Yet another whale has suffered from plastic pollution. A sperm whale that washed up dead in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials told the Associated Press.
Researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the park's conservation academy uncovered more than 1,000 other pieces of plastic, including 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops and a nylon sack.
WWF-Indonesia posted disturbing photos of the beached whale on social media.
The carcass of the 31-foot marine mammal—found late Monday near Kapota Island in Wakatobi National Park—contained "hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g), plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g), plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g), flip-flops (2 pieces, 270g), pieces of string (3.26kg) & plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)," the conservation group tweeted.
5,9 kg sampah plastik ditemukan di dlm perut paus malang ini! Sampah plastik yaitu: plastik keras (19 pcs, 140 gr),… https://t.co/sDJbZqbz52— WWF-Indonesia (@WWF-Indonesia)1542671486.0
It's not clear if plastic was the direct cause of the whale's death since it was in an advanced state of decay when it was found, Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF-Indonesia, explained to the Associated Press.
"Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," she said.
Wakatobi park plans to bury the whale on Tuesday and its remains will be used for study by the local marine academy, Reuters reported.
Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem, but it's particularly bad in Asia, where there are few collection and recovery systems. China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are responsible for up to 60 percent of the marine plastic entering our oceans, according to a 2015 study from the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.
Around the world, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste gets dumped in our seas every year, causing countless marine animals to suffer from either becoming entangled in the material or ingesting it, which leads to suffocation or starvation. In June, a pilot whale died in southern Thailand after swallowing 17 pounds of plastics.
Indonesia itself produces about 130,000 tons of plastic and solid waste per day, The Guardian reported in March, citing data from the Rivers, Oceans, Lakes and Ecology Foundation. Unfortunately, only half of that trash reaches landfills. The remaining half is either illegally burned or dumped into the country's waters.
Last year, the Indonesian government announced it will pledge $1 billion a year toward reducing marine waste by 70 percent by 2025.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia's coordinating minister of maritime affairs, told the AP that the whale's plight should raise public awareness about the necessity to curb the use of plastic.
"I'm so sad to hear this," said Pandjaitan. "It is possible that many other marine animals are also contaminated with plastic waste and this is very dangerous for our lives."
Pandjaitan has pushed the government to take tougher action on plastic to help protect our oceans.
"This big ambition can be achieved if people learn to understand that plastic waste is a common enemy," he said.
'Plastic, Plastic, So Much Plastic!': Diver Films Sea of Trash Off Bali https://t.co/0ekauIZKxu @PlasticPollutes @Oceana @WWF @YEARSofLIVING— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1520352029.0
Despite vehement opposition from communities, businesses and lawmakers along the Atlantic coast, the National Marine Fisheries Service on Friday is expected to issue five permits, or Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHA), that allow deafening seismic surveys to search for offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean.
During the seismic surveys, ships fire blasts of air to the bottom of the sea every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months at a time to map the contours of the ocean floor. The loud, continuous and far-reaching noise can damage the hearing and potentially disorientate and kill marine life, displace fish, devastate zooplankton and cause whales to beach. Blasting can also impact commercial and recreational fishing by decreasing catch rates.
Seismic Testing Is Torturing Marine Life www.youtube.com
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), who is poised to assume the chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee in January, blasted the Trump administration's approval of the permits.
"Seismic testing risks injuring and killing critically endangered species, severely disrupting economically important fisheries, and threatening the Jersey shore," Pallone said on his website. "An environmentally sound coast is critical to New Jersey's economy and it is very possible that seismic testing could lead to oil and gas drilling off our coast—threatening public health, coastal communities, and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Members from both sides of the aisle will work tirelessly to fight this reckless decision by the Trump administration."
BREAKING: Trump administration approves seismic testing permits for the Atlantic Coast. Seismic testing is both dan… https://t.co/mU4UjazW5k— Rep. Frank Pallone (@Rep. Frank Pallone)1543590070.0
Environmental organizations were outraged at the news and vowed to fight the action.
"Just one week after issuing dire warnings on the catastrophic fallout of climate change to come, the Trump Administration is opening our coastlines to for-profit companies to prospect for oil and gas—and is willing to sacrifice marine life, our coastal communities and fisheries in the process," said Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement provided to EcoWatch.
"This is the first step towards drilling and scientists warn that seismic activity alone could drive the endangered North Atlantic right whale to extinction. We'll stand with citizens, coastal businesses, scientists, lawmakers, and commercial and recreational fishermen who oppose seismic blasting, and we will fight this illegal action," Jasny added.
North Atlantic Right Whale Population Dips Below 450 After 'Deadliest Year' Since Whaling Era https://t.co/2XFXL2yu0z @environmentca— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1507338049.0
Seismic airgun blasting has been proposed within the same main range of imperiled North Atlantic right whales. According to Bloomberg, the IHAs will block surveys during the calving season for the critically endangered species.
The companies that won the permits are: TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. Asa; Schlumberger Ltd. subsidiary; WesternGeco Ltd., CGG Services US Inc.; Spectrum Geo Inc.; and a unit of ION Geophysical Corp.
The five companies still must secure permits from the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before they can start, but those are expected under President Donald Trump's plans for "energy dominance," Bloomberg reported.
Seismic data has not been gathered in the mid- and south-Atlantic regions, from northern Florida to Delaware, for at least 30 years. In January 2017, the Obama administration denied six permits to conduct seismic surveys, concluding that airgun blasting was too risky.
But Trump signed an executive order in April 2017 to aggressively expand offshore drilling in America's publicly-held coastal waters. The order also called for a "streamlined permitting approach for privately funded seismic data research and collection."
Greenpeace USA climate director Janet Redman condemned the Trump administration's anticipated approval of seismic blasting in the Atlantic.
"This is exactly how you push climate change past the point of no return," Redman said in a press release. "The Interior Department can still stop this madness, but they need to hear from every single person who is worried about climate change and every leader in Congress who claims to care about the future. Seismic testing is the first step toward economically devastating oil spills and climate disasters like flooding up and down the Atlantic coast. Stopping seismic testing is a must."
The U.S. government released a report that warned climate change could kill thousands of Americans each year and sl… https://t.co/hV9Me7Imgu— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543333511.0
Lawyers with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) were similarly outraged by the news, noting that more than 200 local governments along the Eastern Seaboard have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and seismic testing. At least a dozen states have voiced opposition to offshore drilling.
"Permitting seismic blasting in the South Atlantic is completely out of touch with Southeast communities, business leaders, and elected officials who have consistently and overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling and the seismic blasting that precedes it," said Catherine Wannamaker, an SELC senior attorney, in a press release. "Seismic surveys not only pave the way for offshore drilling that no one wants here, but they also endanger whales, dolphins, and fisheries, and threaten coastal economies. Communities up and down the coast have made clear they do not support seismic blasting in the Atlantic, and they will continue to fight the Trump administration turning its back on them."
Following today's announcement, Oceana launched a new interactive map that displays near real-time activity of apparent seismic vessels in the so-called "Blast Zone." Anyone can use the "We're Watching" map, which uses the technology of Global Fishing Watch, to track the vessels.
"If these companies are allowed to begin seismic airgun blasting, our map gives the public near real-time access to the precise locations of vessels so that they know when, where and if these activities begin off our coast," Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, said in a provided statement. "This interactive map is a powerful tool in the fight to protect Atlantic communities from offshore drilling."
The red outline on the map refers to the "Blast Zone"—the area at risk of new seismic airgun blasting.Oceana
Note: This post has been updated to include Oceana's map and statement.
- Seismic Blasting Devastates Ocean's Most Vital Organisms ›
- Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence - EcoWatch ›
For nearly as long as solar panels have been gracing rooftops and barren land, creative people have been searching out additional surfaces that can be tiled with energy-generating photovoltaic (PV) panels. The idea has been pretty straightforward: if solar panels generate energy simply by facing the sun, then humans could collectively reduce our reliance on coal, oil, gas and other polluting fuels by maximizing our aggregate solar surface area.
So, what kind of unobstructed surfaces are built in every community and in between every major city across the globe? Highways and streets. With this in mind, the futuristic vision of laying thousands, or even millions, of solar panels on top of the asphalt of interstates and main streets was born.
While the concept art looked like a still from a sci-fi film, many inventors, businesses and investors saw these panels as a golden path toward clean energy and profit. Ultimately, though, the technology and economics ended up letting down those working behind each solar roadway project — from initial concepts in the early 2000s to the first solar roadway actually opened in France in 2016, they all flopped.
In the years since the concept of solar roadways went viral, solar PV has continued to improve in technology and drop in price. So, with a 2021 lens, is it time to re-run the numbers and see if a solar roadway could potentially deliver on that early promise? We dig in to find out.
Solar Roadways: The Original Concept
Solar roadways are complex in execution, but in concept, they're as simple as they sound. They're roads "paved" with extremely strong solar panels that are covered in glass that can withstand environmental stressors and the weight of vehicles driving over them on a consistent basis.
The idea was something that got people really excited when the initial Solar Roadways, Inc. project (which is still seeking funding) burst onto the scene in 2014:
More advanced designs included solar roadways outfitted with LED lights that could be used to illuminate lane lines, communicate to drivers and more. Other iterations included weight sensors that would detect when obstructions were on the road or could alert homeowners if unexpected vehicles were approaching their driveway. Embedding these kinds of technology into the solar roadways renderings only added to their appeal and the initial hype around the concept.
Key Selling Points of Solar Roadways
Early innovators of solar roadways touted the numerous benefits of their ideas. These included:
- Sunlight shines down on roads at no cost, making the energy not only readily available, but also free (aside from installation and maintenance).
- The ability to power street lights with solar roadways eliminated the need to pull extra energy from the grid.
- Having electronics embedded into the roadway opened up a world of possibilities for communicating with drivers in ways that didn't require painting and repainting of roads.
- The ingenuity to attach weight sensors on the solar panels could be used to alert drivers about potential obstructions, such as animals, disabled vehicles or rocks on the road.
- In a future of electric vehicles, the possibilities were seen as even more beneficial, as solar roadways could be used to power electric vehicle charging stations or to charge the cars while they're driving.
While some early thinkers may also have envisioned these roadways sending solar energy to the local power grid, the most impactful way solar roadways could utilize the energy they generated is right around the road itself: lighting street lights, heating mechanisms to melt snow on the roadway, or powering small emergency equipment on road shoulders.
Using the energy for on-road applications would mean that the power didn't have to be sent long distances before being used, which results in energy loss. However, in more rural or remote locations, having the solar roadway energy available for nearby homes and businesses could be a huge benefit, especially if there's an outage in the overall grid.
Why Solar Roadway Tests Have Failed
To much of the general public — and especially to people who weren't well versed in the intricacies of solar panels or road structures — solar roadways seemed like a slam-dunk solution that both looked futuristic and had benefits that went far beyond electricity generation. It was the kind of innovation that had people exclaiming: "How has no one done this yet?!" But in reality, the execution of solar roadways was much more complex than the idea.
Here are a few reasons solar roadway tests have failed:
Cost of Manufacturing and Maintenance
The cost of the energy from the sun may be free, but the investment to install and maintain the solar roadways was undeniably prohibitive. The reason asphalt is used by default to pave roadways is because it is immensely affordable and low-maintenance, which is especially critical on vast, expansive roadways and interstates.
In 2010, Scott Brusaw, co-founder of Solar Roadways, Inc., estimated a square foot of solar roadway would cost about $70. However, when the first solar roadway was built in France by a company called Colas, it measured 1 kilometer and cost $5.2 million to build — or about $1,585 per foot of roadway. Of course, this was a small iteration and bulk manufacturing would cost less, but either way, it's hard to believe the cost of a solar roadway would ever be competitive with the price of asphalt, which is about $3 to $15 per square foot.
Further, the cost and complexity to send a crew to repair individual panels that fail would far outweigh those to maintain asphalt. So, while one of the presumed benefits of solar roadways is the cost savings associated with self-generated energy, even back-of-the-envelope math highlights how the numbers would simply not add up to be more cost-effective in the long run.
Energy Required to Produce the Panels
Another limiting factor appears when considering the energy it takes to make asphalt versus high-durability glass and solar panels. Most asphalt used on roads today is a byproduct of distilling petroleum crude oil for products such as gasoline, which means it makes use of a substance that would otherwise be discarded as waste.
The solar roadway panels, although intended to save energy in the long run, take much more to produce. Typical rooftop solar panels can easily make up for the extra energy used in production because the glass doesn't need to withstand the weight of vehicles driving over them, but solar roadways have that added complexity.
Power Output of the Panels
When estimating power output, early optimists seemed to perform calculations based on the raw surface area they could cover — and not much else. However, beyond the stunted energy generation that any solar panels face on cloudy days or at night, solar roadways presented unique new performance challenges.
For example, vehicles constantly driving over solar roadways would interrupt sun exposure. Plus, they'd leave behind trails of fluid, dirt and dust that can dramatically reduce the efficiency of solar panels. Being installed on the ground is a challenge in itself because of how readily shade would find the roads; that's the reason you find most solar panels on rooftops or elevated off the ground and angled toward the sun.
Issues With Glass Roadways
Lastly, driving on glass surfaces is simply not what modern cars are designed to do. Asphalt and tires grip each other well, being particularly resilient in wet conditions. If the asphalt is replaced with glass — even the textured glass that's used for solar roadways — tire traction could be reduced dramatically. Wet or icy conditions could lead to catastrophic situations on solar roadways.
Could Recent Advances in Solar Technology Bring Solar Roadways Closer to Reality?
For all of these challenges and even more roadblocks that early solar roadway projects have run into in the past, the reality is that solar technology continues to improve. In the seven years since the first Solar Roadways, Inc. video went viral, solar panels have developed to be more durable, more cost-effective and more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. To put some numbers behind these trends:
- The average solar PV panel cost has dropped about 70% since 2014.
- In 2015, FirstSolar made news with panels that were 18.2% efficient. Today, the most advanced prototypes are able to exceed 45% efficiency.
- Total solar energy capacity in 2021 is nearly six times greater than in 2014, and with that explosion has come advances to flatten the learning curve and increase the general public's acceptance of the benefits of solar.
- Solar jobs have increased 167% in the last decade, giving the industry more capable workers able to take the reins of a solar roadway project and more professionals who know how to affordably install solar.
The question to ask is whether these advances are enough to bring solar roadways from failure to success.
Despite the improvements, many of the original challenges with solar roadways remain, and the scale of execution is immense. Even with decreasing solar PV costs, outfitting long stretches of roadway with such complex technologies will require tremendous capital.
Rather than a future where solar roadways cover the country from coast to coast, a more likely outcome is that these advances will bring solar roadways to viability in narrow, niche applications.
Just like tidal energy is a great opportunity for small coastal communities but can't be scaled to solve the energy crisis across the world, it's conceivable that limited-scope solar roadways could be constructed around the world. However, large-scale solar roadways may never be more than a pipe dream.
By Lorraine Chow
The world's plastic problem may seem vast and incalculable, but its footprint has actually been measured. In a sweeping 2015 study, researchers calculated that 9 billion tons of the material have been made, distributed and disposed in fewer than 70 years. That's an astonishing figure, but it's also one that's hard to picture. Perhaps a better way to illustrate the problem of plastics is by looking at the damage that can be caused by a single drinking straw.
In 2015, a team of marine biologists in Costa Rica pried a plastic straw from the nose of a male olive ridley sea turtle. Footage of the excruciating, bloody extraction was posted online and viewed by millions of people around the globe. The video is powerful not only because it suggests the pervasiveness of plastics and shows the harm it can inflict on a vulnerable species, but it also strikes a much deeper chord within: shame.
"Subconsciously, people who watched the video knew that the straw in that turtle's nose could have been thrown away by any of us," Christine Figgener, the biologist who extracted the straw, wrote in a Medium post after the video went viral. "They saw their own actions reflected in its eyes."
Not long after saving that turtle, members of the same team of marine biologists in Costa Rica pulled a plastic fork out of the nose of another olive ridley, this time a female. A video of that disturbingly similar extraction was also posted online and viewed millions of times.
After that video came out, I spoke with George Shillinger, the former head of the Monterey, California-based conservation nonprofit called the Leatherback Trust, which works with the team in Costa Rica.
"It's just the tip of the iceberg," he told me. "This was an isolated incident involving a single turtle in a small area off a nesting beach in Costa Rica. Just imagine globally what's happening."
In 2015, a study by Australian and British scientists determined that 90 percent of seabirds living today have ingested some form of plastic, mistaking it for food. If plastic consumption continues at its current rate, 99 percent of seabirds will carry plastic in their guts by 2050.
Then can we assume, I asked Shillinger, that the same thing is happening to sea turtles? He replied without hesitation: "Totally."
Both turtles were released back to sea after the items were freed from their nostrils, but other aquatic creatures are not so lucky. In June 2018, a small male pilot whale that died in southern Thailand was found with more than 80 plastic bags crumpled in his stomach. The veterinary surgeon who carried out the necropsy told Sky News the animal was "emaciated," as the plastic likely stopped the whale from getting the nutrients he needed.
This is the key to understanding that aforementioned 9-billion-ton figure, which was calculated by researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia and the Sea Education Association: Most of that plastic—roughly 7 billion tons—has been thrown away. Only 9 percent is recycled and 12 percent is incinerated, leaving the vast majority of plastic waste accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment, the researchers determined. If you think one plastic straw is bad, think what 7 billion tons could do.
The most eye-opening revelation in the research is how quickly plastics proliferated since the 1950s, when mass production of synthetic plastics first took off. Half of the world's plastic now in existence was made in just the last 13 years, with most of that for products used only once, discarded and forgotten.
If you think back to that first turtle, his encounter with a plastic straw is a distinctly modern problem. Paper straws were the standard until their non-degradable cousins took over in the 1960s and '70s. Today, about 175 million plastic straws are thrown out in the United States every day, the marketing analysis firm Technomics estimates.
There's no denying the incredible usefulness and versatility of plastic. The low-cost, durable material can be molded into everything from lightweight drinking tubes to insulation for our homes. We take for granted that plastic keeps our food fresh and encases the electronics we use every day. Modern medicine would not be possible without disposable syringes and plastic implants. However, its durability and widespread use around the globe are exactly why plastics are so pervasive in the environment.
Plastic waste that's discarded on land has three fates: recycling, thermal destruction and landfills. Each carries unique consequences.
Recycling is often promoted as a green ideal, but the small amount of plastics that do get recycled are mostly downcycled to a lower-grade material to make even more landfill-bound products such as synthetic fiber for clothing and carpets or takeaway food containers. Recycling also can't possibly keep up with the expected deluge of new plastics, as fossil fuel companies have plowed $180 billion to fuel a 40 percent rise in plastic production in the next decade.
Incinerating plastic certainly gets rid of it, and some suggest that burning the petroleum-based waste could be a fuel source. However, the process emits harmful dioxins in the atmosphere, potentially creating a public health risk.
That leaves us with the dump, where most plastics end up. Hundreds of millions of tons take up valuable landfill space and mix with other types of trash. During rainfall, water trickles through the landfill, creating a toxic, chemically laden stew called leachate. If the landfill is not properly lined, leachate can ooze into nearby groundwater, wetlands, rivers and lakes. Bisphenol A, a ubiquitous, endocrine-disrupting plastic additive also known as BPA, has been detected in landfill leachate at levels exceeding acute toxicity benchmarks, a 2015 study of Norwegian waste-handling facilities found.
Perhaps the biggest problem with plastics is when they escape into waterways. The same team of researchers who came up with the 9 billion ton estimate also put out another famous study in 2015 that found 8 million tons of plastic leach into the world's oceans every year.
This constant flow of plastic can seriously threaten marine life that accidentally eat or become entangled in the material. The United Nations estimates that more than 800 animal species have been negatively impacted by marine debris, which is mostly plastic.
Take the drinking straw found in the turtle's nose. How did the straw get there? I imagine that the straw was swept out of a landfill during rainfall. It trickled into a stream, flowed into a river, then was carried out to sea. Pushed along by winds and waves, the straw got drawn into a garbage gyre—one of Earth's five massive vortices of plastic soup—and floated among millions of other pieces of trash. Then one day, the straw was accidentally inhaled by our turtle.
Notably, the most prevalent type of plastic in aquatic ecosystems isn't easily visible. Bags, bottles, fishing gear and other ocean plastics break down from currents and sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces, or microplastics. These tiny particles, which also consist of microfibers shedding off synthetic fabric during laundry, have been found in all corners of the globe.
A 2015-2017 study analyzed the abundance and distribution of microplastics and microfibers on 37 coastal National Parks and found the particles in every single one, even the most remote and secluded sites. Parks that were far away from urban areas—including sites in Alaska, along the northwest Pacific coastline and islands in the Pacific Ocean—clocked more than 100 pieces of microplastics per kilogram of sand.
"It doesn't seem to matter where you live," said Stefanie Whitmire, research scientist with Clemson University and the study's lead author. "Plastic is being found in rivers and lakes, not just in the middle of the ocean. Microfibers are found in the sea salt that I just bought from the grocery store."
Trouble is, scientists have documented all sorts of marine life gobbling up these plastics, including plankton, fish, mussels, oysters and even coral, but it's not currently clear what influence it has on the organisms' health.
"It's such a new area that scientists don't know everything about how it's affecting the organism," Whitmire explained. "But we know that plastics are made up of things that aren't great," such as BPA and other chemical additives.
New research from Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the University of Georgia suggests that ingesting degrading ocean plastics poses a risk to younger sea turtles because the pieces can cause blockages and nutritional deficiencies. This not only puts entire sea turtle populations at risk, since they can take decades to sexually mature, but degrading plastics can also impact the larger oceanic food chain, the researchers warned.
"If the level of mortality we have observed in post-hatchling sea turtles also occurs for zoo plankton, baby fish and crustaceans, then we will witness a complete disruption in our ocean life cycle," co-author Branson W. Ritchie of the University of Georgia explained in a press release for the study.
What's more, Whitmire pointed out that marine plastics can also absorb other toxins in contaminated environments, including persistent organic pollutants, fire retardants and organic pesticides, potentially posing an even bigger problem for ocean life.
So, what happens when contaminated plastics are ingested by an organism?
"That's one of the big concerns," Whitmire said. "Where plastics rank on how they are affecting wildlife, we don't know that whole story yet."
What we do know is that the globe's plastic footprint is only getting larger. The Ocean Conservancy's 2018 International Coastal Cleanup report found that the 10 most common items picked up by volunteers at beach cleanups around the world were all made of plastic.
It was the first time since the annual report's inception more than 30 years ago that plastics swept the top spots. Cigarette butts, which have plastic filters, were the most commonly littered item. Food wrappers, drink bottles, bottle caps, bags, drinking straws and foam food containers were also on the list.
A lot of this plastic is tossed after minutes of use, but its impact on wildlife and the environment can last for centuries.
Nicholas Mallos, director of the Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, noted that plastics crept onto the list over the years, displacing items like rope, beverage cans and paper bags.
"But this is the first year that all 10 of the top-10 items collected are made of plastic," he said in an issued statement. "Given that plastic production is rising, this could be the start of a long and troubling trend."
Although the problem with plastic is usually tied to its risks to waterways and wildlife, an August 2018 study found that commonly used plastics, such as grocery bags and plastic wrap, emit traces of methane and ethylene. The two potent greenhouse gases are known to exacerbate climate change.
"Considering the amounts of plastic washing ashore on our coastlines and the amount of plastic exposed to ambient conditions, our finding provides further evidence that we need to stop plastic production at the source, especially single-use plastic," lead author Sarah-Jeanne Royer said in a press release for the study.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
More than 150 short-finned pilot whales stranded en masse at Hamelin Bay on the west coast of Australia early Friday morning.
Most of the whales did not survive after beaching themselves, according to Jeremy Chick, incident controller at Western Australia's Parks & Wildlife Service.
Roughly 100 authorities and trained volunteers raced to save the 15 whales that were still alive after the stranding. Six of the survivors were returned to sea late in the afternoon.
The remaining six surviving whales have been returned to sea. Thank you to all involved for your amazing efforts to… https://t.co/yO4zx35qYq— Parks and Wildlife Service, Western Australia (@Parks and Wildlife Service, Western Australia)1521803007.0
Chick said moving the surviving whales was difficult logistically due to the rocky beach terrain, the location of dead whales surrounding the live whales and rough seas.
"The conditions are challenging but we are doing all we can to give these animals the best chance of survival without risking the safety of staff and volunteers," he said.
"Once we have moved the whales out we will monitor the situation closely as it is possible the whales will come back into shore and re-strand. This has often been the case in previous mass strandings."
The public are urged to keep clear of Hamelin Bay after mass whale stranding. https://t.co/S5gb7aJP08 https://t.co/qTID5Q7PBr— Parks and Wildlife Service, Western Australia (@Parks and Wildlife Service, Western Australia)1521771605.0
Rescuers said the scene on the beach was distressing, ABC AU reported. UK visitor Barrie Brickle described how the whales repeatedly beached themselves after being pushed back to sea.
"[Volunteers] seem to drag them up onto the beach, get them the right way up and then they seem to revive," Brickle said. "But the ones I've seen that are back in the water, they actually come back around and beach themselves again."
"I watched one of them—it happened three times but still it wouldn't go back to sea."
These rescuers made desperate attempts to free more than 150 whales which had become stranded on a beach in Austral… https://t.co/z29AVKfZft— ITV News (@ITV News)1521805154.0
Short-finned pilot whales inhabit tropical and subtropical waters and may be seen in the hundreds but groups usually number less than 100.
The Parks & Wildlife Service said the migrating mammals have stranded en masse before—nine whales were found dead after stranding at Albany's Ledge Point in November 1984 and 38 short-finned pilot whales stranded in April 1991 at Sandy Point, north of Broome.
However, Reuters reported that the large number this time is unusual.
More than 100 volunteers are helping Parks and Wildlife Service staff with the care and rescue of the remaining 10… https://t.co/NE9KuU3jmG— Parks and Wildlife Service, Western Australia (@Parks and Wildlife Service, Western Australia)1521786687.0
"Short-finned pilot whales are listed as 'data deficient' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There is simply not enough information known about their remaining wild populations," Captain Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said in 2015 after a pilot whale by hunters in Taiji's infamous cove.
But he noted, "Migrating dolphins and whales are not infinite 'resources;' they are living and vital parts of the ocean eco-system that the nations and government agencies of the world must take action to protect before it is too late."
The largest mass stranding of whales in the state was in 1996 when 320 long-finned pilot whales stranded themselves in Dunsborough.
The reason behind the stranding is currently unclear. Parks & Wildlife Service officers are taking DNA samples from the deceased whales in search of clues for why they strand. Hamelin Beach remains closed and shark alert has been issued for the area, as sharks attracted by the dead whales.
Hundreds of Pilot Whales Die in Devastating Mass Stranding in New Zealand https://t.co/qagvHbvfHQ @1World1Ocean @Oceanwire— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486770004.0
- Microplastics Pose Major Problems for Ocean Giants ›
- Scientists Haven't Seen a Single North Atlantic Right Whale Calf ... ›
Researchers have spotted the first ever hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, CNN reported Tuesday.
Despite its name, the melon-headed whale actually belongs to the Delphinidae family, along with killer whales, false killer whales, two species of pilot whales and oceanic dolphins.
It is only the third confirmed hybrid within the Delphinidae family born in the wild, The Associated Press reported.
Another Delphinidae hybrid, a cross between a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin named Kekaimalu, was born at Hawaii's Sea Life Park in 1985.
"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an amazing thing to know," Sea Life Park curator Jeff Pawloski told The Associated Press.
Pawloski said the discovery was a testament to the "genetic diversity of the ocean."
Kekaimalu's birth popularized the portmanteau "wholphin," but researchers say that is not an accurate description for these dolphin hybrids.
"I think calling it a wholphin just confuses the situation more than it already is," researcher Robin Baird, who helped write the study announcing the discovery, told The Associated Press.
The study, published last week, details the discovery of the hybrid in August 2017 as part of the marine mammal monitoring program funded by the U.S. Navy.
The research was conducted by the Washington State non-profit Cascadia Research Collective off of the Pacific Missile Range Facility near Kauai.
Researchers tagged a pair of melon-headed whales, only the second time ever that the mammals had been satellite tagged near Kauai, and noticed that one of them had the blotchy pigmentation and sloping forehead of a rough-toothed dolphin, CNN reported.
Genetic testing confirmed it was a hybrid.
Researchers speculate that the melon-headed whale travelling with the hybrid might be its mother.
Melon-headed whales normally travel in groups of 200 to 300, but these two traveled alone and socialized with rough-toothed dolphins.
Researchers hope to confirm their hypothesis when they return to the site this summer.
"If we were lucky enough to find the pair again, we would try to get a biopsy sample of the accompanying melon-headed whale, to see whether it might be the mother of the hybrid, as well as get underwater images of the hybrid to better assess morphological differences from the parent species," Baird told CNN.
As exciting as the new discovery is, researchers were quick to point out that, even though hybrid animals can lead to the emergence of a new species, a single hybrid does not a new species make.
"There's no evidence to suggest it's leading toward anything like species formation," Baird told The Associated Press.
Thailand has joined Vietnam and Malaysia in cracking down on the world's trash. Thailand will stop accepting more than 400 types of electronic waste (e-waste), including circuit boards, old TVs and radios, within six months, an environment ministry official told Reuters.
The decision was made Wednesday at a meeting chaired by Surasak Kanchanarat, the environment minister. Imports of plastic waste will also be banned in two years, although specific details of the program are not yet known, Reuters reported.
Southeast Asian countries have been filling a void left by China, which implemented a strict waste import policy earlier this year so it could focus on its own pollution problems. The decision from China—formerly the world's largest importer of waste—left exporting countries scrambling for solutions for their trash. In some U.S. cities, the pile-up has even resulted in recyclables being directly sent to landfills.
Thailand announced the ban after accepting massive amounts of e-waste from the U.S., the European Union, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, according to DW. While electronic scraps can contain valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper, they can also contain harmful components such as lead, mercury and cadmium.
Surasak admitted to The Nation that the ban will impact the country's recycling industry and some business operations. However, he noted, "we need to prioritize good environment and health protection for our citizens before industrial development."
"I have no doubt that the recycling of plastic waste and used electronic parts are profitable businesses at the moment," he added. "Some business operators may make a lot of profit from the recycling industry, but what will the country gain from their prosperity when our environment becomes polluted and the people suffer?"
The Thai initiative follows efforts made last month in Vietnam and Malaysia to limit imported trash. Vietnam will no longer issue new licenses for scrap imports, in order to crack down on illegal shipments and increased pollution near processing facilities, Reuters reported in July. The same month, the Malaysian government revoked the import permits of 114 factories that process plastic waste.
WOW! Here's What 7 Billion Smartphones in 10 Years Looks Like https://t.co/KmRxn9KFgT @greenpeaceusa @Greenpeace @ewg @climatehawk1— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488380193.0
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The whale was found in critical condition in a canal near Thailand's border with Malaysia on May 28. Photos posted on Thai Whales' Facebook page show a group of people tending to the whale and trying to keep it afloat.
According to Thailand's Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, the whale vomited five plastic bags on Friday and eventually died that afternoon.
"This plastic rubbish made the whale sick and unable to hunt for food," the department said on its website.
Grisly photos on the marine department's Facebook page show dozens of black plastic bags exhumed from the whale.
"Ask your heart to see if you're still going to dump the trash," the post stated.
Jatuporn Buruspat, head of the department, told Reuters the whale probably mistook the floating plastic bags for food.
Around the world, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste gets dumped in our oceans every year. A 2015 study found that 60 percent of the world's plastic waste comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and lecturer at Kasetsart University, told AFP that about 300 marine animals including pilot whales, sea turtles and dolphins die each year in Thailand after ingesting plastic.
"It's a huge problem," he said. "We use a lot of plastic."
"If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die," Thamrongnawasawat added.
The pilot whale's death is another grim reminder of the harmful impact of ocean pollution. In April, a 6-ton, 33-foot-long juvenile sperm whale was found dead in southern Spain. A necropsy reveled it ingested 64 pounds of mostly plastic garbage.
Folks around the world expressed sadness about the latest man-made tragedy.
😔 Despite efforts to save him, this pilot whale in Thailand died after ingesting 80 plastic bags. How many more s… https://t.co/8m5NOXZ3VR— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace)1528083903.0
"Many in the region and around the world are extremely concerned about such incidents," Suresh Valiyaveettil, an expert in polymer chemistry at the National University of Singapore, told the New York Times in an email. "Considering the amount of plastic in the ocean, unfortunately, such incidents are going to be more common in the near future."
Tomorrow will mark the United Nations' World Environment Day, which centers around the theme of beating plastic pollution.
On Monday in Vietnam, 41 embassies and international organizations signed a Code of Conduct on Combating Plastic Pollution.
According to Vietnam News, signatories include Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the U.S. as well as 16 UN agencies, funds, program, offices and the World Bank.
UN's #BeatPlasticPollution Tag Is the New Ice Bucket Challenge https://t.co/1wEmjitbyn @ShaunFrankson @Surfrider— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1527801904.0
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The turtle washed up on the beach on June 4, Weerapong Laovechprasit, a veterinarian at the Eastern Marine and Coastal Resource Research and Development Centre told AFP.
X-rays on the reptile revealed a blockage in its stomach. A team of vets tried to save the turtle and feed it intravenously, but it died two days later, AFP reported.
A necropsy on the turtle uncovered plastic shreds from fishing gear, rubber bands and other marine debris clogged in its stomach.
"It was feeling weak and couldn't swim," Weerapong told AFP. "The main cause of death is the sea trash."
Green turtles are classified as endangered, according to the WWF, due to "overharvesting of their eggs, hunting of adults, being caught in fishing gear and loss of nesting beach sites."
Around the world, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste gets dumped in our oceans every year. A 2015 study found that 60 percent of the world's plastic waste comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and lecturer at Kasetsart University, told AFP that about 300 marine animals including pilot whales, sea turtles and dolphins die each year in Thailand after ingesting plastic.
"It's a huge problem," he said. "We use a lot of plastic."
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February 22 is the birthday of conservationist and beloved TV personality "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, who would have been 57 years old today.
Irwin's life was tragically cut short when the barb from a stingray went through his chest while he was filming in 2006, but his legacy of loving and protecting wildlife lives on, most recently in a Google Doodle today honoring his birthday.
Crikey! Today's #GoogleDoodle in Australia, NZ and around the world celebrates Steve Irwin and his legacy. Follow S… https://t.co/Bmq4CzFQYW— Google Australia NZ (@Google Australia NZ)1550786791.0
"Today's Google Doodle acknowledges the life and achievements of my husband Steve Irwin, whose efforts to protect wildlife and wild places have been recognised as the most extensive of any conservationist," his wife Dr. Terri Irwin wrote in a guest blog post for Google. "We are so proud that his legacy lives on, as that was his greatest wish. He once said, 'I don't care if I'm remembered, as long as my message is remembered.'"
The doodle shows images of Irwin interacting with his beloved crocodiles and spending time with his wife Terri and their children Bindi and Robert. The last image shows Terri, Bindi and Robert continuing to run the Australia Zoo that the couple had expanded from the small, roadside Beerwah Reptile Park opened by Irwin's parents in the 1970s.
Irwin was born in 1962 in Upper Fern Tree Gully, Victoria, Australia but spent most of his childhood and adolescence in Queensland, where he learned to care for wildlife at his parents' park. Terri met him in 1991 when she went to visit the park and was impressed by Irwin's passion for the crocodiles, who he fed from inside their enclosures.
In the blog post, Terri paints a picture of a couple equally devoted to wildlife and each other. She shares the dramatic story of how the couple's famous Crocodile Hunter show was born immediately following their wedding:
"Steve and I married in June 1992 in my grandmother's church in Eugene, Oregon. Afterward, we received a phone call about a poacher trying to kill a large crocodile in North Queensland, so instead of a honeymoon, Steve and I went to Australia to save the croc before the bad guys got him. We invited a film crew to come along and document our efforts. Although we didn't arrive in time to save the crocodile, we did save his mate. She was a beautiful girl, not quite 10 feet long. We didn't know it at the time, but this would turn out to be the very first episode of "The Crocodile Hunter" and the beginning of a 14-year adventure, filming in locations across Australia and around the world."
The crocodile hunter - Pilot Episode part 1 www.youtube.com
Some criticized the Crocodile Hunter show for relying too heavily on stunts, Vox noted, including one scene in which Irwin fed a crocodile while holding his baby son. Irwin was also investigated, but never charged, for filming too close to humpback whales and penguins.
However, his conservation efforts were both sincere and impressive. His Wildlife Warriors, still run by Terri, purchased hundreds of square miles to protect wildlife and now works to save animals like Sumatran tigers, koalas and Cambodian elephants. The Australia Zoo now protects 1,200 animals on almost 1,000 acres, and includes a Wildlife Hospital that has treated 82,000 animals it has later returned to their natural habitats, Terri said in her blog post.
"My job, my mission, the reason I've been put onto this planet, is to save wildlife," Irwin said, according to Vox. Clearly, Google thinks that's a mission worth honoring.
Rescue efforts are underway after a pod of whales beached Monday morning off the province of Aceh in Indonesia.
Fortunately, five of the whales were successfully re-floated and hauled out to sea with boats, the Associated Press reported.
"The team seems to be determined to work during night time to release the remaining whales," Whale Stranding Indonesia wrote on its latest Facebook update.
The LIVE stranding of 10 sperm whales in Aceh. Video credit WWF Indonesia @WWF_ID @WWF via Dwi Suprapti. https://t.co/YgiW9pN3AD— Strandings Indonesia (@Strandings Indonesia)1510558231.0
Agus Salim, police chief at Masjid Raya sub-district, said that Indonesian authorities, soldiers, policemen and volunteers are working to save the whales.
Nur Mahdi, the head of Aceh's marine and fisheries office, told the Associated Press that two of the whales are injured and rescuers are trying to treat them. The cause of the injuries is not yet known.
Whales are social creatures and often travel in pods. Mass strandings are rare, but pods might follow a sick or disoriented group leader to shallow waters and end up beaching themselves, Mahdi explained.
Social media photos shows large crowds gathering around the beach to witness the unusual event. The whales are about 15 meters (49 feet) from shore.
The LIVE stranding of 10 sperm whales in Aceh. Photo credit WWF Indonesia @WWF_ID @WWF via Dwi Suprapti. https://t.co/smWIz11yOq— Strandings Indonesia (@Strandings Indonesia)1510558055.0
In June 2016, 32 short-finned pilot whales beached themselves in Indonesia's East Java province.
Fishermen and officials were able to save 24 of them, but eight returned to shore overnight and died.
8 Pilot Whales Dead After Mass Stranding https://t.co/6hqz8oY5Ca @savingoceans @Oceanwire— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1466199921.0
As part of its ongoing Operation Bloody Fjords campaign, the ocean conservation group sent a crew of volunteers posing as tourists to six different Faroese towns covering 19 designated whaling bays with the aim of "[exposing] the continued barbaric killing of dolphins and pilot whales," campaign leader and Sea Shepherd UK Director Robert Read said.
Over the course of ten weeks from this July to early September, the volunteers documented nine separate grindadráp events (what these yearly hunts are called in Faroese). According to the group, 198 Atlantic white-sided dolphins and 436 pilot whales were killed.
The Faroese whaling tradition, also known as a grind, has a recorded history since 1584. During a grind, island authorities allow a flotilla of boats to drive dolphins and whales into a shallow bay. The animals are then killed with a whaling knife that severs their spinal cord.
Sea Shepherd Global
"We witnessed the whole process from the driving in of the 50 or so pilot whales through the slaughter, the butchering and the distribution of the meat and blubber," said one volunteer in a statement provided to EcoWatch about the the Aug. 29 grindadráp in the village of Hvannasund.
"As the pilot whales were driven to the shoreline by the small boats the intensity of the thrashing bodies grew. Hooks were sunk into the blowholes and the whales were dragged onto the shore in a sadistic game of 'Tug of War.' We witnessed whales seemingly bashing their heads against the stones in a frenzy."
Another witness at a July 25 dolphin hunt in the village of Sydrugota remarked about the crowds and children casually gathering at such a bloody scene.
"As we drove into Sydrugota we knew we were in the right place as the water was blood red, we continued towards the harbor and parked up, walked to the slipway to see 16 Atlantic White Sided Dolphins already had been slaughtered, lined up neatly in two rows, guts already spilled onto the concrete and spines severed, one thing I didn't expect was the stench of blood. A crowd had gathered including small children who were poking the dolphins in the eyes while their parents watched."
Sea Shepherd Global
A witness at the Funningsfjordur hunt on Aug. 5—where more than 100 dolphins were killed—was similarly taken aback by this "disconnect."
"Thoughts immediately turned to the disconnect between the image of people laughing, children playing and the barbaric scene before us at the waters edge. Many of the pod still laid on the beaches, blood flowing from the kill wounds, one dolphin with a wound so deep it had almost severed the head completely, parents could be seen taking their children down to see the bodies close up, one we observed even lifting their boy up to sit on the body of a dolphin as they took photos of him, the lack of any empathy for the lives that had just been brutally taken was clear, as was an insight into how future generations are already being exposed to this brutal act."
Faroese authorities told Fox News that hunting pilot whales on the islands is sustainable. "The long-term annual average catch of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands represents less than percent of the total estimated stock. It has long since been internationally recognized that pilot whale catches in the Faroe Islands are fully sustainable."
"Sheep farming, whaling and fowling have enabled the Faroe Islands as an island nation to maintain a relatively high degree of self-sufficiency in food production," the Faroe Islands government said in its statement. "In the Faroe Islands it is considered both economic and environmental good sense to make the most of locally available natural resources, and to maintain the knowledge required to use what nature can provide in a harsh oceanic environment."
Sea Shepherd Global
"Catches are shared largely without the exchange of money among the participants in a whale drive and residents of the local district where they are landed," the statement continued. "Each whale provides the communities with several hundred kilos of meat and blubber—meat that otherwise had to be imported from abroad."
The island government also criticized Sea Shepherd representatives for going "to any lengths to paint a negative picture of the Faroese whale hunt as 'barbaric,' 'unnecessary,' 'evil' and 'lunacy' describing Faroese as 'sadistic psychopaths' with the aim of inciting anger and outrage against the people of the Faroe Islands. They have chosen an easy target, as whale drives in the Faroe Islands take place in the open for anyone to watch and document."
Sea Shepherd, which has led campaigns to oppose the grind in the Faroe Islands since 1985, continues to speak out against this practice.
"2017 has proved to be one of the worst years for the grindadrap since the mid 1990's by the men of the Danish Faroe Islands with 1203 pilot whales and 488 dolphins killed during 24 individual hunts so far," Read said, urging people to support the Operation Bloody Fjords campaign to "help end this senseless slaughter."
Sea Shepherd Global
More than 500 volunteers flocked to a remote bay in New Zealand in response to a devastating mass stranding of pilot whales.
Around 416 pilot whales beached near the base of Farewell Spit in Golden Bay overnight, of which 250 to 300 were already dead when the whales were discovered, the Department of Conservation announced in a Feb. 10 media release.
A witness told The Washington Post that the whales were "crying and sighing" as they lay stranded on the beach.
Hundreds of pilot whales have been stranded on a beach in New Zealand and most have died https://t.co/bP8WtC58jL— Sky News (@Sky News)1486728261.0
Friday's incident was the third largest whale stranding ever recorded in New Zealand and the largest known whale stranding in the country since 1985, when 450 were stranded in Auckland, Reuters reported.
Rescuers tried to refloat the remaining cetaceans during high tide on Friday morning but only had partial success. Around 50 whales had swum out of the bay but 80 to 90 had re-stranded on the beach by the afternoon.
Andrew Lamason, Department of Conservation operations manager for Golden Bay, told The Guardian it was common for whales involved in a mass stranding to re-beach themselves because they are very social animals who like to stay in close proximity to their pod.
"We are trying to swim the whales out to sea and guide them but they don't really take directions, they go where they want to go. Unless they get a couple of strong leaders who decide to head out to sea, the remaining whales will try and keep with their pod on the beach," he said.
The rescue team has been pouring water over the re-stranded whales to try and keep them cool before floating them out at the next high tide. Children also sang songs to keep the creatures calm.
"I've never seen anything like this," a volunteer named Petra Dubois told Stuff.co.nz. "It's just so unbelievably sad to see all these bodies; so many lives gone and so many that might not survive. Just so devastating, I really don't know what to say."
Lamason explained to The Guardian that many volunteers were working around the clock in chilly temperatures and mentally traumatic conditions.
"It is cold, it's wet and some of us have been in and out of the water for nine hours now. We can only cope with robust volunteers, not ones that are going to break down, which happens quite often," he said.
According to RadioNZ, the effort to refloat the remaining 80 to 90 whales will resume Saturday. The whales will be kept comfortable and can survive for several days as long as they are kept cool and wet.
The cause of the stranding is unclear. However, Lamason said that the bay was prone to mass strandings due to the area's shallow waters that can confuse the mammals' sonar and find it difficult to get back out.
Cape Farewell is a headland in New Zealand 400 pilot whales who have become stranded at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay. https://t.co/6CEaCwe6Qo— Tony (@Tony)1486679071.0
Still, the latest event came as "a shock," Project Jonah manager Darren Grover told Reuters.
In an interview with RadioNZ, Otago University zoologist Liz Slooten ruled out seismic blasting as a cause since the last survey in the area was done nearly a week ago. The blasting of seismic testing can potentially disorientate whales.
She added that the cause of the latest mysterious stranding may never be known.
According to Project Jonah, "strandings are complex events and there are many reasons why dolphins and whales may strand. In most cases the exact cause is unknown but any one of the following factors, or a combination of them, can be the cause."
Pilot whales are not considered to be endangered even though they are depleted in some areas. The American Cetacean Society stated, "There are likely to be almost a million long-finned pilot whales and at least 200,000 short-finned pilot whales worldwide."