November has been a bit of a turbulent one for the conservation world, but it’s important to remember that there is a lot of good stuff going on and a lot of positive, passionate conservationists out there who will continue to do their thing. So here are some of the reasons to be cheerful about the state of the oceans this month.
$1.5 billion additional funding for Canadian Ocean Protection Plan
Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged $1.5 billion to the Canadian Ocean Protection Plan, to fund improvements in marine management along the Canadian coastline. The idea is to improve marine safety and help the recovery of fragile marine ecosystems. Oil spills have recently affected the Canadian coastline, and so some of this funding will be used to research how best to deal with oil spills to minimise the environmental damage. With such a long and busy coastline, it’s really important that Canada has the resources available to be able to manage it effectively, and this funding will be a welcome boost.
President Obama bans new oil drilling in Arctic for 5 years
New offshore oil drilling has been banned in the Arctic between 2017 and 2022, and existing leases won’t be able to be renewed. This is big news for two reasons. Firstly, the Arctic has large oil reserves and extracting and burning these means that we will be adding to our fossil fuel emissions, therefore speeding up the onset of climate change. If we don’t extract it then we can’t burn it. Secondly, the Arctic is an ecologically fragile area, and drilling for oil comes with the constant risk of oil spills and damage to the sea bed. So now that drilling for oil will be banned in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, these areas will remain healthy and therefore help to build up resistance to climate change. Drilling will still be allowed in some areas that have the ‘highest resource potential, lowest conflict and established infrastructure’. Even so, President Obama’s decision to limit drilling activity is definitely a positive step forward for climate change mitigation and the protection of the Arctic marine environment.
5p charge leads to 40% drop in plastic bag use
It’s estimated that more than 7 billion plastic bags were given out by big supermarkets in England in 2014. That’s an insane amount of single-use plastic, and we see the problems it causes all the time in cities, waterways and the open oceans. The great news is that single use plastic bag use is down 40% in England as a result of the 5p charge. The number of plastic bags given out dropped to 600 million in the first 6 months after the ban, and now Defra estimates that we’ve used 85% fewer plastic bags than last year. This is a brilliant success, and just shows what a positive change a small charge on widely available and environmentally damaging products can make.
California is first US state to ban plastic bags
California has become the first US state to ban single use plastic bags. There were already some local bag bans within the state, but this new ban that was voted for by a referendum on November 8th is statewide. The win was pretty narrow, 51.97% to 48.03%, but now it has passed it’s hoped that this ban will cut down on the amount of single use plastic given out in the state, and that it might encourage other states to follow suit. We’re starting to see evidence that a charge on bags is working in England, so hopefully a ban in California will be even more effective.
Signs of success with coral reef transplanting
Coral reefs are in need of a helping hand, and research into advanced restoration approaches is underway, potentially offering a ‘glimmer of light’ for damaged reefs. As global ocean temperatures are rising, it’s becoming too warm for some corals and they become stressed or bleached. This is a huge problem affecting reefs worldwide. However, a solution is on the horizon, and scientists are developing programmes where small pieces of healthy coral are transplanted into a new area, helping to form the base of a new reef in the future. Studies in Florida are showing potential for this transplanting approach in the future, where coral microfragments that were planted 3 years ago are now 6 to 8 times larger and are starting to fuse together. Another transplanted reef in Japan has developed far further and has been seen to spawn, the natural way in which reefs replenish themselves. This is heartening as it shows we might be able to manually replenish struggling reef systems, and then with time they will continue to look after themselves. Plenty more research is needed, but microfragmentation could offer hope to struggling reefs in the future.