On today’s episode of Ocean Talk Friday, Andrew and I brought you into the weekend by discussing four ocean-related issues that we thought you all should know about.
First, plastic pollution. A new study in Polar Research claims that sea surface plastics have made their way up to the Arctic Ocean, a region largely considered one of the last pristine marine environments. And while plastic pollution in the Arctic isn’t necessarily surprising to anyone who’s listened to our coverage of the issue, what is surprising is how the plastic got there. As sea ice melts with climate change, more of the Arctic is becoming accessible to vessels, specifically cruise ships. These ships are bringing an incredible amount of plastic waste to this previously remote environment. No matter how effective these ships’ waste management system is, they are bound to contribute greatly to the quantities of plastic in the Arctic Ocean.
This conversation led us to the subject of disposable coffee cups, and just how wasteful these items can be. Disposable coffee cups like the ones Starbucks uses typically aren’t recycled, because the plastic lining used to prevent the cups from leaking your delicious hot beverage are pretty difficult and costly to remove. While it may seem like a small issue, Starbucks sells approximately four billion of these cups each year. That’s an incredible contribution to our landfills and unfortunately, in many cases, our ocean. If everyone who drinks coffee used a reusable mug (hey, look at that), we could make a big step forward toward reducing plastic pollution in our oceans, an issue which is estimated at costing us $13 billion annually.
Next up, corals. Specifically, their death. About 12% of coral reefs worldwide have suffered bleaching events this past year, a sad phenomenon tied to climate change, El Niño, and the Pacific Blob. While these sound more like villains in a Captain Planet episode (I want royalties), the truth is their combining to cause the third global coral bleaching event since 1998. The unusually warm waters trigger some coral to expel their zooxanthellae symbionts. Once they do this the coral can no longer photosynthesize, thereby removing the primary production which is the foundation for these diverse reef ecosystems. Once the corals bleach and die off, they provide less protection from waves energy and storm damage to coastal communities, less revenue for ecotourism, and less habitat for fish, sharks, and invertebrates.
Finally, Andrew and I wanted to address the Sea Shepherd story that was the focus of Wednesday’s podcast. While we’re used to hearing about the vessel in a negative light, their partnership with the Mexican government to protect the vaquita is, in theory, a positive collaboration. However, it remains to be seen what methods they’ll use to protect Mexico’s iconic and critically endangered marine mammals, how much authority they’ll actually have, and what impact this will have on a species. While better enforcement can go a long way towards solving problems of over fishing and illegal catch methods, it can’t solve the problem by itself. Governments and agencies will need to work with fishermen and fisherwomen to implement policies towards reducing the overall demand for illegal fish, and better educate them on the harmful impacts of poaching and overfishing.
Enjoy the Podcast!