Most of us know about Earth Day/Earth Month, and many are concerned about the impact society has on our planet Earth. The Earth Day Network wants to”build the world’s largest environmental movement.” Their webpage says:
Earth Day Network’s mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 75,000 partners in over 190 countries to drive positive action for our planet.
Dr. Hanna Reid is currently working with the Climate Change Group and the Biodiversity Team at the International Institute for Management. In the first chapter of her book, Climate Change and Human Development, she talks about what global impact we can expect from climate change over the coming years. Among other warnings, she says we should expect warming over land areas and at high northern latitudes, and less warming over the Southern Ocean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. She warns of increases in the depths of thaw experienced over most permafrost regions and decreases in sea ice but also increases in heat waves and heavy precipitation. Reid also says we should expect changes in tropical cyclones. This book moves through theories, evidence, and effects on everything from oceans, fresh water, forests, and jungles. This title is also available online.
It is sometimes easy to forget that “Society can change climate, and climate can change society.” That is the first sentence in the 3rd chapter of The Future Is Not What It Used to Be : Climate Change and Energy Scarcity by Jörg Friedrichs (available online). Humans need food, drink, and shelter. Humans depend on fresh, clean water. Food depends on agriculture which relies on fresh water and fertile land. Shelters also rely on stable ground. Climate change has consequences for our fresh water, agriculture and fertile land, not to mention our oceans and the fish many rely on to survive. Rising sea levels affect lands and washing away shorelines and islands. In the final chapter, Friedrichs concludes that we tend to focus on mitigating damage caused by global warming caused by industrial society. We often don’t think our industrial society might be unsustainable. He goes on to discuss “resilience thinking” and “ontological securitization” as different ways to look at mitigating climate change.
There are so many ways we can help help make/keep the Earth green. Green technology includes innovations such as power supplies, solar power, wind power, and waste management. Living green includes using LED light bulbs, cutting down or eliminating plastic use, and energy-efficient and sustainable housing. Growing your own food – or buying from Farmer’s Market, reducing the use of pesticides, using bicycles or energy efficient cars are also ways to help the earth stay green.
Check out InfoHawk+, and see how many resources we have available! You can narrow your search to the Engineering Library if you wish. Additionally, you can choose to display only online results.
And remember we are here for you! We are available to Live Chat (link on our website) from 8:30 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. You may text us at 319.250.2176, during those same hours. We are available by email us at email@example.com. If your question is more involved, our librarians are available to schedule a zoom session with you.
Explore the library resources! As we all take time to do spring-cleaning, we can add “spring-greening” to our list!
Happy 50th Planet Earth!
April 22nd marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement While the Viet Nam war raged, the last Beatles album was recorded and Simon & Garfunkel released Bridge Over Troubled Water, Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller, Silent Spring, was raising awareness about environmental concerns and the links between pollution and public health. The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. That 1st Earth Day brought 20 million Americans to the streets, parks, and public spaces to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.” Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year!
Save Our Species is the focus of this year’s Earth Day/Month. From the Earth Day website: The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few. The impacts are far reaching.
One of the species being spotlighted this year is Bees. Statistics show that within the last 10 years or so the bee population has declined dramatically. For example, “The yellow-banded bumble bee was the most abundant bumble bee in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1990s, then within ten years it made up less than 1% of the state’s bumble bee population. In Oregon, Franklin’s bumble bee has likely gone extinct during the same period.” Causes of the decline can be traced to the widespread use of pesticides, loss of habitat and bio-diversity, pests, diseases, and climate change.
So, what happens if bee die out? Other than no longer worrying about being stung what would the effects be (I really want to say “what would the effects bee,” but I won’t). In Keeping the Bees, author Laurence Packer, speaks to how heavily agriculturally intense parts of the world depend on bees and pollination. “…surely coffee, blueberries and almonds, among other crops are both relevant and important to the population as a whole. The role bees play in the production of these essential items is well understood. Without them, we would all be worse off – nutritionally, economically, and with no coffee, probably also emotionally.”
What can an individual do to help protect the bees? How about becoming a beekeeper? Natural Beekeeping : Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture walks you through what you need to know when thinking about beekeeping. Full color photos, diagrams, and resources can help you decide if beekeeping is right for you! The chapters take you through the importance of organic beekeeping, how to work with the hive and hive management, through breeding, diseases, human and environmental threats. It delves into the honey harvest and marketing the products produced!
Elephants are the world’s largest land animals and are one of the few animals on earth that can recognize themselves in a mirror! That means they have a sense of self – an awareness they are distinct from others! They are capable of complex thoughts and deep feelings. When two elephants greet each other it begins with “exuberance and drama, concluding with expressions of what humans would describe as utter joy.”
The elephant population has been declining – from 5-10 million in 1930 to around 500,000 today. Over 20,000 elephants are poached every year. This is the most severe threat – even though the global ivory trade is illegal. More than 100 elephants may be killed in a day, simply for their tusks. Habitat loss is also a concern – humans are moving closer and closer to elephant habitats which causes more elephant killings. Climate change is leading to drought and food shortages, and droughts also disrupt the elephant mating season, leading to fewer offspring.
Why do we need to protect elephants? Tourism, for one thing. Elephants are “tourism magnets,” which helps attract funding which helps protect wilderness areas. They are also critical in the maintenance of ecosystem biodiversity. They flatten grasslands, making habitat for smaller species, they dig water holes, also used by other species. They also travel long distances and help disperse seeds along the way, thus helping to generate new green growth.
What can be done to help protect the elephant? We aren’t able to plant elephant-attracting gardens like we can for bees, but there are things we can do. The Earth Day website mentions a few actions we can take – including practicing sustainable tourism. Always wanted to go on a safari? Make sure the company is certified as sustainable and always be sure any interactions with wild animals are respectful.
If you are interested in the history of ivory – which goes back thousands of years – Ivory’s Ghosts : The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants is a fascinating look at that history. The author, John Frederick Walker, begins by relating the story of a 28,000-year-old Paleolithic site, Sungir, where ivory ornaments were found on human skeletons. It is estimated that it would have taken an hour to carve each bead – the old man’s beadwork would have taken more than 3,000 hours of labor and each of the 2 children’s would have been more than 5,000. He also talks about the years of culling elephants, “taking out 15 elephants in 42 seconds.” Ivory’s Ghosts contains several pages of black & white photos detailing elephants and the ivory trade.
Bees and elephants are only 2 of the 14 species listed on the Earth Day website. I encourage you to explore all the information they have available and then check our resources for further information. I have listed just a few of our resources that I believe would be valuable to you as you look more deeply into what can be done during Earth Month – and all year round.
As you are out enjoying the spring weather (finally!) think about all we can do – even as individuals – to protect our planet!
This is the 48th anniversary of Earth Month® and the theme this year is Plastic Pollution. For the purposes of this blog, I’m only going to focus on marine plastic pollution. Learning about all the plastic pollution in our rivers and oceans is quite depressing and a bit scary. According to The OceanCleanup faq section – “we will never remove every last gram of plastic from the oceans.” However, they do go on to say that it is possible to facilitate a significant decrease – up to 50% – within 5 years (the web page is from 2018).
So, while this is perhaps the most depressing blog I have ever written, after I write about the seriousness of marine plastic pollution, I will present ways in which we – as individuals, communities, and corporations – can help reduce plastic pollution in our waterways and on our land.
Stop and think, really think, about all the plastic used during a day. You probably start out using a plastic toothbrush and perhaps a disposable razor. Do you use prepackaged meals (cold cuts, frozen meals, pre-cut vegetables, etc), plastic utensils when packing your lunch? Stop at the local coffee shop on your way to work or class and get a cold drink in a clear plastic cup? With a straw? Stop at the grocery store and pick up a few groceries, batteries, bottled water, and use the plastic shopping bags? Head to a local sports bar and have your drink in a plastic cup? Wash your dishes with dish soap in a plastic bottle? Have a baby or toddler? How many baby bottles, bottle nipples, and pacifiers do you have? You get the idea – I could go on and on.
Do you think about where all the plastics go when you are done with them? Hopefully you recycle as much as you can. If you use prepackaged food in plastic containers do you wash/rinse the dishes before you recycle? (did you know if you leave food in a recyclable container and put it in a recycle bin it contaminates the entire bin and everything must be dumped in a land fill? Clean your recyclables first!)
The vast majority of the plastic waste ends up in the world’s waterways and oceans. “It is only comparatively recently that the scale of marine contamination from plastics has been realised. Since plastics are light, strong, durable, and inexpensive, their usage is massive. Coupled with the fact that they can persist for centuries and are buoyant, it is perhaps not surprising that plastics make up between 60 and 80% of all marine debris.” (Marine Pollution and Human Health, pgs 84-85)
There is a sea of plastic garbage located halfway between Hawaii and California. It is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). It is the largest of 5 offshore plastic garbage zones in the world’s oceans. It is three times the size of France; two times the size of Texas. In 2015, Ocean Cleanup launched a fleet of 30 ships & boats to collect samples of the plastic in the GPGP. They collected 1.2 million plastic samples, which were hand counted, sorted, and classified by type and size. It took over 2 years to complete the classification.
Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, discovered the GPGP in 1997. Two years later he went back with a fine-mesh net and measured the weight of the plastic in comparison the weight of the plankton. He found six times more plastic than plankton. Moore notes that on Kamilo Beach in Hawaii there are more plastic particles than sand particles – until you dig a foot down. On Pagan Island (between Hawaii and the Philippines) they have a “shopping beach. If the islanders need a cigarette lighter, or some flip-flops, or a toy . . . they go down to the shopping beach and pick it out of all the trash that’s washed up there from thousands of miles away.” (Garbage and Recycling, pg. 24).
None of this includes the sheer magnitude of sea creatures and marine birds that are killed and destroyed by the 1,000s because of the pollution. I also have not mentioned that plastic is manufactured from oil, which will eventually run out. . .
Okay, that’s the tip of the garbage-berg, so to speak. Now, what can be done? As I mentioned earlier, we will never be able to remove all the plastic from the oceans. BUT we can all have an impact on preventing the plastic pollution from getting worse. Garbage and Recycling suggests we need to reuse plastic and design plastic which can be reused – very little plastic can be melted down and molded into something else. The vast majority of plastic is contaminated with chemicals, and therefore not reusable.
There are steps that can be taken by you, as the consumer. Garbage and Recycling suggests the easiest way to make a difference is to give up plastic shopping bags and plastic water bottles – these are the largest contributors to plastic pollution. When shopping for items packaged in plastic, be aware that some items are in packaged in more plastic (or cardboard…) than is necessary. It can make it more obvious on the shelf, but is not good for the environment.
Earth Day 2018 has created resources to help individuals “take a personal journey and get ready for Earth Day 2018.” Most of us have heard the 3 Rs of Recycling: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Earth Day suggests the 5 Rs of Recycling:
Reduce: Cut down on amount of plastic used. For example, carry a reusable water bottle.
Refuse: Refuse to use the plastic – check for a non-plastic alternative. Do you need a plastic straw? Bamboo and metal straws are available.
Reuse: Find products that are designed for multiple uses. Reusable shopping bags, waxed lined bags instead of sandwich bags. Purchase items made from recycled plastic (for instance, I own a door mat made from recycled flip flops)
Recycle: Check with your city’s sanitation department to find out what they accept for recycling.
Remove: This is easy. Pick up plastic trash when you see it. Participate in community clean-up days.
Garbage and Recycling suggests buying 2nd hand clothing or have a clothing swap with friends and neighbors. We don’t often think about what goes into producing our clothing. It will not only help the environment, it’s also easier on your pocketbook! It is also suggested to make art or other household projects. Try making this bottle cap lamp – find instructions here for 20 ways to reuse plastic bottles!
Action is also being taken on a larger scale. Technology is helping businesses and communities become more creative with ways to clean waterways. For example, Baltimore is using “Mr. Trash Wheel,” and “Professor Trash Wheel,” which were invented by sailor and engineer John Kellett. A brewery, Saltwater Brewery, in Florida has created six-pack rings which feed marine life. They are made from beer by-products (barley & wheat) and are safe for both humans and fish to ingest. Magellan Manufacturers/We Conner have door mats made from recycled flip flops. Engineer Toby McCartney has been developing discarded plastic into asphalt which is being tested in the United Kingdom.
In Garbage and Recycling we learn about an American architect, Michael Reynolds, who considers tires, bottles, and cans to be “natural resources.” He has used garbage and natural resources to design and build sustainable, self-sufficient homes called, “Earthships.” They are sturdy enough to withstand a force 9 earthquake and have been described as “magical,” and “beautiful.”
In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana flooded Taguig City in the Philippines. Water Lilies were partly to blame for the flooding – they multiply quickly and plugged drainage systems. However, a month before the typhoon hit, the city launched the Water Lily Project. The project trains residents to weave water lilies into bags, slippers, and Christmas decorations, which they can then sell, thus helping the local economy, too.
Jamil Shariff, author of 50 Green Projects for the Evil Genius, suggests paying attention to, and saving packaging which is not recyclable. Save the packaging and note where it was purchased. Then, take the packaging back to the store, ask to speak with the store manager, and explain that you think it is is not recyclable and you do not feel it is your responsibility, or the responsibility of the community, to bear the cost of recycling the packaging. An alternative method (and perhaps easier!) is to write to the manufacturer of the particular product. This can be especially effective if you state that this is why you won’t purchase the item. Companies need to sell their products and consumers who refuse to buy their products get their attention.
Want to discover how small or large your carbon footprint actually is? Go here for both an individual and small business carbon calculator.
And what better way to be a Superhero than by doing your part to save our planet!?
Paper or Plastic?
Paper or plastic? Many communities are beginning to outlaw plastic shopping bags. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Plastic is, well, plastic and paper is made from trees. Ergo, paper is good and plastic is bad. Right? Right?
Actually, maybe not….
ALL disposable bags have an environmental cost. Paper bags are made of a renewable resource, can be recycled curbside, and break down in a landfill. But getting a paper bag to the grocery store is a long process – it takes lots and lots of trees. Trees are often logged by clear-cutting which results in habitat reduction and long-term ecological damage. The machinery used to cut the trees need roads, and use fossil fuel to operate. The trees then have to dry for 3 years, then the bark is stripped (more machinery), chipped into 1-inch squares which are ‘cooked,’ and then ‘digested’ with a chemical mixture of limestone and acid……. you get the idea!
Plastic bags are made from oil – a non-renewable resource. Plastic bag creation requires electricity, which mainly comes from coal-burning power plants… Plastic can be recycled, but it isn’t simple or easy, either. It involves re-melting the bags and re-casting the plastic…. And, those plastic bags often become litter – hanging on tree branches, caught in ditches, floating down the street…
There are biodegradable plastic bags. Sort of. They are completely biodegradable in a compost bin, but slowly – if at all – in a landfill…
Best choice? The reusable canvas bags….
Once you know how toxic paper and plastic are it is hard not to look around your living space and notice everything that is plastic or comes packaged in plastic…. look for items that come in recyclable packaging – and packaging that isn’t excessive.
We all want out homes to be clean and with so many products available, how does one choose? Check to see if the product has a “Danger,” Warning,” or “Caution,” designation. Danger = very hazardous, could explode if hot, could cause death if used incorrectly. Warning = less hazardous but easily catches on fire and can cause serious illness or injury. Caution = least hazardous, but can still cause illness and irritation. Green Goes With Everything : Simple Steps To A Healthier Life and Cleaner Planet has a list of dangerous chemicals used in common household products. It also has a number of “recipes” for home-made, safe, green alternatives – for example, a window cleaner which is made of 3 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, mix & spray! Simple!
Green Gardens and Green Eating:
Another way to become a ‘green’ superhero is looking at what you eat, where it comes from, and how it is grown. Love those oranges, strawberries and other out-of-season fruit during the winter months? Think about how they end up in your market when they are, in fact, out-of-season. It is always in-season somewhere in the world, but getting those fruits and vegetables to your table takes a lot of energy – think of all the packing (and packaging), and fossil fuel it takes to get them to you. Not to mention the pesticides and chemicals used to make sure they are “fresh” when they arrive at your store.
In Living Green: a Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability author Greg Horn relates an incident when he visited a lettuce farm. The lettuce looked so healthy, but the workers were wearing long sleeves and rubber boots. Some were wearing masks. When he asked why they were dressed like that he was told it was because the lettuce was sprayed an average of 12 times with up to 50 different pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. The workers needed to be protected from the chemicals we eat…
Sloan Barnett, author of Green Goes With Everything : Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet, cites that in 2004, “…researchers in two different independent laboratories examined the umbilical cord blood of ten newborns from around the country. What they discovered was astonishing: There were 287 chemicals present in the blood these babies depended upon for nourishment and survival. There were 180 chemicals known to cause cancer in humans and animals. there were 217 toxic chemicals known to cause brain and nervous system damage. And there were 208 known to cause birth defects and abnormal development in tests on animals.”.
Solutions: if possible, plant your own garden. Then you have control over pesticides and other chemicals. If you do plant your own garden, plant only plants that are specifically suited to your climate. Trying to grow plants that come from different areas often requires the use of chemicals and other devices to help them flourish. Obviously, not everyone can have their own garden – so look for organic options whenever possible. If you have a farmer’s market nearby – you know you are getting fresh produce and you can personally talk to the grower and find out what has been used on the plants.
The organically grown fruits and veggies probably won’t look as “healthy.” They won’t be as full or lush as the mass produced items, but they won’t be sprayed and infused with chemicals intended to make them grow bigger. They also won’t be packaged in plastic containers to survive shipping. Look at the organic apple – it looks like an apple you would pick right off a tree, imperfections and all!
Water is finite. No new water is created, what we have is what we have. It may seem like we have an endless supply, after all, approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water – 96.5% is oceans. Although water also exists in rivers, lakes, streams, icecaps, glaciers, water vapor, and underground in aquifers, 96.5% of the Earth’s water is salt water. And with the growing population comes an increased demand for water – for hygiene, sanitation, and potable water.
Fortunately, there are a lot of changes that individuals can make that will have a substantial impact on our water supply. First, look at the water that you use on a daily basis: showering and bathing, dishwashers, washing machines, toilets, cooking, lawn and gardens… The estimate in 1999 (the last time the American Water Works Association estimated) was that each person used somewhere between 60 and 70 gallons a day.
Did you know waiting only 30 seconds for the hot water to heat up in the shower can result in nearly 4 gallons of water going down the drain? A bath can use up to 70 gallons of water, while a quick shower (with a reduced-flow shower head) can use only 10 gallons.
There have been many advances since 1999 – tankless on-demand water heaters, low-flow toilets and shower heads, water-saving dishwashers and washing machines. And many communities provide incentives to encourage water savings.
Remember that each and every little thing you do doesmake a difference. Start small and choose one action, one small change you can make. Maybe just use the recipe for window cleaner to start and then go from there!
You can do it! You can be an Earth Month Superhero!
Most of us have at least heard of compost, but we really may not know much about how it helps the soil, what should – and should not – go into compost and how to effectively use it once we have it!
So. What is compost? Put simply it is decayed – and decaying – organic matter which improves the soil structure and has other benefits for plants. Humus, on the other hand, is well-decomposed plant and animal matter that resembles dark coffee grounds. It is aromatic, lightweight, and spongy – allowing it to hold water. The terms ‘humus’ and ‘compost’ are sometimes used interchangeably.
Why is composting important? Compost does much to increase the health of the soil. It increases the number of microorganisms in the soil, which in turn boosts the number of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms which become food for predators. The soil microbes help protect your plants from pests and diseases. For detailed information on all the benefits composting provides check out How to Make and Use Compost : The Ultimate Guide.
Did you know there are different types of composting?
Heat (or thermophilic) composting uses the heat released by microorganisms as they break down organic matter. When the compost heats up sufficiently it will kill weed seeds and pathogens. Cool composting may take 6 to 12 months (or longer) to produce usable compost, but has the advantage of needing no maintenance. Even without turning and adding moisture the (cold-loving) microorganisms will continue to break down the refuse.
Then there is vermicompost – a compost pile where certain worm species are used to consume and convert the organic matter into useful organic fertilizer. Vermicomposting can even be done in a simple indoor, household worm bin (yes, really!). There is also sheet composting – simply spreading your organic matter on top of the soil in sheets, where it then decomposes right where you need it.
There are several ways to contain the compost. Building a box or fenced in area is a nice way – if you have the space.
You may purchase compost bins – including ones that are meant to be turned and rotated – to help keep the compost aerated. However, purchased bins can be expensive. Don’t despair! If you’d like to begin composting but don’t have much space or money, here’s an easy DIY for you! The video, below, shows an easy way to make a compost bin using a garbage can. It is recommended that you put your new compost bin on cement blocks to let the air circulate through the holes in the bottom. The gentleman presenting the video talks about a 50/50 ratio of brown to green. For more information about what that means check out the paragraph about what goes into a compost bin!
You may hear that there is a desired ratio of “browns and greens” when composting. But what does that mean? Better terminology would be “high nitrogen” (green) and “low nitrogen” (brown). The terms “brown” and “green” are helpful, however. Browns are plant material that are, well, brown. Fall leaves, wood products, straw… And greens are, well, green. Fresh grass clippings, freshly picked weeds, and most kitchen scraps (even if they aren’t green….). For more complete information about the C:N ratio (carbon to nitrogen) check out Compost, Vermicompost, and Compost Tea : Feeding the Soil on the Organic Farm.
There are things that should not go into a compost pile – don’t add meat scraps and bones – they attract rodents, and no one wants that! Surprisingly, it is recommended you don’t add citrus peels or onions! Onions and citrus are both acidic and can kill the worms and microorganisms on which your compost pile relies. You’ll also want to be wary of composting weeds – you don’t want to replant them when you use the compost! Lay them out in the sun (on a shed roof, a drying frame, etc.) and when they are brown, dry, and brittle – toss them in your compost bin!
There are so many things that can be composted – shredded paper bags, stale crackers and cereal, used paper plates (without a wax coating), wine corks and toothpicks, old cotton or wool clothing (cut into small pieces), newspapers …. For a lengthy list check out 100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost.
Okay. That’s a lot of info about composting. So, what do you DO with all the compost you’ve been diligently making?
Just as there are differing types of compost piles and bins, there are different types of gardening. There are conventionally dug gardens (gardens in which the soil is turned by fork, spade, rototiller…) and no-dig gardens (which are just that – gardens in which you do not turn the soil).
There are advantages to the no-dig garden – besides the fact it is less work! For one thing, you don’t disrupt the earthworm aeration tunnels, nor do you slice the worms in half! By digging your garden you increase the amount of oxygen in the soil which oxidizes more of the carbon which causes carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere.
In both types of gardens you can use compost as mulch and top dressing around growing plants. You can also use mulch on plants in containers – including indoor houseplants! If you are interested in learning how to make your own potting mixes check out How to Make and Use Compost : The Ultimate Guide. There are also instructions for compost specifically for cuttings and seeds.
Now, go out and start that compost pile! Before you know it you’ll have great compost and a beautiful, lush garden!
Gershuny, Grace; Jocelyn Langer, illustrator. 2011. Compost, vermicompost, and compost tea : feeding the soil on the organic farm. White River Junction, VT : Chelsea Green Pub. Engineering Library S661 .G45 2011
Bloom, Jonathan. Sept. 15, 2011. Americans Waste enough Food to Fill a 90,000-seat Football Stadium Every Day – What Can We Do About It? Alternet : Food.
Do you think of Flipper when you think of a dolphin? Do you think of the social, fun-loving, intelligent, inquisitive mammals of the sea? Who doesn’t love dolphins?
Dolphins and whales are cetaceans, which is the collective name for all whales, dolphins, and porpoises. There are 43 species of dolphins – including 5 river dolphins! Sadly, many of the cetaceans – both whale and dolphin species – are endangered.
Dolphin and whale populations have been affected by humans for centuries – beginning with whaling. According to Sarah Lazarus, author of Troubled Waters: The Changing Fortunes of Whales and Dolphins, “Images etched into rock faces in Norway and Korea testify that cetaceans were hunted as long ago as 6000 BC.”
Hunting and fishing not only affects the cetacean populations, but it also affects the ocean ecosystem as a whole. Trawling the bottom of the seabed – or ploughing – destroys the fragile organisms and when it is done frequently, there is less time for those organisms to become reestablished. Fishing nets don’t only catch the intended fish – other fish and plant life are also affected. Larger fish that are caught (the bycatch) are discarded and thrown back into the ocean. Which, although it sounds like a good thing, it too, has unintended side effects. Fish that are caught and discarded are often wounded from being caught in the nets or are already dead when they are thrown back. Birds do benefit from the bycatch, and the numbers of birds have dramatically increased in certain areas. (From Our Threatened Oceans).
Broken fishing lines and nets can also pose a hazard when aquatic life become tangled and wrapped up in them. Plastic is also a problem in the ocean. Much of the plastic that humans use – water bottles, six-pack rings – end up in the oceans. That plastic poses 2 problems – entanglement and ingestion.
About 800 miles north of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean is an area – more than twice the size of Texas – called the Garbage Patch. The Garbage Patch is the eastern corner of a 10-million-square-mile oval known as the North Pacific sutbropical gyre. Boats generally steer clear of this area because it is calm. Sailors call it “the doldrums,” and generally avoid it – as do the ocean predators. It is like a desert – a deep, slow, clockwise-twirling vortex of air and water which is caused by a mountain of high-pressure that that lingers above it. Captain Charles Moore discovered the Garbage Patch by accident in August, 1997. He found plastic bags, nets, ropes, bottles, motor-oil jugs, cracked bath toys, a mangled tarp, a traffic cone, and so much more garbage floating, stagnant in the ocean. This “land fill” not only pollutes the surface but also is leaking into the food chain. By using a manta trawl (a fine-meshed net) he and his researchers discovered minuscule pieces of plastic, some barely visible to the naked eye, swirling in the water. They measured and sorted samples and came up with the conclusion that this portion of the ocean contains 6x more plastic than plankton.
There has also been a rapid growth in the number of “dead zones.” These are areas of the oceans that are so lacking in oxygen (hypoxic) that most marine creatures suffocate. The combined areas of dead zones are now larger than New Zealand. In the 1950s there were fewer than 20, now there are more than 400. What causes dead zones? Phosphorus from farm run-off, sewage, and burning fossil fuels…
Is it possible to halt – and reverse – the effect we, as humans, are having on Earth’s oceans?
It actually is possible for the dead zones to recover by using less fertilizer and cutting emissions from sewage plants and industry. In the late 1980s the Danish government implemented an action plan to restore wetlands. Reducing the use of fertilizers has helped increase the oxygen levels of the Kattegat Strait. They have also found that decreasing fertilizer use has not reduced the crop yields.
New, creative ways to change common items into ecological friendly items can also make a difference. For example, Saltwater Brewery, Delray Beach, FL, has created edible six-pack rings that can feed, rather than kill, marine life! They are made of barley and wheat which are beer by-products! They are safe for both humans and fish to eat and are also biodegradable and compostable.