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9 astonishing and alarming facts about marine debris

9 astonishing and alarming facts about marine debris published on No Comments on 9 astonishing and alarming facts about marine debris

Our oceans are littered with plastic debris. I wrote about some ideas to address it yesterday, but just how bad is the problem?

Far from ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – our waste is ending up in our food. Here’s how.

  1. There is around 140 million tonnes (315 billion pounds) of plastic in the ocean, according to this conservative calculation.
  2. 80% of ocean plastic originally came from land – blown off landfills, or from litter washing into drains and rivers to the sea.
  3. Up to 10,000 containers a year are washed off container ships in storms, spilling their contents into the ocean. In 1992, 28,800 plastic ducks, turtles, birds and beavers were released from a container washed overboard in the North Pacific. Oceanographers tracking their dispersal on oceanic currents report that the ducks and their friends are well on the way to circumnavigating the globe, and even traversed the North Pole trapped in sea ice!
  4. Although plastic degrades over time, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. This means plastic lasts for centuries – perhaps for ever.
  5. The most numerous littered item worldwide, and top waste item collected in beach clean-ups, is cigarette butts: so please, use an ashtray, and don’t drop your butt-ends in the street, folks! top-10-items
  6. Ocean plastic has been found in 267 marine species. It kills hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, and turtles, and millions of fish and birds every year!
    This grey whale died after eating nearly 17 kilos of plastic
    This grey whale died after eating nearly 17 kilos of plastic
  7. Plastic balls resemble fish eggs (nutritious food for many fish). Polystyrene packing balls do too, so can we all please use paper cups instead, when using disposable cups is really unavoidable?
  8. Plastic fragments are eaten by oceanic fish (like lampfish) which make up a large part of the diet of predators such as tuna and swordfish. What they eat, we eat.
  9. Plastic is treated with toxic chemicals that can disrupt immune systems, hormone production, and reduce fertility. As it breaks up into smaller and smaller fragments, plastic particles act like toxic sponges, absorbing oily pollutants, pesticides like DDT and heavy metals – becoming more and more dangerous as time goes on and the toxins enter the marine food web – and our own diets.

So let’s all do something about it, folks. Use less. Recycle more. Clean up the mess around us.

10-things-you-can-do about plastic

Can eco-kraken robots clean our oceans?

Can eco-kraken robots clean our oceans? published on No Comments on Can eco-kraken robots clean our oceans?

kraken_unleashed_v3_by_papercutillustration-d5v4r2l

When flight MH370 disappeared without trace on 8th March 2014, apparently somewhere over the southern Indian Ocean, the world’s media following the search and scrutinising the satellite images were astounded at the sheer volume of debris and detritus of our lives strewn across the ocean, that were mistaken for bits of broken plane.

For those of us involved in marine environmental issues, there was less surprise than sad resignation. This is what we’ve been trying to explain for years.

Plastic and other waste in the oceans is a huge problem that, prior to the exposure in the wake of the plane’s disappearance, had failed to attract widespread attention.

Living on an Indian Ocean island – Zanzibar – ocean plastic is impossible to ignore. Because it isn’t littering some scarcely conceivable and distant expanse of open ocean, it’s right here on the beach at our feet. It washes in from the ocean on every tide, and regrettably, still more is dumped in streets, bushes and beaches, and washes from our streets and drains into the ocean, every time it rains.

Plastic waste, even from landlocked cities, is washed into rivers and to the ocean. From tiny plastic granules in facial scrubs to whole containers that fall off ships, we’re contaminating our precious ocean with reckless abandon.

Once in the ocean, pieces of plastic become coated with other waterborne pollutants such as glues, oil and pesticides, and many are eaten by fish, birds and turtles, which may die, releasing the plastic to be eaten again, or be eaten themselves by predators (such as tuna) in whose bodies the pollutants accumulate. Over time, plastic degrades, breaks into smaller smaller particles, and releases more chemicals and aggregates more pollutants that further impact oceanic life and get into the food chain. Our food chain.

http://inhabitat.com/19-year-old-student-develops-ocean-cleanup-array-that-could-remove-7250000-tons-of-plastic-from-the-worlds-oceans/To solve this problem will require significant action, and an accordingly ambitious idea was conceived by 19-year-old Boyan Slat in 2012. He proposes to install what I can best describe as a benevolent eco-kraken robot in the centre of each oceanic gyre. The device would consist of an array of floating booms several kilometres long, guiding waterborne plastic debris to a central processing platform, that filters it out and consumes it. These eco-krakens ocean clean-up arrays could, he claims, clean up the ocean of plastic debris within a decade.

Will this really work? This critical article by 5 Gyres-founder Stiv Wilson says no, it won’t.

My initial reaction might have been disappointment. Setting aside simply how cool eco-kraken robots would be, to solve colossal global problems like this one requires people with the imagination to come up with big, creative and innovative ideas, and it’s a shame for them to be so roundly knocked down. It would be so nice to think we – or better still, some more elusive ‘they’ – could make the problem go away as easily as that.

However – by the time I’d finished reading the critique, I was still feeling optimistic. From the penultimate paragraph (emphasis mine):

Here’s something that will blow your mind—to clean the ocean of floating plastic, you don’t need to go out and get it, it will come to you. … upon each orbit of a gyre, the gyre will spit out about half its contents. These contents will then either enter another current or gyre or wash up on land. As this repeats, it means that eventually*, all the plastic in the ocean will be spit – out which is why you find plastic fragments on every beach in the world. Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup.

*provided we aren’t continually replacing it with new plastic, mind you!

Maybe that means no eco-kraken robots. But …we already know how to fix this. Many of us are already doing it. It’s not free, but it’s easy, and doesn’t need to cost much at all. If we keep up our collective efforts to clean beaches and stop our rubbish from ending up there in the first place, the ocean waste will eventually come back to us.

But it gets better even than that. The pioneer behind the eco-kraken robot idea didn’t let this get him down – he stood his ground and did his research. He has responded to this criticism with a 530 page feasibility report, summarised here, which amounts to a comprehensive and pretty convincing rebuttal of the objections…

… so just maybe, ccean clean-up arrays may yet be a viable tool in the arsenal to clean up our oceans – and  eco-kraken might live after all.

kraken gif

Free guide to Waste in Zanzibar now available on Ecologue in English and Kiswhaili!

Free guide to Waste in Zanzibar now available on Ecologue in English and Kiswhaili! published on No Comments on Free guide to Waste in Zanzibar now available on Ecologue in English and Kiswhaili!
Free download of education guide - cover
Education and awareness guide to waste in Zanzibar

It gives me enormous delight to be able to share with you a fantastic education and awareness guide to waste in Zanzibar available to download free from Ecologue in English and Kiswahili.

This guide was produced by ACRA and compiled by Ulli Kloiber, Conservation and Education Manager at Chumbe Island Coral Park.

There are sections on different kinds of waste, and different things you can do with them – including a fantastic, really simple, easy-to-follow guide to composting (Kiswahili).

There are also sections contributed by various Zanzibar  projects, organisations and businesses involved in recycling and education about waste (including Sustainable East Africa).

Free download of guide - Takataka katika Zanzibar - Kiswahili
Also in Kiswahili!

Congratulations to ACRA and Ulli for a phenomenal publication and essential resource for anyone doing environmental outreach in Zanzibar and thank you so much for giving me permission to make it available online here on Ecologue.

You may be wondering why am I raving so much about this book in particular? Well the thing is – an education resource is only any good if it is used. You can compile all the pertinent information in the world into the most comprehensive resource – but if nobody ever uses it, then you may as well not bother. And I love this book because I have seen first hand that people want to read it. The information is presented in an easy-to follow, simple, straightforward and relevant way, and is all about Zanzibar.

And when I gave a copy to members of the PLCI Environment Club (SEA partners) during a clean-up day recently in Vikokotoni – every time I looked, a different student was reading it.

See!

101

123

154

156

161

163

164

166

168

So what are you waiting for? Get it now!

Eco-forum now on Ecologue to share sustainable solutions

Eco-forum now on Ecologue to share sustainable solutions published on No Comments on Eco-forum now on Ecologue to share sustainable solutions

Edit: URL updated and social-media registration options now operating – apologies to anyone who encountered bugs yesterday. If there are any problems, please let me know!

I have now created a discussion forum on Ecologue, where we can share ideas and best practice in sustainability.

I have started topics on composting and sustainable seafood. But if you have a sustainable project that you are proud of and would like to share – whether it’s a rainwater catchment system, recycling bin set up, solar power system – or anything – then please let us see. I will showcase the best ideas on the blog to give you exposure.

And if you have any questions about how other people are solving a particular problem that you are stuck on, then start a conversation about it and see who can help.

There’s an extra bonus for any hotels who are working towards RTTZ (Responsible Tourism Tanzania) certification: participating an online environmental forum is one of the criteria used for evaluating eligibility for sapling-level certification, so join the conversation and tick that box.

There are few sustainability challenges experienced in Zanzibar that have not been solved already by someone, somewhere, so I hope this forum will help us avoid reinventing the wheel and enable everyone concerned about sustainability to find the solutions they need (and that work) that bit more easily.

Recycling collection point now open in Stone Town!

Recycling collection point now open in Stone Town! published on No Comments on Recycling collection point now open in Stone Town!

Did you know there is now a recycling collection point in Stone Town? Sustainable East Africa together with partners Manispaa Jamii Vikokotoni, and with funding from SMOLE / GoZ Dept Environment, have built two recycling trolleys for Vikokotoni!

So you can now take all your plastic bottles and cans to our recycling trolley outside Barclays in Darajani!

Materials collected will be upcycled locally where possible, or if unsuitable, will be sold for their scrap value to exporters to provide sustainaable funding for Vikokotoni’s community clean-up programe.

Photo: Did you know there is now a recycling collection point in Stone Town? Sustainable East Africa together with partners Manispaa Jamii Vikokotoni, and with funding from SMOLE / GoZ Dept Environment, have built two recycling trolleys for Vikokotoni!  So you can now take all your plastic bottles and cans to our recycling trolley outside Barclays in Darajani!   Materials collected will be upcycled locally where possible, or if unsuitable, will be sold for their scrap value to exporters to provide sustainaable funding for Vikokotoni's community clean-up programe.

Takataka inanua samaki wetu! Plastic waste is killing our fish – Infographic by Sustainable East Africa

Takataka inanua samaki wetu! Plastic waste is killing our fish – Infographic by Sustainable East Africa published on No Comments on Takataka inanua samaki wetu! Plastic waste is killing our fish – Infographic by Sustainable East Africa

I’ve been working on the following infographic to share as a leaflet with people and let them know the impact plastic waste can have on the fish we depend on for food and livelihoods. What do you think?!

(approximate) English translation below the graphic

Waste is killing our fish! Do you like to eat fish?Are there fishers in your family? Do you know what this is?  Fishers use plastic bait like this to catch fish. If fish eat these ... what do you think they do with these? This fish ate a plastic gun! When fish eat plastic, it blocks their stomachs and kills them! Marine and coastal litter is killing our fish! Don’t dump waste in streets or on the beach. Keep our coastal communities CLEAN! Let’s clean up Zanzibar together ... to protect our fish and fishing!
Taka taka is killing our fish!
Waste is killing our fish!
Do you like to eat fish?
Are there fishers in your family?
Do you know what this is?  Fishers use plastic bait like this to catch fish.
If fish eat these … what do you think they do with these?
This fish ate a plastic gun!
When fish eat plastic, it blocks their stomachs and kills them!
Marine and coastal litter is killing our fish!
Don’t dump waste in streets or on the beach.
Keep our coastal communities CLEAN!
Let’s clean up Zanzibar together …
to protect our fish and fishing!

 

New section on Ecologue – all about Sustainable East Africa

New section on Ecologue – all about Sustainable East Africa published on No Comments on New section on Ecologue – all about Sustainable East Africa

If you’ve been wondering what work Sustainable East Africa, the NGO I founded here in Zanzibar, is doing, you can now read all about our programme, partners and activities on Ecologue!

So to learn how waste plastic water bottles helped provide water for a rural community, how young school leavers are earning sustainable income for the first time, or how a community transformed its streets to become clean and healthy – have a look around!

Start here!

SEA around the web

Cleaning the beach with T-shirts (and other unfortunate ideas)

Cleaning the beach with T-shirts (and other unfortunate ideas) published on 5 Comments on Cleaning the beach with T-shirts (and other unfortunate ideas)

Shortly after I arrived in Zanzibar three years ago, I coordinated a training workshop for members of a fantastic local NGO, JAMABECO. They were seriously motivated and had implemented a successful environmental awareness and clean-up programme in their village of Jambiani on the east coast of Unguja, Zanzibar. Our objective in the workshop was to plan beach clean-ups in ten new communities around southern Unguja. I was very excited and felt it was going well.

I asked the participants to tell me what equipment they would need to hold the clean-ups, expecting answers like ‘gloves’, ‘bags’, ‘rakes’.

The very first answer knocked me sideways:

‘We need T-shirts.’

T-shirts?

How? What? Had they misunderstood the question? The number one thing you need to clean a beach is a T-shirt? Why on earth?

But the nodding heads around the room told me they were absolutely serious.

The problem, I came shortly to realise, was this.

Although they had carried out numerous beach clean-ups and other activities in the past – they had always had sponsorship from overseas donors to carry out the events. And donors need evidence to show how money was spent, and evidence of things done. They need visibility. Also pictures of happy African kids. Also the budget has to be spent by the end of the quarter. So let’s have a big flashy event! Lots of photos with the aid agency logo visible! What could be better than lots of people and cute happy kids in T-shirts splashed with your logo? And a clean beach! Fantastic! Everybody have a cookie!

But what happens next? Here we had a workshop full of people brimming with concern about environmental degradation, dedicated to taking action, giving up all their free time to the cause… but feeling completely unable to implement any activities to do something about it until someone would come along to pay for it.  They want nothing more than to organise clean-ups monthly, or even weekly, but they can’t afford T-shirts, so it can’t be done.

The thing is – a T-shirt is a shortcut. Poverty in Zanzibar means that people in rural villages typically subsist on less than a dollar a day. Keeping your family adequately clothed is a huge challenge, and one new t-shirt represents a few days’ income (if you even have a job). Giving out T-shirts amounts to a substantial incentive to participate. And this means no further encouragement of less tangible benefits is required, everyone will be there with bells on. Huge turnout! Job well done!

The reality is that in rural communities, people often tolerate litter and dirt because they have never been taught that there are costs. In addition (though it is slowly changing) there is essentially no waste collection service and nowhere to take it. Exactly what are people supposed to do with their rubbish except leave it on the beach?

A friend of mine who has a hotel in the same village told me a similar story. Adjacent to his beach hotel is a small patch of indigenous woodland. The community had been using it as a waste dump and causing both he and his guests some distress. To reach out to his neighbours he offered them a little money to clean the waste and take it away, and they did so with alacrity. The next day, however, he woke aghast to find the place full of rubbish again and the villagers knocking at the door, asking for money to clean it again.

It comes down to finding the right incentives. When people are poor, creating jobs seems an obvious solution. But when you examine it from an economic perspective, if you pay people (or give them T-shirts) to clean the beach, you are telling them that the resource they have which is worth something, that is valuable, is a dirty beach. Hold your big clean-up, give out T-shirts, or pay neighbours – whatever. There is no incentive whatsoever to actually keep it clean. Far better, surely, to ensure it gets dirty again quickly so people will come sooner with more T-shirts and more jobs.

And when you go away, the people like JAMABECO who do care, very much, about the state of the environment, are left feeling they can do nothing about it.

So how can we do better?

Back in my workshop, we spent the next days focussing on alternative motivation techniques. We had breakout sessions – Imagine you’re speaking to a mother, a teacher, a hotel owner – why should they care? What are the benefits of a clean beach? Forget about marine biodiversity or the baby birds starving on oceanic islands thousands of miles away. Those things matter of course, hugely, but to whom?

Keep it locally relevant. Talk to people about what actually matters to them, day-to-day.  Talk to mothers about the health of their children – if there are dirty nappies (diapers) on the beach where you are also collecting shellfish to feed your family, they’ll get sick. If fishing is your livelihood, and there is plastic in the ocean, fish will eat it, it blocks their guts and they will die. If you work in a hotel with a dirty beach, tourists will be disgusted and will leave, so support your community initiative to clean the beach, lend them wheelbarrows, buy gloves, let them wash their hands in your hotel afterwards. Breathing fumes from burning plastic increases risk of diseases like cancer and lung disease. Top tip: if you really want to pull the emotional heartstrings, stress links to impotence and infertility.

And do you know what? It worked.

The volunteer peer-to-peer educator team went out and spent the next few weeks introducing ideas of environment and sustainability into new communities, and, armed only with information about the locally-relevant dangers posed by pollution, motivated enormous participation in the clean-up events. Literally thousands of people turned out to participate, and collected several tonnes of waste, and were offered no incentive other than knowledge of why it would be worth it.

And it wasn’t a one-off: the new communities formed environment clubs, committees and NGOs themselves. Clean-ups became monthly and in one community even a weekly event.

And do you know what else happened?  A few months later JAMABECO invited me to attend a beach clean-up event in a community in the north of the island, outside the remit of our partnership and not in the budget. They were so fulfilled by the success of the new approach, so proud of themselves and empowered by their new-found skills, that they funded and organised it themselves.

Yes, this approach is more complicated, and yes, it takes longer and you’ve got all that cash that has to be spent by the end of the reporting period… But bribery-by-T-shirt as a sole-incentive fosters dependence, inhibits creativity, demotivates and disempowers. It misses the point.

As it happens, I have to admit that our project was donor-funded, so – though we kept it top secret till after our successful clean-up events – they got a T-shirt too.

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