World Oceans Day 2015: Tackling Marine Debris – Success Stories

Marine debris ~

Man-made waste accidentally or deliberately contributed to lakes, streams, seas, and oceans.

Nels Israelson-Flikr

Nels Israelson – Flickr

Plastic pollution leads the pack of insults, but as the powerful photo above attests, derelict fishing gear (DFG) adds untold insults to mounting injuries.

Some days reading environmental news sends an emotional death ray into my hope for our planet. I end up deflated as an old tire. This World Oceans Day, I decided sharing a few success stories might put the spin back in my wheels.

Beach cleanup sponsored by Sustainable Coastlines

Beach cleanup sponsored by Sustainable Coastlines

Every year hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people gather to reclaim from, or keep trash out of, our oceans, seas, and other waterways. Some gather for a day. For others cleanup is a career. Here are a few examples of what’s working.

The Ocean Conservancy’s annual INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEANUP

2014 Results

561,895 volunteers in 91 countries collected 16,186,759 pounds (7,226 metric tons) of trash over 13,360 miles. One of the most unusual finds was $1,680 in cash. Largest “pieces” haul – cigarette butts – 2,117,931 of them. Ick. See if you can give up any of the Top 10 Items Found. I bought glass and stainless drinking straws and re-useable bamboo picnic ware to keep in the car. They make great presents, too.

Texas beach trash-collected 2010I’m extremely lucky to live near the ocean. Our local harbor supports a fair number of fishing boats. In the winter and spring, we have fresh Dungeness crab, and salmon and  local fish during other times of the year. Crab pots and derelict fishing gear are ongoing dangers to marine life, boats, and economic livelihoods in many fisheries. Sustainable solutions often mean partnerships between the fishing industry, states, non-profits, and federal government agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

CRAB POT RETRIEVAL, REUSE, RECYCLE PROGRAMS

Examples:

In 2009, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program employed off-season crab fishermen to remove nearly 3,000 derelict crab pots from Oregon’s coastal waters. The Program’s Fishing for Energy funds paid for disposal bins along the coast where fishermen could discard used gear for free. A steel company recycled and sheared the waste, and an energy company  burned ropes and nets as renewable fuel. The program was so successful, it will continue to remove additional pots through an industry-led partnership of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA.

The University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, the SeaDoc Society, and the Humboldt, CA Fishermen’s Marketing Association also have a pilot program to retrieve derelict crab pots. With i.d. info from the pot’s tag, they locate the original owner and offer  them the pots for less than half the cost of a new one. Sales support future cleanups and unsold gear is recycled. Five hundred and fifty pots were collected in just two months this year. Program video (2:39)

Fishermen in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound (through another NOAA partnership), are collecting and re-purposing 4 to 7 tons of crab pot material into 700 linear feet of oyster reefs. The goal is to rebuild the local, Eastern oyster fishing industry.

GHOST “Legacy” NETS

Diving for Debris-Fishing net removal boat. Photo courtesy of NOAA

Diving for Debris-Fishing net removal boat. Photo courtesy of NOAA

Abandoned gill nets are made of non-biodegradable mono or multifilament line. Fish and other marine life continue to be snared in this “ghost fishing.” Their value is lost to the environment and to the fishing economy. The inland ocean waters of Puget Sound was a burial ground for thousands of these legacy nets. Over the last decade the Northwest Straits Foundation, working with professional divers, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies, and others, has removed all 5,600 abandoned and dangerous nets. Talk about success. “Diving for Debris” Program video (6:04)

THE FUN FOR LAST

I am SO stoked about the Marine Debris Tracker app. A collaboration between NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and the University of Georgia’s Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative, this free app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets turns you into a citizen trash scientist. Download the app, track, and log your trash collection sites (through GPS), regardless of where you are in the world and whether you’re on a beach, on the ocean, your street, school, local stream ~ wherever. Your info goes into a growing global database, allowing scientists to better understand the world’s trash picture. From knowledge comes solution, right?MDT-2

This little free tool is so impressive it was included in Apple’s 25th Worldwide Developers Conference promotional video, “Apps We Can’t Live Without.” Oceans advocate Emily Penn, of Pangaea Exploration collects data on marine debris. MDT is an app she “can’t live without,” she told the Apple audience. Just think of the progress we could make if every kid with a smartphone or tablet starting tracking (and picking up) trash. 

I’m no Emily Penn, but my ipad’s loaded and a collection bag’s by the door ready for today’s test run. 

Ahh, I feel a lot better now. If you have an environmental success story (or you download MDT), please share your good news in the comments.

HAPPY WORLD OCEAN’S DAY!

Peace. Thanks for doing what you can.

P.S. The beautiful Monk seal in the opening photo was one of two rescued off Hawaii from this derelict net.

Monarch on poppy-Katy Pye