlantic
Washington, D.C. – Keeping his promise to make sure there is never offshore drilling on South Carolina’s coastline, today Rep. Joe Cunningham introduced the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act. This bipartisan legislation would permanently ban oil and gas leasing off the coast of the Pacific and Atlantic.
“I’ve been clear from the very beginning that our beaches, businesses, and way of life should not be for sale. South Carolinians want nothing to do with offshore drilling and the devastating threat it poses to our vibrant natural resources,” said Congressman Joe Cunningham. “I am proud to have the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, advocates, and organizations up and down South Carolina and across both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to lead this bipartisan bill across the finish line to ban offshore drilling off our coast once and for all.”
“The Administration is trying to further oil and gas interests at an alarming rate, including major expansions of offshore drilling in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This is nothing more than a hand-out to the oil and gas industries and runs counter to health, safety, and environmental safeguards we know must be in place to protect our coastlines. These actions also run counter to the will of the citizens in these coastal communities. I am proud to join with my colleagues in making it perfectly clear to this Administration – there will be no new drilling off our coasts,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal.
“The Trump administration’s drill-everywhere plan has run into a wave of public opposition. Americans from coast to coast have made it very clear that they do not want to see more oil rigs in their oceans,” said Rep. Jared Huffman. “The Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act will halt Trump’s oil and gas drilling spree in its tracks, protecting coastal communities and fragile ecosystems from environmental catastrophe. In California, we know that our coastal economies would be placed at unacceptable risk by offshore oil and gas drilling, which threatens the tourism, recreation, and fishing industries. I’m glad to work together with Joe Cunningham on this ongoing effort to block offshore drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and to shield both of our coastlines from dangerous exploitation.”
“From Congress to the Governor’s mansion to City Council chambers, bipartisan leaders across South Carolina have said time and time again they oppose drilling off our coast. Now Congressman Cunningham is leading the charge in Congress to ensure this threat never comes to be,” said John Tynan, Executive Director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “Voters in the Palmetto State have told their elected leaders to prevent drilling off our coast, and we’re proud to stand beside Congressman Cunningham as he leads the way in the fight to protect our coastline, tourism economy, and quality of life.”
“This smart measure responds to communities and leaders all along our Atlantic and Pacific coasts who strongly oppose offshore drilling. It would protect those coastal waters and wildlife from the risks of another BP-style disaster, as well as industrial ruin and ongoing harm. This bill deserves the support of everyone who cares about healthy oceans, marine life, our coastal economies and all they support”, said Alexandra Adams, Legislative Director, Nature Program, Natural Resources Defense Council.
An environmental crisis continues in the Solomon Islands as for more than month, a cargo ship off the coast of Rennell Island in the Kangava Bay has been leaking oil into the waters. This site also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site as it is the world’s largest raised coral atoll.
The ship, a 740-foot-long ship called the Solomon Trader ran aground on February 5, 2019 where it was carrying more than 700 metric tons of oil according the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said Tuesday. So far, CNN affiliate Radio NZ has reported that the wreck has released more than 100 tons of oil into the sea that holds one of the most important coral atolls in the world.
While a large amount of the oil still remains in the ship, there is a high risk that the remaining oil on board could leak into the sea. According to the DFAT, the oil had spread about three and half miles and has begun to wash up onshore.
Speaking to the New York Times, Simon Albert, a marine ecologist at the University of Queensland explained that the spill is likely to cause long therm damage to the coral and local ecosystem.
When coral comes in contact with oil, it can either kill the coral polyps direct or significantly impact reproduction, growth, and behavior over the a long period of time. What this means is that this coral, which is already struggling to survive due to bleaching events and ocean acidification, will be impacted for generations of coral to come.
While the future will be problematic, there are already environmental impacts occurring according to Radio NZ. Loti Yates, the director of the Solomon Islands Disaster Management Office, told them that dead fish have been washing up on beaches.
“There are dead fish and crabs and all that,” Yates said. “The fumes that is coming out from the oil is also affecting communities and I just had a report it’s also impacting on the chicken and birds.”
The site is the largest raised coral atoll in the world, according to UNESCO, which said in a statement this week the leak is taking place just outside the World Heritage site.
The ship ran aground when it was attempting to load cargo of bauxite in the Solomon Island when Cyclone Oma pushed in into a reef. The ship is based out of Hong-Kong and insured by a Korean company.
Thus far, the company attempted to try and use a tugboat to move the ship but this only made matters worse as it pushed it further into the reef. Since then, Australian officials are supporting the Solomon Islands in efforts to mitigate ecological damage. The DFAT said the Australian government has deployed special equipment and an eight-person response crew from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The companies are now working on transferring the remaining 600 metric tons of fuel oil on the ship to different tanks which will be pumped onto a separate barge that is en route.
They’ve also started deploying oil spill booms to contain the spread, and have begun cleaning along the shoreline, the statement said.
Florida is facing one of the countries biggest crisis as their water quality continues to grow worse and worse. And finally, after eight years of hopelessly waiting, the new governor plans to take the state’s water quality seriously and put some real money towards the problem.
Ron Desantis announced the move while the state of Florida is still seeing the effects of one of their worst red tide blooms on record. The move is a multifaceted executive order on water policy vastly different from the new governors predecessor. On top of that, Desantis also fired the entire board of the South Florida Water Management after they have failed to protect the states water.
The plan includes to spend $2.5 billion to restore the Everglades and protect its water, a blue-green algae task force, creating a chief science officer position, phasing out septic tanks, putting teeth in environmental crime enforcement and creating an office of resilience and coastal protection to fund and coordinate response to rising sea levels.
While Desantis is known for being a very conservative Republican, the positive conservation steps forward are a stark difference from the previous administration whom banned state employees from using the words climate change or global warming in official communication.
DeSantis called his executive order the “most comprehensive, boldest actions that we have seen in Florida in a long time. … We can solve a lot of these problems, but it has got to begin now.”
Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone said DeSantis in his first week “has done more to address Florida’s water quality crisis than (former) Gov. Rick Scott did in eight years.”
But Jackalone said concerns remain over a “poorly designed” Everglades-area reservoir and the lack of a direct mention of climate change in DeSantis’ order. Also, he said more details are needed about the order’s stated opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling and opposition to the controversial drilling process known as fracking.
DeSantis, who campaigned as a critic of the Big Sugar farmers, said he is working with the White House and U.S. Army Corps to end the massive water releases from Lake Okeechobee. Residents living along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries have blamed the discharges of polluted water from the lake for toxic algae outbreaks which has caused some of the biggest algae blooms to waterways and coastal waters.
While Desantis failed to mention anything about climate change, he did say the state needs to be “ahead of the curve” on increased flooding and rising waters, which will be a job of the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection.
To clean the oceans of all the plastic waste, humans will need to get ingenuitive in their attempt to clean up the ocean and much more important, in how to prevent it.
While finding an alternative to plastic that is practical to replicate on such a large scale has been a challenge, many people across the world are doing what they can to try and clean up the plastic that is in the sea.
Now, Irish fishing trawlers will be used to remove plastic waste from the oceans by the end of 2019, according to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.
Creed called for all trawlers to get involved in the Clean Oceans Initiative by the end of this year.
“A coordinated action is required,” he said, “to address the serious issue of pollution of the Oceans with plastics.”
Fishing ports, harbours and piers all need to get involved, said Creed, and added that he hoped the industry would build on the work it had been doing voluntarily to date.
With an estimated 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic already estimated to be in the ocean today, that number will only grow at a rapid pace in the future. By 2050, plastic pollution is estimated to outweigh all fish in the ocean.
Plastic also harms the marine life and the very fish stocks that fisherman make a living in, are being impacted severely.
The plan for Irish fisherman is to actively remove garbage, plastic and man-made debris everyday, “as they go about their activity at sea”, according to Creed.
A Department of Agriculture statement said that those working in the fishing industry shared concerns about the plastics issue.
“Our fishing vessels are towing nets through the waters around our coast on a daily basis and often find debris, including waste plastics, when the nets are hauled,” said the statement.
With the hope that fisherman will be bringing home a lot of garbage after each trip out at sea, the Minister is making funding available under Ireland’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), to provide storage facilities on board vessels.
The funding will also be used for “on-shore infrastructure for environmentally friendly disposal of all plastics, waste, ghost fishing gear, etc. recovered at sea.”
The Seafood Development Agency will be tasked with putting together a team of stakeholders which will include fishermen, fish farmers, net makers, harbor authorities, fish processors, community groups, Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs), academics and NGOs to determine the best methods of prevention and removal.
This would also include a wider outreach to coastal communities, asking people to report back at the end of the year with more proposals for solutions for the removal and prevention of plastics in the future.
A new bill has been introduced that aims to reduce cigarettes on Florida beaches. Sarasota House Republican Joe Gruters is looking for the state to bank smoking on all public beaches through bill SB218, which would fine first-time violators $25 or 10 hours of community service.
If Florida passes the bill, it would go into effect July 1st, 2019.
The bill may face potential problems as this isn’t the first time representatives have tried to restrict smoking on beaches in Florida. In 2017, a law that was in place for five years and banned smoking in Sarasota County public parks and beaches was tossed out by a judge whom declared it unconstitutional on the grounds that local jurisdictions couldn’t ban something that was legal on a state level.
Hopefully though, with the potential ban being state wide this time, there will not be another loop-hole that would allow the bill to be thrown out if it does get through the legislatures.
Florida would not be the only state with this ban in place as New Jersey recently banned smoking in public beaches which carries a fine of $250.00
Cigarette butt continue to be the largest single polluter in the ocean damaging habitats, poisoning fish and costing tax dollars for cleanup and disposal, according to environmental experts.
Outside of direct pollution on the beach, cigarettes make their way to the sea due to countless storm drains, streams and rivers around the world. The waste often disintegrates into microplastics easily consumed by wildlife. Researchers have found the detritus in some 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles.
As Florida holds some of the most visited and popular beaches in the world, banning smoking would be a huge win in helping to contain ocean pollution.
A rescue boat races to the scene of an oil tanker fire off the Hong Kong coast Tuesday. Hong Shaokui / China News Service / VCG via Getty Images
An oil tanker caught fire off of Hong Kong’s Lamma Island Tuesday morning, leaving one person dead and two missing.
“We could see that the victim who passed away had been burned,” police representative Wong Wai-hang said in a briefing reported by The New York Times. “There were clear injuries on his head and fractures in his hands and feet.”
An additional 23 crew members were rescued from the water. Four were injured and one was being treated in intensive care.
The explosions were strong enough to be felt by residents of the nearby island, CNN reported.
“My windows shook really badly but (there) was no wind,” Lamma resident Deb Lindsay told CNN. “I thought there had been an earthquake!”
Lamma Island residents worried about a potential oil spill reaching their coastline. Southern Lamma Island hosts a protective nesting site for green turtles, a severely endangered species. An endangered colony of white dolphins also calls Hong Kong waters home.
Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department told CNN that cleaning vessels had been immediately placed on standby but that no oil spill had yet been detected. Some liquid was seen spilling from the boat, but it was unclear if it was oil or water from firefighting, and there was no oil residue on the water around the vessel.
The boat had been refueling in Hong Kong on its way to Thailand from the southern Chinese city of Dongguan, The New York Times reported.
The Fire Services Department’s division commander of marine and diving Yiu Men-yeung told The South China Morning Post that the boat was tilted 30 degrees as of Tuesday evening but was at no risk of sinking.
However, officials said the boat was too hot to tow away immediately, or to board to discover the cause of the fire, and would need several days to cool down.
One fire department insider with 30 years of experienced explained to the South China Morning Post that fighting fires on oil tankers was especially challenging:
“Depending on the situation, the two major fireboats spray foam to coat the tanker and suppress combustion. Other fireboats use water jets to cool the vessel,” the insider said, on condition of anonymity.
“It has taken [firefighters overseas] several days or even a few weeks to extinguish oil tanker fires in worst-case scenarios. It is definitely not easy.”
Marine life is currently under attack from all sides by plastic. From plastic in the form of large plastic bags and 2-liter soda bottles to tiny microplastics, our oceans are absolutely inundated with the stuff. It’s turning up on shorelines, in the stomachs of ocean life, and as giant patches thousands of miles removed from civilization.
The relentless and ever-growing plastic problem our marine ecosystems face is massive. An estimated 8.8 million tons of plastics make their way into our oceans worldwide every single year. And while this sad fact is partially due to a growing population without a comparable and effective waste disposal system to match, marine plastic pollution is also the result of hundreds of little choices we all make every day at the individual level.
With 80 percent of marine plastics originally being sourced from land, it stands to reason that we carry much of the weight in reducing the amount of plastics that reach our oceans. Let’s discuss a few simple ways we can drastically cut our contribution of plastic pollution to our oceans and be superheroes to whales and fish everywhere!
1. Hydrate Responsibly
Staying hydrated is super important but you can certainly do it without bottled water. Relying on plastic to get your H2O on is proving to be really rough on the environment – Americans use an estimated 50 billion plastic water bottles a year. Sadly, only 23 percent of these actually end up recycled. The rest may end up in a landfill or even lost at sea. Switching out plastic for a reusable water bottle or cup is a much better choice for our oceans.
Mind Your Coffee Habit
Your daily coffee (or tea) fix might be contributing to plastic pollution if you’re not careful. Every to-go cup of the hot stuff you buy at the gas station or local café most likely comes topped with a plastic lid and maybe even a plastic drink stirrer thrown in the mix. If you buy a cup of coffee every weekday, that’s hundreds of plastic lids and stirrers wasted every year! In fact, 138 billion plastic stirrers (and straws) are tossed out in America on an annual basis. Want to kick this plastic habit without losing your caffeine fix? Invest in a reusable thermos or mug and stir your cream and sugar with silverware.
3. Avoid Plastic Pop
Like hot beverages you consume outside the home, cold drinks you’re served in a portable cup may also carry unwanted plastic. A soda or iced tea from a fast food joint is often accompanied by a plastic lid and straw, and maybe even housed in a plastic cup. Maybe you’re eating somewhere you can use a reusable cup, or you can ask for the cup minus the lid and straw. Need proof this change will make a difference? Check out how painful a single plastic drinking straw was for a sea turtle earlier this year.
Plastic-Less Shopping Bags
9 Simple Actions That Just Might Save Our World’s Oceans from PlasticAlex/ Flickr
This one may be obvious, but we still can’t forget to mention it: nixing plastic shopping bags saves lives. Literally! A survey of leatherback sea turtles found that one in three has a plastic bag in its stomach. With the world using an estimated 500 billion plastic bags every single year, the ocean could certainly stand to benefit from us cutting out the stuff and replacing them with reusable shopping bags.
Stomp Out Cigarette Litter
If you’re a smoker, please don’t forget to properly dispose of your cigarette butts once you’re done with them. Cigarette filters are actually not biodegradable as they’re made of plastic and pack quite a punch for the environment once you factor in the chemicals and carcinogens they leach. Once you stomp out your butt, put it in a trash can so it doesn’t end up in the ocean instead.
6. Take-Out Containers
Styrofoam take-out containers are no fun for the environment. They are incredibly common forms of plastic pollution (when they aren’t taking up space in landfills) and are composed of a combination of toxic chemicals that can end up in both our bodies and those of animals that accidentally ingest them. You can avoid contributing to Styrofoam pollution by planning ahead and taking your own reusable containers with you when eating out.
7. Reduce Plastic Packaging
Plastic packaging is really hard to avoid when shopping at a conventional grocery store, but try buying groceries with the intent of keeping as much plastic out of the picture as possible. Buy fruits and veggies that don’t come packaged in plastic bags or shrink-wrap. Aim for larger servings of packaged items in place of individually packaged ones (yogurt, chips, cheese, etc). Think these little changes can’t make such a big difference? Think again! Plastic packaging for food is actually the largest form of municipal waste in America, resulting in 80 million tons of waste every year!
8. Do Your Dishes
Instead of opting for plastic cutlery, plates, bowls, and cups to use around the house, why not invest in some dishes and eating utensils that don’t get the heave-ho once the meal’s over? Using single-use plastics to eat every meal could result in thousands of pieces of plastic waste every year. But sticking with metal or bamboo eating utensils and plates and bowls that you can use time and time again would eliminate all that waste.
9. Question That Seafood
9 Simple Actions That Just Might Save Our World’s Oceans from Plastic
US Fish and Wildlife Services/ Flickr
Plastic fishing gear has become a huge enemy of marine life. Both active fishing gear and discarded nets and lines present a problem for animals including sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, birds, and even corals. Cutting your support for this industry and replacing fish foods with plant-based alternatives could drastically reduce deadly plastics in our oceans.
10. Look Out for Microbeads
Microbeads seem to be everywhere these days. These tiny spherical plastics are used as scrubbing or exfoliant agents in many “whitening” toothpastes and face washes. While they might seem harmless because of their small size, in reality, they have an enormous impact. A recent study found that a single squeeze of a product that contains microbeads can release 100,000 tiny beads. Once they wash down the drain, they easily pass through water treatment plants and eventually end up in the oceans. Once in the ocean, they are easily ingested by marine animals, exposing them to harmful toxins and compounds. Not to mention, it is estimated that one in every three bites of seafood contain plastic, and even table salt has been found to have trace amounts of plastic – meaning the same beads we wash down the drain are swimming right back to us in the form of food. Yuck!
The Big Picture
What’s important to remember is that these easy steps aren’t the one and only way to save our oceans from plastic pollution. They do, however, represent some of the most common ways that plastics can be mismanaged and end up in marine ecosystems, and thus some of the more effective ways we can begin to address marine plastic pollution. No doubt you encounter plastics in your daily life in countless other ways and have infinite opportunities to act in favor of the environment. Why not start making choices today that save our oceans from plastic waste?
Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.
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