California Subpoenas Exxon Over Plastic Pollution Allegations, Scientists Call for Cap on Plastic Production, Philippine Bank to Sell $100M in “Blue Bonds” to World Bank Group to Fight Ocean Litter, and more
May 6, 2022 – We gather news: You stay informed
1. California Subpoenas Exxon for Details on Role in Global Plastic Pollution
California’s attorney general announced an investigation into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries for allegedly overstating the role of recycling in curbing global plastic pollution and exacerbating the crisis. Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office has subpoenaed Exxon Mobil for information relating to its alleged role in allegedly deceiving the public and worsening plastics pollution. “For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis,” Bonta said. “The vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled. This first-of-its-kind investigation will examine the fossil fuel industry’s role in creating and exacerbating the plastics pollution crisis – and what laws, if any, have been broken in the process,” Bonta said. Plastics take hundreds of years to decompose, and the majority end up sitting in landfills or the ocean.
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2. Scientists Call for Cap on Production to End Plastic Pollution
Capping production of new plastics can help cut their release to the environment and yield other benefits, from boosting the value of recycled plastics to helping tackle climate change. Now, after the United Nations’ historic decision to adopt a global treaty to end plastic pollution earlier this year, governmental negotiations on the agreement begin May 30th. An international group of scientists and experts now argue for tackling the issue right at the source, by regulating, capping, and in the long term phasing out the production of new plastics. “Exponentially growing production is really the root cause of the problem, and the amounts of plastics produced thus far have already exceeded planetary boundaries,” says Bethanie Carney Almroth of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Phasing out the production of new plastics should be part of a systemic solution to end plastic pollution, experts say.
3. Largest Philippine Bank to Sell “Blue Bonds” to The World Bank Group to Fight Ocean Pollution
BDO Unibank Inc., the Philippines’ largest bank by assets, will sell bonds to help fight marine pollution and preserve clean water resources. The World Bank Group’s International Finance Corp. (IFC) will buy $100 million of the so-called “blue bonds,” the first of its kind in the Philippines. The Southeast Asian nation is the third-largest contributor to plastic leaking into the ocean, accounting for 0.75 million metric tons annually. At the same time, more than 3 million people in the country rely on unsafe and unsustainable water sources. “IFC’s investment will be key to helping BDO develop a Blue Finance Framework that will allow us to fund projects that support the country’s blue economy,” BDO Unibank Chairperson Teresita Sy-Coson said in a statement. The deal will also establish a new asset class in the Philippine debt market.
4. Researchers Examine How to Avoid Ocean Mass Extinction From Climate Warming
Climate change brings with it the increasing risk of extinction across species and systems. Marine species face particular risks related to water warming and oxygen depletion. New research quantifies global and local extinction risks in the ocean across a range of climate futures on the basis of the ecophysiological limits of diverse animal species and calibration against the fossil record. The researchers found that under business-as-usual global temperature increases, marine systems are likely to experience mass extinctions on par with past great extinctions based on ecophysiological limits alone. Polar species are at highest risk of extinction, but local biological richness declines more in the tropics. Reversing greenhouse gas emissions trends would diminish extinction risks by more than 70%, preserving marine biodiversity accumulated over the past ~50 million years of evolutionary history.
5. A Cocktail of Medications Is Contaminating the Ocean Food Chain
Evidence points to a steep drop in bonefish numbers in south Florida. Populations have fallen more than 50% over four decades, according to estimates by researchers. Pharmaceuticals may be causing the decline, as pharmaceutical exposure in south Florida’s bonefish was widespread and concerning. Of the 93 bonefish fish ecologist Dr. Jennifer Rehage and her team sampled, all tested positive for at least one pharmaceutical, including heart medications, opioids, antifungals, and antidepressants, according to the study results. In 56% of fish, researchers detected pharmaceutical quantities at levels above which they expect negative effects. One bonefish sampled in Key West tested positive for 17 pharmaceuticals – eight of them antidepressants that were up to 300 times above the human therapeutic level. The researchers also studied 125 animals that bonefish prey on. Each contained an average of 11 pharmaceutical contaminants, indicating that the contamination is not limited to bonefish.
6. National Marine Fisheries Service Moves to Protect Whitetip Shark
Wire leaders will no longer be legal around the Hawaiian archipelago after the National Marine Fisheries Service banned them to decrease accidental deaths of threatened whitetip sharks. Commercial and sport fishermen use wire leaders to ensure that predatory fish are not able to bite through the line when ensnared. “Wire leaders are difficult for sharks to bite off and free themselves and difficult for fishermen to cut from deck height as compared to alternative monofilament leaders,” the agency said in the final rule. The rule further stipulates that fishing gear must be removed from sharks before they are put back if accidentally caught during fishing operations. Getting caught in commercial fishing gear is the largest cause of whitetip shark deaths, and their fins are valuable in the international shark trade. The sharks do not reproduce rapidly, so these threats can significantly affect their population numbers.
7. New Zealand Fishing Company Proposes Ocean-Conservation Areas
Nelson, New Zealand-based fishing company Sealord is proposing that 89% of the country’s seamounts inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) be covered by conservation zones. The plan, which the company has dubbed “Seamounts Count,” would place 127 of the country’s 142 known seamounts into a conservation envelope. The proposal, according to the company, is a way to protect the seamounts without completely banning fishing near all seamounts – something that conservation activists have proposed. Sealord Chief Executive Doug Paulin said, “This breakthrough proposal strikes a balance heavily in favor of conserving seamounts, which support a dazzling array of seafloor marine life.” A complete ban, according to Paulin, would be “unnecessary and irresponsible,” and would cost jobs, export earnings, and impact the region’s food production. Conservationists, however, said fishing on all seamounts should be banned to protect the environment, Radio New Zealand reported.
8. Shark Nets Remain a Deadly Obstacle as Humpback Whales Begin East Coast Migration
Every year at this time, humpback whales migrate from the Southern Ocean to the warm waters of the Coral Sea to breed and give birth to their young. Queensland, Australia will welcome these visitors with a gauntlet of 27 gillnets meant to reduce the risk of shark bite. Even if an entangled whale is freed, they may not survive their injuries. In 2021 Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Mark Furner said that removing the shark nets during the whale migration was off the table. Humane Society International marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck said, “The Minister’s own scientific experts advised him to trial a removal of the nets during the whale migration season. Everyone knows the nets are outdated and not effective at reducing the risk of shark bite to humans. All they do is cause unnecessary injury and death to migrating whales and other precious wildlife.”
9. Costa Rican Environmentalists Ask for Endangered Shark Protection
A marine conservation group has called for defense of hammerhead, silky, and thresher shark species in Costa Rica. Specifically, they ask President Carlos Alvarado to sign a decree to prevent endangered species of sharks from being traded. This decree would guarantee their protection by categorizing them as wildlife and not commercial species. The goal of the conservation group’s petition is that endangered sharks be protected through the Wildlife Conservation Act. This law prohibits the extraction of wildlife and the export of products of species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Despite the fact that species such as the hammerhead, silky, and fox sharks are among those threatened, by means of a decree in 2017, Costa Rica decided that these animals would be commercial species protected under the Fishing Law.
10. India’s UPL Applies to Flush Toxic Pesticides into South African Sea
Indian agrochemicals manufacturer UPL Ltd has applied for permission to flush water contaminated by a toxic pesticides spill in South Africa’s city of Durban directly into the sea or the sewerage system. The municipal authorities have judged the pesticides — which were being contained in a dam that overflowed during devastating floods that struck the eastern port city recently — as being “highly toxic to the environment.” UPL “has discussed with authorities disposal by various methods (including) to sewer and or sea outfall via the municipal sewer system,” a company representative said, adding that “the entire proposal is based on the general acceptance by both the authorities and UPL that it is nonsensical” to truck 5,224 cubic meters of contaminated water to landfills. Environmental scientists are increasingly concerned about the contamination of the oceans by industrial chemicals, including pesticides, fertilizers, detergents, and petroleum products.
11. From Oil Slicks to Trawling, the Persian Gulf Is Under Pressure
Since World War II, the Persian Gulf and the surrounding countries have accounted for a significant proportion of the world’s oil production. But oil extraction in the Persian Gulf, its transportation, the pipes of the oil transfer route, etc., transmit pollutants to the sea and ultimately endanger the marine and coastal ecosystem. Over 50% of the Persian Gulf pollution is related to oil extraction, which is one of the factors that has caused all five species of sea turtles in the country to become endangered. In addition, plastics and other wastes dumped in the sea suffocate marine organisms and, over time, break down into small pieces, leaving toxic and oily substances and contaminating the food resources of marine mammals. Algal blooms are another threat. Prompt action to clean up oil spills is one of the most effective measures to help the Persian Gulf survive.
12. Major Seafood Distributor, Employees Charged With Eel Trafficking
The Justice Department has charged a major seafood distributor and eight of its employees with smuggling and conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, stemming from their trafficking in large volumes of highly imperiled eels. American Eel Depot is the largest importer and wholesale distributor of eel meat in the US. Following a crackdown on the poaching and smuggling of American eels, the defendants shifted their efforts to European eels, a species facing an even greater threat of extinction. It has been illegal since 2010 to export European eels out of any European Union country. European eels are also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) wildlife protection treaty. The indictment alleges that, over a four-year period, the defendants imported approximately 138 ocean containers full of eel meat with a market value exceeding $160 million.
13. The Discovery of Rare Skate Eggs Excites Scottish Conservationists
The white skate was once regularly seen around the UK but is now listed as a threatened species. However, two rare finds in Argyll suggest that conservation measures, including a ban on fishing or harming the species, could be helping its recovery. A white skate egg case, or “mermaid’s purse,” was discovered in Ban Phort, Danna, in Argyll Hope Spot at Easter, while another was found this week at nearby Ormsary. They have been confirmed by The Shark Trust and are two of just five to be discovered in Scottish waters since 2003. The white skate is one of the largest European skate species, reaching lengths of up to 2 meters. It lives for up to 70 years. It does not breed until it is 20 years old, making its numbers more likely to deplete, as in the past many were killed before laying eggs.
14. 6 Sea Turtle Species Endangered By Climate Change and Human Activity
Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Olive Ridley sea turtles are the six species that are currently threatened and endangered, and can be found in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic. Recent estimates place the total number of sea turtles in the wild at 6.5 million across all species, although there is variance from one to the next. Sea turtles play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem of the world’s oceans. By grazing on seagrass beds and sea sponges within coral reefs, they prevent overgrowth, which in turn improves current flows, nitrogen production, and promotes the healthy cultivation of flora and fauna. Their role as prey and predator also contributes to a robust food web. Climate change, coastal development, ocean pollution, and overfishing all threaten vulnerable and endangered sea turtle species. Still, conservation efforts and other human interventions have helped populations rebound.
15. Groups Set Traps to Reduce Plastics in North Carolina Waters
Litter traps are being placed in creeks and rivers throughout North Carolina to catch plastics washing off roadways. The statewide effort to install Trash Trouts, a device that traps litter in stormwater, is part of a growing effort to lower the amount of macroplastics and microplastics getting into waterways and, eventually, the ocean. The devices work like a metal strainer, capturing and holding trash on the surface of the water. Waterkeepers throughout the state will be monitoring the amount of trash collected and use that information to collaborate with local governments to cut down on the amount of plastics making it into the sea and curtail consumption of single-use plastics. Up to 75% of trash in the nation’s waterways comes from roadside litter. A majority of that trash is plastics that are later consumed by marine life and humans.
16. Raw Sewage Pumped into English Bathing Waters 25,000 Times in 2021
Untreated sewage was discharged into England’s coastal bathing waters for more than 160,000 hours last year, according to figures collated to mark the start of the summer sea-swimming season. Data compiled using Environment Agency figures on 2021 discharges shows that water companies released raw sewage 25,000 times into designated bathing waters off the English coast. The bathing water designations – which were created by the EU – highlight the country’s cleanest and safest waters for the public. The quality of the water is publicly identified on signs at the bathing beaches, ranging from excellent to poor. Some political parties have called for a sewage tax on water companies’ profits to be used to clean up coastlines, rivers, and lakes. Hugo Tagholm of Surfers Against Sewage said, “We demand a new decade of ambition to clean up and protect all our bathing waters and blue spaces.”
17. Nova Scotia Lobster Plant Hopes to Lead Industry in Pollution Control
Atlantic ChiCan Seafood Ltd. is working to control refuse expelled by the plant by installing screens on drains and manholes and attaching homemade pipe socks to discharge pipes that flow into the ocean. Scott Weare, the head of maintenance at the plant, sewed and installed the pipe socks from bait net and attached them to the pipes with metal clamps from a hardware store. Weare said commercial pipe socks can be expensive, but his design costs $20 per sock and 20 minutes to make. The company hopes to be a leader in the industry and inspire others to use the same methods. Since the pipe socks were installed two weeks ago, they have collected a significant amount of garbage that would have slipped past interior screens. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the agency in charge of inspecting lobster plants, has said litter is outside its scope.
18. Some Beaches Are Growing Despite Rising Sea Levels
The 1.09℃ Earth has warmed since pre-industrial times has already heightened seas by 20 centimeters. Yet research shows some coastlines and low-lying coral reef islands are actually growing rather than eroding in the face of rising sea levels. This is happening on some beaches in Queensland and New South Wales, and in Asia and Africa. It turns out the observed growth of coastlines is largely linked to the “coastal sediment budget”—the amount of sand, rocks, and other sediment moving into and out of the beach over time. In natural settings, extra sand likely arrives from either deeper sediment located on the continental shelf or from rivers. Human intervention, in the form of coastal development, also drives coastal growth. This shows just how dynamic and complex the coast is, highlighting a need for greater understanding of local coastal changes when making coastal management plans.
19. Healthy Bacteria Could Help Protect Coral Reefs from Climate Change
Seed Health, a biotech startup, is working to bring probiotics to coral reefs. In a previous study, scientists from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology tested adding beneficial bacteria to fragments of coral in aquariums, using microbes that are naturally present in healthy coral reefs. As the temperature of the water increased, the coral survived. Another group of coral that was sprayed with a placebo didn’t fare as well, with 40% suffering from bleaching, the process in which stressed coral discharge algae, a key source of nourishment. The team now needs to show that it can successfully populate coral reefs with the beneficial organisms. One approach might involve using a gel material similar to a nicotine patch to slowly deliver the probiotics to the coral. Once they have a proven approach, the team will begin a pilot test in the ocean itself.
20. One Island Nation’s Controversial Plan to Take Climate Justice Into Its Own Hands
In the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), any kind of extractive activity, including fishing, has been banned. The PNMS is larger than California and comprises 80% of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Marine protected areas (MPAs) can safeguard biodiversity and ecosystems, and they can prevent stores of seafloor carbon from being released from activities like trawling or resource extraction. But the future of the PNMS looks uncertain. The government is now considering reducing the size of the PNMS to as little as 30% of the EEZ, in an attempt to increase economic activity. Palau’s struggle highlights questions of justice that countries around the world are facing as they grapple with how to balance biodiversity protection and climate action with economic growth. Meanwhile, a global goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans means Palau is doing far more for ocean protection than most countries.
21. Companies Can Soon Start Paying the Bahamas to Store Carbon in the Ocean
One of the world’s first government-run underwater carbon offset programs is coming to the Caribbean. The Bahamas will offer “blue carbon” credits for companies internationally to offset their emissions, the country’s prime minister announced. It hopes to use the proceeds to invest in climate resilience projects. Last year, an international team of researchers found that marine habitats like seagrass meadows and mangrove forests already store up to 30 billion tons of carbon — nearly as much as the world emitted in 2021 from fossil fuel burning alone. The Bahamas’ more than 1,600 square miles of marine ecosystems are threatened by damage from hurricanes and coastal development, issues that the revenues from the carbon credit sales would help address. Carbon credits are controversial and have been criticized as a form of “greenwashing,” excusing companies and countries from actually transitioning to carbon-free energy sources.
22. Chemical Company’s ‘Under the Sea, Out of Mind’ Attitude Has Become a Ticking Time Bomb (Opinion)
Over 15 years, Montrose Chemical Company dumped an estimated 500,000 barrels of DDT and acid sludge into the ocean off the coast of Los Angeles. This is one of the most egregious cases of environmental destruction that the ocean has ever seen. Recent samples from the newly found dumping site show DDT concentrations 40 times greater than the highest contamination level at the initial Superfund site set up over 20 years ago. Over time, the barrels have deteriorated, letting the DDT seep out into the food chain and the ocean environment. Now sea lions are increasingly experiencing reproductive cancers. What’s needed now is for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies to understand the effects of DDT on ocean and human health, work together to clean up the site, and prevent any similar disaster from happening again.
23. Great Barrier Reef Management Methods at Odds With Climate Change Threats
A study into the management and attitudes of key stakeholders operating in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) region finds that past and current approaches do not adequately address climate change threats to the reef or likely losses of species, habitats, and processes. With another mass bleaching event impacting the Great Barrier Reef and a United Nations push to list the reef as ‘in danger,” current management approaches fall short of what is needed to provide the reef with any chance of remaining in good condition. “Acceptance of a future change in state in terms of system structure and function, and related changes in environmental, social, and economic values, would lead to a significant shift in the way the GBR is managed, liberating agencies and stakeholders to let go of the past and plan for the future,” said study coauthor Wade Hadwen.
24. Scientists Announce Comprehensive Regional Diagnostic of Microbial Ocean Life Using DNA Testing
Scientists used tools of genetics research akin to those used in genealogical research to evaluate the diversity of marine life off the California coast. The result is a breakthrough technique that researchers can use to diagnose conditions at the base of the ocean food web that affect the abundance of commercially important fishes or create harmful algal blooms. From the information gathered by a method called “metabarcoding,” scientists can also use so-called environmental DNA to evaluate how effectively the oceans can protect the planet from the effects of climate change. The new way of assessing ocean microbiomes vastly improves scientists’ ability to perform diagnostics on the oceans over more broad-brush methods like chlorophyll content in water. In this study, researchers used genetic information to identify the most important factors governing how many organisms are in surface waters off the California coast and their distribution.
25. Coral Reef ‘Safe Havens’ Less Vulnerable to Rising Temperatures Identified
New research shows coral reefs may be able to survive mass bleaching events and cope with rising temperatures better than previously thought, depending on other influencing factors. Results of mapping coral near Hawaii show that reefs close to heavily developed coastlines are significantly more susceptible to die-off during heat waves compared with those farther from developed areas. This is likely due to the level of pollution entering the ocean from developed locations. “This study supports Hawaii’s Holomua Marine 30×30 Initiative by not only identifying areas impacted by ocean heat waves, but also areas of refugia,” said Brian Neilson, study co-author. The Holuma Marine 30×30 project has a goal of establishing marine management areas covering 30% of Hawaii’s nearshore waters. The findings can be incorporated into management plans to help build a resilient network of reef regions and sustain Hawaii’s reefs.