Spotlight: marine debris – as ocean art

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” ~ Jacques Yves Cousteau

penguin face - washed ashore

Garbage in our oceans. It’s a huge problem. Marine debris comes in all forms, and is alarmingly plastic. It’s impossible to fully quantify the scope of the problem. A year ago, National Geographic estimated  there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean- “Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.”

While citizens take their own action to clean up what they can of the harmful debris choking our oceans and call for larger actions, the artists at Washed Ashore create stunning ocean art from the debris they clean up.

As PBS NewsHour pointed out,

“In six years, Haseltine Pozzi {Lead Artist and Executive Director at Washed Ashore} and her team of volunteers have created 66 sculptures from more than 38,000 pounds of debris collected from a stretch of Oregon’s coastline.”

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As Washed Ashore says, “The countless bottle caps, flip-flops and beach toys are just a fraction of the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic estimated to be in the world’s oceans. Such plastics not only pose entanglement threats to Marine animals, but are often mistaken for food.”

The hard-working folks at WashedAshore calculate the sheer impact of their work so far:

  • 90% of marine debris is petroleum based
  • 95% of all debris collected is used in the artwork
  • 300+ miles of beaches cleaned
  • 60+ sculptures have been created
  • 38,000 pounds of marine debris has been processed
  • 14,000+ hours have been contributed by volunteers
  • 10,000+ volunteers have participated

Washed Ashore is on exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC through early September. Check their exhibit calendar for future exhibit locations.

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Pic o’ the week – What Lies Under

“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

A nice graphic reminder for us by Indonesia-based digital artist Ferdi Rizkiyanto.

Find groups and people working to cut down on ocean pollution and debris – here on our plastic/marine debris Twitter list.

And give up, as much as you can, single-use bags, bottles and disposables of all types. Check out The Zero Waste Home for lots of tips and inspiration. You’ll help the ocean.

* Thanks to iNaturalist.org and Oceans Initiative for introducing us to this image.

Notable Ocean Quotable: plastic bags

“There is no reason a product we use for a few minutes should float in our oceans for a few hundred years.”

Dave Mathews of Environment Oregon

After the state legislature failed to take decisive action to reduce Oregonians’ use of single-use plastic bags, a mosaic of activists, conservationists and just plain sensible people are working in cities and counties across the state to take action to reduce this most destructive habit of consumers.

Unified Command: BP “cannot remember” when dispersant last used

We checked in with the Unified Command press shop today, to verify that BP still is applying no dispersants in the Gulf.

The staffer told us that no dispersants have been applied sub-sea since July 15. This jives with their response to us last week. However, the staffer (same one we talked to before – from USDA), could not say when surface/aerial dispersants application had stopped. This does not exactly jive with what they told us last week.

Last night’s official numbers were the same as they’ve been in every daily update since July 15:

“Approximately 1.84 million gallons of total dispersant have been applied—1.07 million on the surface and 771,000 sub-sea.”

However, last week they told us those numbers didn’t quite reflect that there had been surface/aerial dispersant used since July 15. When pressed to give a date when surface/aerial dispersant use stopped, the staffer stated today:

“It’s been a few days. It certainly has been more than about 48 hours …. I’m asking the BP guys if they’ve monitored when it was used since that point [last week], and they cannot remember. And so we very well could not have used dispersants since the last time you called.”

He could not provide a specific date of the last dispersant application, then he referred us to the daily updates and stated “We’re only as good as those numbers”,  which last week he said weren’t reflecting when aerial/surface dispersant use stopped.

Major media — please follow up on this — it’s a straightforward query and there’s no reason for no answer. Demand answers. Of course someone in the federal government must know when BP applies dispersant and when they don’t — and if no entity in the federal government knows, that’s a huge problem.

We need total transparency with the use of this chemical brew in the Gulf.

BP has stopped using dispersants in the Gulf – for now

We’ve crunched the numbers from the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command press shop, compiling their daily stats for dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico so far – and the official dispersant numbers for the past week are surprising:

According to official releases, a “very small” amount of  dispersants have been used in the oil spill response since July 16 – and none sub-sea. The statements released by Unified Command on each day since July 15 is exactly the same:

“Approximately 1.84 million gallons of total dispersant have been applied—1.07 million on the surface and 771,000 sub-sea.”

A call to Unified Command’s press center today yielded this comment – “In the last 24 hours, no dispersants have been used.” The staffer then called back and stated “No dispersant has been used sub-sea since the cap went on. A very small amount of surface dispersant has been used since then.” The cap went on the well on July 15th.

This revelation should no doubt please Drs. Sylvia Earle, David Gallo, Susan Shaw, David Guggenheim and the countless other marine scientists and advocates who have been asking the Obama administration to order BP to halt its use of dispersants in the Gulf – issuing a ‘consensus statement’ urging a halt to any further use of dispersants in the Gulf.

It remains critical that the scientists and advocates continue to monitor the dispersant situation – while BP has drastically reduced dispersant use this past week, the oil giant could ramp it back up at any time.

Sea turtle hatchlings LOVE beach resort lights

There’s bound to be messiness when creatures who’ve roamed the seas and beaches for millions of years face the relatively newfangled phenomenon of artifical light. Scientists believe that sea turtle hatchlings, when they emerge from their shells on beaches around the world, institnctually move in the direction where the sky is brightest. On a beach with no artificial lights, that direction is most often the open horizon of the sea.

Here, a few people from the group SeaTurtle Oversight Protection in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida took a night camera out on the beach as they tried to re-direct scores of hatchlings who scurried relentlessly toward the resort lights on a beach… even when they were put in the lapping waves of the ocean instead.

Citizen reporting giving us an interesting visual view of light pollution (and, further into the video, beach chair hazards) and turtle nesting – not meshing well together.

* See Andrew Revkin’s NY Times Dot Earth post about this post & STOP’s video: On Florida Beaches, Let There Be Dark

gushing oil, chemical dispersants and sealife

Video released by the Deepwater Horizon Response team from the oil leak site shows the sheer volume of crude spraying into the deep sea 24/7 (visible especially starting at 1:58)

And we got word from the EPA yesterday that it has approved further use of chemical dispersants, both on the surface and underwater, even though EPA notes

“The effects of underwater dispersant use on the environment are still widely unknown, which is why we are testing to determine its effectiveness first and foremost. If it is determined that the use of this dispersant underwater is effective and that BP may continue its use, the Federal government will require regular analysis of its impact on the environment, water and air quality, and human health. We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits.”

Testing on a grand scale and then deciding over time if the negative impacts might outweigh the benefits? Of course, the relatively slow pace of scientific research means the determination of negative impacts will lag far behind any immediate ‘benefits’ of the chemicals breaking up oil slicks.

Countless known and little-known sea creatures in the waters of the Mississippi Canyon and beyond are being inundated with the gushing oil. Adding a brew of mystery chemicals to the mix is irresponsible at best – our government can do much better by us and by our environment than sanction wild and desperate use of untested chemicals.

Among the many creatures in the Gulf’s deep waters? Bioluminescent sea creatures like jellyfish – scientists have been working for years to unlock the secrets of this phenomenon.