April was a pretty cheerful month for the oceans, particularly for the people that were brought together at events around the world on Earth Day.
The Sustainable Oceans Summit was held at Georgetown University on Earth Day with the aim to ‘Make The Ocean Famous’. The Summit was focused on solutions more than problems, with a good helping of hope, and aimed to mainstream the importance of the ocean and hold conversations about how to protect it. There were sessions by renowned people in the field, like Dr Enric Sala, who talked about the power of No-Take Marine Reserves as a tool to help recover species that are under threat and Maggie Thompson, who talked about the power in numbers of the upcoming generations. The Summit focused on new approaches to target these younger generations, who will one day be the ones making big decisions about our impact on the planet. To do this we need to switch away from negative messaging and over-used images, instead focusing on positive and successful behaviour changes for the oceans.
The Conservation Optimism Summit, held at Dulwich College in London, was three days of optimistic conservation energy, hearing from inspirational people working in conservation and sharing their successes. The focus on what works was strong, as platforms such as PANORAMA were shared, where conservationists can record the ‘building blocks’ of their success. One of the key messages, was that anyone can call themselves a ‘conservationist’. You don’t need to have a science degree, a lab coat or a passion for a certain type of starfish. You just have to recognise that there are issues with how we’re managing our resources and our impact on the oceans, and that we need to take steps to do a better job. It’s all about believing in the need for change, and in our ability to do so. Read more on my thoughts about the Summit here.
Turning waste plastic into roads
A small Scottish start-up is working to revolutionise the way we dispose of plastic, and the way we make roads. At the same time. Toby McCartney has developed a process where waste plastic is transformed into pellets, that are mixed with quarried rock and bitumen and then used to make road surfacing. McCartney says that the plastic approach is longer-lasting, stronger and makes fewer potholes than conventional roads. He also turns industrial farm waste that would normally be incinerated or sent to landfill, two enormously polluting processes, into pellets instead. These pellets are integrated into the process just the same as waste plastic bottles, and then laid to make road surfaces. Cumbria Council are already trying it, using their local waste plastic to resurface their local roads. It seems like a way better idea to be using waste plastic to create the huge amounts of new road surface that we need every year, rather than continually extracting more and more oil to do the same thing.
Plastic breakdown, powered by caterpillars
One of the reasons plastic is so great, is also its main downfall. Plastic is strong and malleable, and for this reason a plastic bottle will outlive us by hundreds of years, yet we probably only use it for a few hours at most. So as we continue to buy and throw away plastic, it never actually goes away, it just piles up in landfill and in the sea. A small amount is recycled, but not enough to balance out what we produce. However, a breakthrough has happened in the shape of a caterpillar. The larvae of a wax moth can munch through a piece of plastic in 30 minutes, and scientists have worked out that it’s the enzyme that the caterpillars use to break down and digest beeswax, which also helps them digest plastic bags. Scientists think that this could be a way to help break down the mountains of plastic sat in landfill sites, but there is some way to go with the research to see how it might work in the long term.
Bioplastic coffee cups
Bioplastic coffee cups have been engineered so that now your coffee can be totally compostable. Bioplastic looks and behaves like normal plastic, but in fact it’s made from plant materials so it can go out to be composted with your food waste and breaks down back into the soil. In the UK we drink about 8 million takeaway coffees every day, which adds up to a vast amount of plastic waste that ends up on the streets, in landfill or in the sea. So the invention of these fully compostable coffee cups, if they can be rolled out on a wide scale into coffee shops nationwide, will help cut this mountain of waste down to size.
Sea otters bounce back
Sea otter numbers are bouncing back in Glacier Bay, Alaska, having been decimated for 250 years because of intense hunting for the fur trade. It wasn’t looking good for sea otter populations for a while, but then they popped up again in 1988, thriving off the rich marine resources that the retreating glacier had exposed in the Bay as it melted. Recently a study has been released which shows that the sea otter population in Glacier Bay grew 21% per year between 1993 and 2012. The great news is that this shows that the abundance of natural resources, and the sustainable management of the area as a Marine Protected Area, is helping to bring threatened populations back to a healthy state.
Cover photo by Tashiana Photography