Category Archives: Ocean Pollution

How Sunscreen is Killing the Coral Reefs

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Beautiful, complex, and fragile, coral reefs house close to one million species of fish, algae, and invertebrates and play an integral role in the richness of our coeans. However, these hotspots for biodiversity are in critical danger (80% of Caribbean reefs were lost in the past 50 years) and sunscreen play a huge role in their destruction. In fact, researchers estimate that the chemicals sunscreen-wearing swimmers bring into the oceans have placed 60% of the planet’s coral reefs at risk.

Reefs, which cover around one percent of the ocean’s floor, are highly sensitive to their environments. Coral reefs consist of many small soft-bodied polyps, which are kept alive by colorful algae plants living inside them. When algae undergoes photosynthesis, the process create food for the polyps and allows them to form entire attached communities, branching out into structures that coat the ocean’s bottom and house unique forms of life found nowhere else.

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Oxybenzone, a UV-blocking ingredient in many sunscreen brands, weakens coral, which then expels the algae that keep it healthy and vibrant. This process, known as bleaching, often leads to death for reef populations. The chemical also deforms young coral, changing its DNA so that it encloses itself in its own skeleton, preventing algae from entering; this will have severe impacts on coral’s ability to replenish itself in future generations. With millions of global beachgoers slathering on even a small amount of sunscreen, the US National Park Service estimates that 4000-6000 tons of sunscreen reach coral reef areas each year, dangerous levels for the algae that sustains reefs.

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So what are the solutions? The National Park Service notes that checking your sunblock’s ingredients and switching out products with oxybenzone for those with titanium oxide and zinc oxide, which have not been found to endanger coral reefs, is one way to protect yourself from rays while protecting reefs from damage. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group has published a list of coral-friendly sunscreens for reference on its website. Finally, as an alternative to sunscreen, try a wetsuit that covers your full body on for size. Remember, it’s not just the reefs, but their impossibly numerous, fascinating, and dynamic inhabitants, at stake.

Source: Lima, Natalia. “Why is Sunscreen Bad for Coral Reefs?” Care2. 9 June 2016.

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NOISE POLLUTION THREATENS MARINE LIFE

We frequently hear about warming ocean temperatures, waste pollution, and habitat loss in marine environments, but little attention is given to another large issue affecting marine life: noise pollution. Noise pollution is beginning to show a major physical and behavioral affect on marine species ranging from whales, sea turtles, and sea birds to carbs, shrimp, and invertebrates. The pollution is mainly coming from the explosive sounds made by cargo ships, sonar guns, and air guns used by the U.S. Navy and during gas exploration. One species in particular, the Blue Whale, is drawing more attention to the issue because of how they’re affected by the noises.

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Noise pollution can be harmful in multiple ways. Species of whales and dolphins rely heavily on sounds while communicating with each other, hunting prey, escaping predators, and finding mates. The loud noises made during human activity can mask the sounds made by the marine organism, causing it to become lost or separated from its family, or interrupting its role in the food web. Noise pollution can also physically harm marine organisms depending on the size of the vibrations caused by the sound.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has attempted to eliminate this issue on a case-by-case basis, preventing the use of the sonar guns or cargo ships when an organism is present in the nearby distance to the source of the noise. NOAA has now spent 6 years drawing an Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap to deal with noise pollution and bring more attention to this issue. Not only are endangered species being watched closely, but also the entire effect from noise pollution is being researched to determine how whole marine environments are being altered.

Source: Goldman, Laura. “A Plan to Mute Ocean Noise for Marine Life.” Environmental News Network. 15 June 2016.

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Great Bear Rainforest

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An agreement was reached last week to protect the vast majority of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest old-growth temperate rainforests left in the world.

The deal is between First Nations governments, the provincial government of British Columbia, and the forestry industry that fulfills commitments first made a decade ago as part of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements.

With the agreement, some 3.1 million hectares (7.7 million acres) of the Great Bear Rainforest, over 85 percent of the temperate rainforest in the remote coastal region will be permanently off-limits to industrial logging. The remaining 15 percent (550,000 hectares or 1.2 million acres) of the forest will be subject to “the most stringent legal standards for commercial logging operations in North America.

The agreement requires a 40 percent reduction in logging compared with 2006 levels — or 2.5 million cubic metres (88.2 million cubic feet) per year — for the next 10 years. After that, logging will be done on a “conservation trajectory.” Logging companies will have to make annual progress reports to the public to ensure they meet the required conservation targets.

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The agreement also solidifies First Nations governments’ shared decision-making powers with the B.C. government within their traditional territories and establishes measures to improve the wellbeing of First Nations communities.

This is a  victory for the global climate, as well, as B.C.’s coastal old-growth rainforests are known to store large amounts of carbon, meaning that increased protections will result in an immediate reduction in carbon emissions from deforestation.

Just over half of the region known as the Great Bear Rainforest, which encompasses about 6.4 million hectares (15 million acres) of coastal B.C., is covered by forest ecosystems (around 3.6 million hectares, or 8.9 million acres). It is the traditional territory of 26 First Nations.

The Great Bear Rainforest provides habitat for a number of iconic species, including towering, ancient trees as well as grizzly bears, orcas, salmon, wolves, and the unique, white-furred black bear known as the Spirit bear that the rainforest is named for.

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NO Oil Exploration in Belize Barrier Reef

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The Belize government has approved a policy that will legally ban offshore exploration in all seven areas that make up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage area. The decision will effectively exclude the entire World Heritage area from any future oil exploration and make the site consistent with the World Heritage Committee’s position that oil exploration is incompatible with World Heritage status.

The decision is a major first step forward in the government’s efforts to remove Belize Barrier Reef from the List of World Heritage in Danger. Following an IUCN-WHC mission to Belize last January, the government of Belize agreed on an ambitious 3-year roadmap that sets out a Desired State of Conservation for removal of the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger. A permanent ban on oil in the World Heritage area and its surrounding zones with a functional ecological connection to the property is anticipated by 31 January 2016.

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The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef system in the world. In 2009, the site was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of concerns on the sale, lease and development of mangrove islands and the absence of a solid regulatory framework that can ensure the conservation of its exceptional values. In 2010, the World Heritage Committee expressed serious concern about the potential for oil developments within and immediately adjacent to the iconic World Heritage site.

The World Heritage Committee has taken a very clear position that oil and mining exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status. In recent months, a growing number of firms in the extractive sector recognize their shared responsibility in conserving the worlds’s most iconic places and subscribe to a no-go commitment in World Heritage sites.

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Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
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A Call for Saving Leviathan, for Saving the Whales, Part 1

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“From Hell’s Heart I stab at thee” decried Melville in “Moby Dick.” In the heyday of whaling, tens of thousands of sperm whales were destroyed for oil every year to light the cities of modern civilization. Advancing as the dominant force on earth, man slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the great mind of the oceans, the whales.

Is humanity capable of saving the seas? The ways the seas and the whales go, so does civilization. The seas are acidifying. Whales are key not just for their fecundation of the phytoplankton on which we depend for oxygen, but also for the entire immune system of the oceans. The oceans are being asked a reprieve. Without the life it sustains, humanity will drown. As Laurens van der Post wrote in “The Hunter and the Whale,” “Killing disproportionately was the last unforgiveable depravity.”

“Thinking Like a Dolphin,” National Geographic’s May issue cover story, confirms the urgency of the issue and underscores the supreme importance of cetaceans to humanity. I once heard Paul Watson speaking out for the cetaceans. He shared an anecdote from several decades ago, when he tried to stop a Russian whaler from harpooning a sperm whale. His words carried all the power of a fury decrying the modern Ahabs as he maneuvered with his zodiac trying to position himself between the long steel blade and the brain of one of the most remarkable beings on earth. Eventually the harpoon found its way into the body of the sperm whale causing untold agony.

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In the depths of its pain, surrounded by pools of blood, as the ocean turned crimson, the whale’s eye, reflecting the earth in miniature, shot a glance of what seemed like a depth charge of pity at Watson and his men. It was pity, full of loss of an enormous warrior who has battled giant squid and the ferocious crushing solitude of the fathoms below. It was pity not for itself, but for the entire human race! When Watson discovered that the whale oil of exceptional quality was being used to lubricate Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles by the Soviet Union, his voice rose and trembled because he felt the human species had gone completely mad.

The peak days of whaling are over, most whale populations have survived, but some like the southern right whales are exceptionally vulnerable. The ignominy of hundreds of years of slaughter and now industrial pollution is crucifying the cetacean mind.

In ancient Greece and even more recently off the coast of India there are many stories of dolphins saving humans from drowning. Arion who invented the dithyramb (a wild ancient Greek choral hymn) tells the story of the dolphin that saved the life of a singer who was thrown from a ship into the sea. Pliny the Elder, Cicero, Oppian in his long poem “Halieutica,” and the great historian Herodotus tell similar tales of the incomparable human cetacean bond.

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Korianos’ story as told by Plutarch is perhaps the most inspired. Some fishermen in Byzantium were to kill a group of dolphins. Korianos interceded, paid the fishermen and freed the dolphins from their net. The dolphins gave a long look at Korianos and then departed. A few weeks later, a storm raging off the coast capsized a boat on which Korianos was onboard. He alone survived and was saved by a dolphin that carried him to shore. Plutarch mentions that when Korianos died, a group of dolphins appeared before his funeral pyre with heads above water to mourn, as his human companions had done. When the smoke cleared, the dolphins disappeared and were never seen again! (from “The Dolphin, Cousin to Man“ by Robert Stenuit 1968).

* Reprinted from permission from the author, my good friend Cyril Christo.

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Come to New York, NY October 13-19 for a week of extraordinary films, workshops, international filmmakers, red carpet gala and to meet some of the world’s leading wildlife conservationists. Included are dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Patricia C. Wright, Dr. Birute Galdikas, Nan Hauser, Dr. Mireya Mayor. More than 15 international wildlife documentary filmmakers and from National Geographic filmmakers, Bob Poole and David Hamlin

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Elephants in the Room
produced by Peter Lamberti of Aquavision TV Productions in South Africa
will make its New York debut at the 2014 WCFF

Great Migrations: Episode 3: Survival of the Fastest NGC-US: Episode Code: 3592 NGCI: IBMS - 023560

Zebras On The Move
Produced by Oscar Portillo of Explora Films in Spain
will also make its New York debut

Get your tickets now for all 18 film series held at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway during the week and the Red Carpet Gala & Awards Ceremony at 583 Park Avenue

http://wcff.org/film-festivals/purchase-tickets-for-nyc-2014/

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The Cost of Plastic in the Oceans

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Estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics debris in the world’s oceans causing harm to marine ecosystems stands at $13 billion USD each year.

In the polar regions, scientists have recently found tiny pieces of plastic trapped in sea ice. Transported by ocean currents across great distances, these contaminated particles eventually become a source of chemicals in our food.

A large and unquantifiable amount of plastic waste enters the ocean from littering, poorly managed landfills, tourist activities and fisheries. Some of this material sinks to the ocean floor, while some floats and can travel over great distances on ocean currents—polluting shorelines and accumulating in massive mid-ocean gyres.

Communities of microbes have been discovered thriving on microplastics at multiple locations in the North Atlantic. This “plastisphere” can facilitate the transport of harmful microbes, pathogens and algal species. Microplastics have also been identified as a threat to larger organisms, such as the endangered northern right whale, which is potentially exposed to ingestion through filter-feeding.

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Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, Inc.
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