Legislature Marks Earth Day by Advancing Ban on Plastic BagsBOSTON – On Monday, April 22, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, held a special hearing on proposals to ban plastic carryout bags. They immediately voted to advance the bill, taking this critical first step. The bill will now move forward and could face a final vote within the next few weeks.Plastic bags have been singled out as a one of the most visible and dangerous types of litter. The bags take up to 1000 years to degrade, and when they do, they break up into smaller and smaller bits, never going away. They are deadly to wildlife, which mistake them for food or become entangled in them. Turtles, whales, seals, birds, and fish are the most susceptible to ingesting them, suffering a painful death as the plastic wraps around their intestines or they choke to death. Some animal species, already threatened due to issues such as overfishing or habitat loss, could face extinction.Plastic bags also don’t biodegrade; they simply break into ever smaller plastic bits, never disappearing from our environment. These small bits, known as micro-plastics, attract toxins and carcinogens, which eventually enter the food chain, and displace food supplies in the world’s oceans.“Like urban tumbleweeds, plastic bags end up airborne in trees, clogging storm drains and polluting our oceans. Every time we utilize a plastic bag we are contributing to leaving our planet worse for the generations that will follow us,” said State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich, (D-Marblehead), the lead sponsor of H696 “This legislation will put Massachusetts on the map as a beacon for responsible consumer behavior and environmental stewardship.”“Over 380 billion plastic bags are used every year by Americans, and only about 5 percent are recycled. The widespread use of plastic bags has serious consequences for the environment: littering our coastlines, using up the equivalent of billions of gallons of petroleum and killing millions of animals every year. It’s time to ban this dangerous product and encourage the use of more sustainable alternatives,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).“This is a major step in the right direction for Massachusetts. With this ban, we would become one of the leaders among governments acting to protect the world we live in. We don’t have to accept plastic bags choking our oceans, rivers, birds, and animals. We can start being part of the solution,” stated Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville).Reps. Ehrlich, Provost, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge each sponsored similar bills to ban plastic bags.Numerous cities and countries around the world have enacted plastic bag bans. In fact, Nantucket, Massachussetts was one of the first in the world, enacted over 20 years ago. In the last year, Brookline and Manchester-by-the-Sea joined with their own plastic bag bans. Every county in Hawaii has passed a ban, but passage of this bill would make Massachusetts the first state to pass a statewide ban.This bill would ban single use plastic bags from chains and large stores and would require paper bags to be comprised of recycled material. Many grocery stores have already implemented these policies, so this would not have a significant impact.The Massachusetts Sierra Club and other public interest organizations have been attempting to pass statewide legislation to ban plastic bags. “Public support for banning bags is overwhelming,” said Phil Sego of the Sierra Club. “Readily available sustainable substitutes make banning plastic bags a common-sense policy to protect the environment.”“Nothing we use for five minutes should harm our oceans for generations to come,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment Massachusetts. “It’s time to say goodbye to the plastic bag.”Also testifying in favor of a ban were Women Working for Oceans (W2O), Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Brookline Town Meeting Member Clint Richmond.Article submitted for publication to the Boston Globe by The Sierra Club
W2O Co Founder, Barbara Burgess and three other W2O Board members headed to the Boston State House today to testify to our State Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of the Plastic Bag Reduction Bill #696. What better to way to honor Earth Day than to stand up for what we believe in to protect our oceans by stating our views on the pollution and harmful effects to human health by those aerodynamic plastic bags choking our waterways, strangling our marine life and ending up in all of us. W2O joined The Sierra Club, Environmental America and other groups in support of the bill put forth by Democrat Massachusetts Representative of the 8th Essex District, Lori Ehrlich.
Some reminders of the issues at hand and a link to how you can help!
- PLASTIC IS FOREVER (still ringing in my ears from our “Plastics in the Oceans, Plastics in You event and eloquently put by Dianna Cohen from Plastic Pollution Coalition-plastic breaks down into tiny bits that are ingested by our fish and wildlife and then in turn is ingested by us and IT NEVER GOES AWAY
- Plastic clogs our waterways, costs municipalities in clean up efforts, and end up in our oceans, collecting in huge gyres that can never be cleaned up
- “Biodegradable” doesn’t exist when speaking of plastic (bags or any kind) and companies that tell you that their bag is going to “break down” are not telling you the science. In order for a bag to decompose, it needs the perfect conditions of sun, heat and lack of moisture. Most bags are in our trees, landfills and waterways and are not basking in the sun for hundreds of days waiting to break down. Just refuse plastic bags!
Act now! Use this link to the Sierra Clubs easy guide and Write your legislator and Protect What YOU Love!
A W2O member pointed me towards an interesting conversation yesterday from NPR’s “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook and his guest, W. Jeffrey Bolster, author of a new book “The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail.” Understanding the economics, politics, and social perceptions currently and in our history helps frame why it is so vital that we protect what we love. In his book, Mr. Bolster quotes one of our great writers and lovers of the natural world, Rachel Carson. Again, we are reminded that it is easy to see how our land resources and their natural beauty have been effected by our choices, but we struggle to grasp the image of an ocean in trouble.
In 1951, Rachel Carson wrote this in “The Sea Around Us”
“He (mankind) cannot control or change the ocean as, in his brief tenancy of the earth, he has subdued and plundered the continents”
Of course we know she was mistaken, but clearly, this smart, educated, well respected woman was caught up in the public perception that the ocean, as Bolster says, was seen as abundant, lush and untouchable for many. This just reconfirms and makes me want to shout out our mission statement for W2O, so I will repeat it here!
Promoting healthy and sustainable oceans through education that inspires advocacy and action
I am inspired by a current Rhode Island School of Design art exhibit that is called simply, “Lists.” The show presents lists from artists that were written in great detail before and during a project or artistic journey. When I attended the W2O event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” today I was struck by how much effort it must have taken Scientist Randi Rotjan and underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen to mount the PIPA expeditions for the New England Aquarium. This is a “List” worthy, massive artistic and scientific undertaking. Along with other scientists and photographers, Randi and Kieth kept lists and double checked to make sure that only the most necessary equipment took the trip on the relatively small vessel that travels 5 days at sea from Fiji to reach the remote Phoenix Islands and the Island Nation of Kanton. And these last details only after years of planning, fund raising, researching and coordinating with other conservation organization. The time, effort and expense are well worth the results and revelation that come from exploring the islands, learning about the small community living on them and studying this laboratory of intact coral reef system and ocean marine life. The area is now free of commercial fishing and damaging habitat destruction and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the deepest and largest World Heritage site on Earth.
Today’s event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” was magical in image, informative in content and inspiring to all of us. Our take away “Action” today: Please put ocean protection on your “philanthropic dance card” and support the PIPA project.
When I met with Randi Rotjan, Associate Scientist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) I thought I would enlist her for a bit of “coral 101” so that I could understand a bit about the reef system and Marine Protected Areas that will be discussed in our upcoming Women Working for Oceans event “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” on April 2nd. Randi is engaging and her eyes completely light up when she is talking about her favorite subject, coral and the Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area (PIPA). Randi and her team from NEAq have been visiting and exploring the Phoenix Islands and the surrounding area studying its remarkable biodiversity and resilience. Its reefs, in particular, have become a topic of awe because, as they have been protected, there has been a significant recovery of species and marine life, including coral. “The area has become a benchmark for understanding how coral reefs will respond to global change”.
One of the major threats to coral reefs is overgrowth by algae, but I soon found out that not all algae are bad. There are 3 major types of algae on a coral reef, and as part of the “coral 101”, I got the rundown on all of them: symbiotic algae, crustose coralline algae, and fleshy macroalgae. Corals are animals, but they are also partly “vegetable” and “mineral”. The vegetable part is the symbiotic algae that live inside coral tissue and use sunlight for photosynthesis, which helps feed the coral animal and obtain the carbon needed to create the coral skeleton. Crustose coralline algae is also generally helpful for corals – pink and cement-like, it is the substrate that baby corals search for when deciding on a place to live. The third type of algae, fleshy macroalgae, is also a natural part of a coral reef ecosystem, but when mother nature gets out of whack, things break down. Not enough herbivorous fish and the macroalgae take over by overgrowing corals and stealing their light and space. Water too cold or too warm can also impact the delicate balance between corals and macroalgae-ugh. So can other disasters. It is a fragile world down there, and a confusing one, but understanding the many players on the reef is part of the fun! After all, the diversity of organisms is a major contributor to the beauty and function of reefs.
Some of us are lucky enough to be able to go on vacation and look at coral reefs with our families. Randi remembers her first site of a coral reef off the coast of Florida while visiting her grandparents as a teen. We talked about seeing coral reefs today and I asked how I might educate my family about their decline when Randi’s insight took over. “When we see a reef for the first time, it is beautiful to us. Because it is new,exciting and the ocean is so fascinating, we imprint that first experience in our brains as our calibration point for what is ours-our coral reef. It takes a long time and education to understand that the reef was so much more vital years ago.” Randi’s excitement about her research of PIPA rewards her with a picture of what reefs are really suppose to look like and gives us hope about how a reef can recover with protection from overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction.
“We have a window of opportunity right now while there is still some beautiful marine life to still see and save. Right now, there are enough corals still remaining that could rebound and be rebuilt naturally if we protect them. But once they are gone, we are out of luck.”
Come see Randi (along with photographer Keith Ellenbogen and his beautiful photos) at our April 2nd Event and learn more about coral and the Marine Protected Area of the Phoenix Islands.
Below are some links to more information about coral:
Keith Ellenbogen is an accomplished underwater photographer. He began to learn about the ocean and marine life at the age of sixteen as a volunteer assistant aquarist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ), for Steve Bailey, Curator of Fishes. Today, some twenty years later, Keith and Steve remain life-long friends, dive buddies and professional colleagues. Keith says “Bailey was one of the most influential people in my life,” by fostering his interests in the underwater world.
Looking back, as a volunteer at the NEAQ, Keith experienced first hand about the role the oceans play within our global marine environment. Keith’s first experience underwater was in the Giant Ocean Tank, which is comprised of Caribbean marine animals. As a high school student (from Newton, M.A.) and part of the aquarium team, he also participated in a ‘collecting trip’ to catch tropical fish in the Bahamas. While on this trip, Channel 5’s Chronicle show happened to have sent an underwater photographer to film the expedition and Keith says from that point on, he was hooked. “I said Oh My God, this is fantastic! I can’t believe that people can do this for a living,” as he contemplated the integration of nature and film. Upon returning to Boston, Keith acquired his first camera, a Nikonos-V, and started taking pictures off the coast of Gloucester.
Keith went on to find his own voice for making his unique contributions to the underwater world. Through his photographic lens, he sought ways to explore and disclose it’s hidden beauty through the medium of photography, and bring global images home through numerous publications – with a purpose of inspiring others toward the same affinity for nature that the NEAQ brought him earlier in his life..
After receiving a MFA from Parsons School of Design in Design and Technology, Keith was awarded a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to Malaysia. His purpose was to showcase visually compelling images that reveal not only the magnificent artistic beauty of marine life, but also the environmental threats. This year abroad was another turning point that solidified his choice of underwater photography and videography as a visual platform to inspire positive social change about our wonderful ocean environment.
Keith is deeply committed to connecting the arts and sciences with education. He works with world-renowned environmental scientists and international conservation-based NGO’s. For example he spent three months in the Mediterranean Sea photographing the endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna on an annual migration to reproduce. Keith also worked with Conservation International, partnered with The New England Aquarium, to capture images and stories for the launch of the Ocean Health Index.
While Keith works for a number of organizations, he describes the New England Aquarium a “home base” for his ongoing inspiration and unfolding work. Last summer, working with marine mammal trainers and the marketing department, Keith photographed the California Sea Lions for the 2012 New England Aquarium summer advertising campaign “Mischief Loves Company.” He also joined the New England Aquarium/Monterey Bay Aquarium on an diving expedition to Fiji with his long-time buddy Bailey and other dear colleagues.
Most recently, Keith was selected as part of the New England Aquarium expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands where he worked with Heather Tausig VP of Conservation program and the lead Phoenix Islands Protected Area NEAq Associate Scientist Randi Rotjan to share visual stories that highlight the marine science, conservation and create awareness about one of the worlds most important coral reef ecosystems. “I am fortunate to work with these amazing scientists. It’s an exciting and important challenge to expose their work through an artistic and journalistic perspective of the camera lens—both above water and below.” He hopes his photos will help inspire yet another generation of scientists, artists, and educators – all with the singular goal of protecting the earth’s natural underwater beauty and majesty for all to see and enjoy.
When he is not on assignment, Keith lives in Brooklyn New York. He is Faculty member in the Photography Program at Parsons School of Design. You can learn more about Keith at www.bluereef.com or at the NEAq Live Blue Profile Page.
Ben MacShane will be the first to admit that he is a lucky guy. So lucky, in fact, that he got to go on an adventure that most people can only dream of. But what I love about Ben is that he will turn what he learned on this elite educational trip into powerful action. He has been passionate about the ocean all his young life, sailing small boats on the North Shore, exploring and observing. Watch out! We will hear from Ben again. He is already a steward of the sea.
Here is a blog Ben has written about a very important part of his trip to Antarctica.
My name is Ben MacShane and I am a sophomore at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. I returned in January from the South after a very eventful trip, not only did we encounter the incredible animals of South Georgia, but we also met with a Force 11/12 Antarctic blast. Force 12 is a hurricane. This hurricane gave us all the Silver Explorer, our ship, could handle, and then some. At around 4:45pm in the middle of the storm, a monstrous wave smashed the front of our ship. The rogue wave smashed in one of our bridge window, water, glass, and crew were smashed into the back wall of the bridge. It was a very traumatic experience, I actually saw three crew running down the hall to the infirmary, soaked in blood, head to toe. Our ship limped back to Ushuaia under a single engine and limited electronics, but in high spirits. Even though we were cut short, I took back an incredible amount of knowledge. During our long cruises to the islands and back to Ushuaia, we had three lectures a day. The lectures ranged from Shackleton to elephant seals to the winds and currents of Antarctica. Here is a combination of a few lectures wrapped into one essay!
There are 100 trillion krill in the world’s oceans today, however, these krill are in danger, it is not the hunting sea lions or the blue whales, its the warm temperatures in the Souther Ocean. These krill account for the single largest biomass of any single species on earth, 500-700 million tons. Why are there so many of them? They are excellent at what they do. At only two and a half inches and about .7 ounces, a single krill can live for up to six years. Krill have an arsenal of natural survival tools that range from illumination to diet. All of these adaptations enable them to live a long life. For 260 days a krill can fast, now this may seem plausible because they could live off of their fat stores like many other animals that go without food for extended periods of time. But here is where krill have adapted. No other animal can do this: Krill actually burn their muscle and slow down their swimming to survive when going without food. Why? Antarctic waters can be as cold at twenty-eight degrees, the freezing point of salt water. Without their fat, the tiny krill would die within days; this is an incredible example of evolution in the Southern Ocean. The krill aren’t done there, these supreme survivors have a few more traits that aid in their survival in the brutal Antarctic. Speed: these tiny animals have an efficient swimming motion that allows them to shoot through the water at speeds of up to four to six body lengths per second. Can you imagine if we could move that fast? I’m about six foot three, and it would be very helpful to move more then thirty-six feet per second! At these speeds they can elude the most agile fur seal, maybe not a blue whales gapping mouth though. To elude the whale however, in an all out sprint, a krill can flick its tail instead of using its legs, and move twenty-five body lengths a second! Second, and perhaps the most sci-fi esq. are the lights that krill possess. Since krill are predominately clear, they use ten lights along their backs to light themselves up when at depth. Just as penguins and sharks have colorations to camouflage themselves with their surroundings, dark from the top, light from the bottom, krill appear as sunshine from below with their lit up bodies. If that was not enough, krill have the ability to actually shed their skin in order to confuse a predator, in no time at all, the hard outer shell can be slipped off as the krill escapes in the opposite direction. Perhaps krill’s most effective defense, lies in numbers. A school of krill can pack into a ball so tight that in one square meter of that school, 50,000 krill can be found. These massive gathering are an effort to literally increase each krill’s probability of living, if there are millions of them together, a krill’s only hope is that he is one of the lucky ones!
Despite every effort these krill make, they serve as the building blocks of an eco-system that supports the largest animals on the planet, and everyone in between. This means a great deal of them get eaten. To be more exact, a single fur seal can eat a ton of krill a year; there are three to four million fur seals in Antarctica. A blue whale needs four tons of krill a day to survive. An Adelie penguin colony can eat up to 8,000 tons a day. In total, the estimated number of krill eaten in one year in Antarctic waters is 310 million tons. In addition, fisherman take 100,000 tons a year, but that is relatively insignificant compared to the real inhabitants of the ocean.
It is clear that krill are very special creatures. Every animal in the Antarctic depends on their population’s well-being in some way. So what happens if the krill begin to die. We are in the process of finding out as we speak. I know it sounds cliche, but it couldn’t be more true, it all comes back to global warming. Krill do eat, despite how much I have talked out them being eaten. A single krill can actually clear a square foot of algae from the bottom of a piece of sea ice in about ten minutes. This algae is incredibly important to the young krill who are not strong enough to fight the currents of the ocean, as they try to find food in the open water. So, when they are born, they float to the surface where the sea ice is, and feed off of the algae attached to the bottom of the ice. There is one problem however, the ice that holds this algae is melting, and as that ice melts, the speed at which is calves and crumbles increases. Ice is white, meaning it reflects the sun, and it’s heat. So people think the sun is melting the ice from the top, they are wrong. The sun is attracted to dark surface, where it can be absorbed. That dark surface in Antarctica happens to be the ocean, and so the more ocean that is exposed by calving ice shelfs, the more heat is absorbed from the sun. Thus, the ice is actually being melted from below by the ever warming water. This can not be stopped. Once it begins, the only way for it to stop is for the climate to actually reverse, and begin cooling.
The ice supports everything, animals live on it and krill feed off of it. Without this essential piece of the south, the Southern Ocean is in trouble. As this ice melts more and more everyday, more and more baby krill never make it to adulthood (to be eaten, its a rough life isn’t it). Last year in under forty days a massive ice shelf on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula calved, dumping thousands of square miles of ice into the ocean. That’s thousands of square miles of algae for krill to eat, GONE.
As a follow up to my last blog post, I am including the second of a three part series about the “sustainability” of the MSC labeling. MSC labeling is again called to task. Hopefully a great idea will maintain/gain some great standards and guidelines for buying fish. What we wish it to be, though, isn’t yet. Certainly listen to the three programs devoted to this topic or read this entire article (and the MSC’s response to the accusations) but here is an excerpt from the next NPR segment:
But many environmentalists who have studied the MSC system say that label is misleading. “We’re not getting what we think we’re getting,” says Susanna Fuller, co-director of marine programs at Canada’s Ecology Action Centre. She says the consumer, when purchasing seafood with the blue MSC label, is “not buying something that’s sustainable now.”
If the label were accurate, Fuller says, it would include what she says is troubling fine print: The MSC system has certified most fisheries with “conditions.” Those conditions spell out that the fishermen will have to change the way they operate or study how their methods are affecting the environment — or both. But they have years to comply with those conditions after the fisheries have already been certified sustainable.
Gerry Leape, an oceans specialist who sits on the MSC’s advisory Stakeholder Council on behalf of the Pew Charitable Trusts, says the MSC’s policy is baffling. “It’s misleading,” he says, “to put a label of sustainability on a product where you still don’t have the basic requirements.”
Massachusetts is a place where we value our ocean frontage, its beauty, magic, and its ability to give us recreation and sustenance. At W2O we are watching carefully as the protection of fish stocks collides with the protection/support of our local fisherman and fish related industries.
Off the coast of New England, our stock of Cod, the fish that Massachusetts calls its own, is “on the verge of extinction” according to scientist. Making real change so that the fish population can recover while supporting the efforts of our local fisherman and fisheries is a topic that our state has struggled with since the beginning of the decline of the once abundant Cod population from decades of over fishing. If confirmed, the new rulings on allowable catch this year will have a huge economic impact on the fishing community. If nothing is done, Atlantic Cod will be the fish that we will regret not saving from extinction.
From the New England Aquarium: “On January 30, the New England Fisheries Management Council met to decide on allowable biological catch (ABC) limits for cod in fishing year (FY) 2013 (which begins on May 1, 2013). This decision had been delayed since last year by the Council’s request for a new Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment to ensure the findings from the 2011 assessment were accurate. The results of the most recent Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod assessments show that both stocks have been overfished, with overfishing occurring every year since the beginning of the time series (1982). These results are in accordance with previous results, both the original Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment and the new one came to the same results.”
Here are some links about this topic (in the news today and some archival information) that might help you understand this huge issue.