Reasons To Be Cheerful #9

Ocean Optimism

Featuring plastic, policy, coke bottles and tuna tins, here’s a quick rundown of some great stuff that happened for the sea in February.

UN launches ‘Clean Seas’ to combat global marine plastic pollution

An exciting new UN campaign has just launched to tackle marine plastic on a global scale. The UN ‘Clean Seas’ programme is encouraging governments, industries and consumers to step up and tackle marine plastic pollution. The campaign is focusing on getting governments on board with making ocean-friendly policy changes, getting industries to clean up or reduce their packaging production and tackling the throwaway society mindset we often have as consumers. Computer giant Dell is taking action under the ‘Clean Seas’ campaign. Starting in April 2017, they’re going to be incorporating ocean plastics in with other plastics to make packaging trays for their laptops. There are already 10 countries signed up to the Clean Seas campaign, and they’re making big changes to the way they do all things plastic. Indonesia has pledged up to $1 billion per year to drastically cut down on marine plastic pollution. They’re aiming for a massive 70% reduction in marine waste in 8 years – a super ambitious target but a great one to have.

Delhi bans single-use plastic

The National Green Tribunal of India has banned single-use plastics in Delhi. This is huge news because it’s thought that India is one of the biggest marine plastic polluters in the world, and so creating a ban on wasteful single-use plastic in the area will help to stem the pollution pile-up. Often plastic ends up in landfill and is burnt, giving off harmful gases, so the less plastic that is discarded in Delhi in the future, the fewer gases will be released into the atmosphere causing air pollution. Prevention is better than cure in the case of marine plastic, and this move to ban highly wasteful and environmentally-damaging single-use plastics will hopefully be a real step forward in the mission to curb marine plastic to combat marine and air pollution.

Coca-Cola show the oceans some love

There’s great news from the drinks industry this month as Coca-Cola have said that they now support the idea of a well-managed Deposit Return Scheme for their drinks bottles. As such a huge name in the drinks world, and therefore a huge producer of single-use plastic, this change of heart by the company has the potential to have a really positive impact on the oceans. Deposit Return Schemes work on the basis that you pay a bit more when you buy a plastic bottle, but then if you return it to a designated place then you get that money back.  It’s hoped that it’ll increase the amount of bottles that are recycled and so reduce the amount of bottles that are littered, often ending up at sea.

 Let’s talk tuna

The Co-op have changed up their tuna sourcing policies, by raising the level of certification that they require for their own-brand pole and line sourced tuna. Their own-brand tuna now must come from either a Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery (a well-managed and sustainable one), or a fishery that is part of a fisheries improvement project (FIP) (one that doesn’t quite meet the targets, but is well on the way). What’s particularly great is that the Co-op are using this opportunity to widen their sourcing policies to encourage suppliers of tinned tuna to up their sustainability. Co-op have said that they will stock Princes and John West tuna in their stores, two brands who are known for being some of the least sustainable tuna suppliers, but only if their tuna is sourced from fisheries improvement projects before the end of 2017. So they’re incentivising the brands to up their game and take steps to ensure that their tuna fisheries are sustainable, which is good for business but even better for the tuna.

 Waitrose is also imposing sustainability deadlines on their suppliers, and making tuna-friendly policy changes to make sure that only pole and line caught, or MSC certified tuna is given shelf space by the end of 2017.

Step up for the sea in 2017

Step Up For The Sea

We all know that ‘New Year’s resolutions’ don’t always last, so why not step up for the sea and think of these as lifestyle changes for the oceans instead. They’re just ideas and you don’t have to adopt them all, but remember that all the little things add up.

Tackle our plastic overload

  • Say no to straws.
  • Don’t buy plastic bags.
  • Go plastic free.

Awesome map of ways to cut down on plastic use in daily life. Source. 

Spread the word

  • Tell more people about ocean issues and start conversations. Talk to people, post photos, share stories and watch films.
  • Sign petitions for issues you care about, it really can help.

Distance yourself from the ugly side of the beauty industry

  • Check your skincare/beauty products for microbeads and stop using those that do. You can check here.
  • Switch from disposable face wipes to cotton flannels. Read why here.

Great illustration of the links between us and microplastics in the sea. Source – Beat the Microbead


Don’t fall for convenience

  • Don’t buy overpackaged stuff, especially food.
  • Bring your own takeaway cup to coffee shops, it’s cheaper too.
  • Don’t get takeaway lids.

Nope. Source

Change your diet for the sea

  • Choose sustainable fish. Get the Good Fish Guide app and always check that your choice is sustainable before you buy.
  • Eat less meat and fish.
  • Try out the veggie/vegan life.

The totally invaluable Good Fish Guide – download the app here

Reasons to be cheerful #6

Ocean Optimism

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 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.

Reasons to be cheerful #3

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

There are a lot of positive people out there who are stepping up for the sea and making changes to protect it. Here are a few reasons to be cheerful about the state of the ocean from the last month.

Ikea goes circular

Our society is pretty wasteful, but Ikea are taking a step towards tackling this by creating a ‘Circular Ikea’. The idea is that new products made of recycled materials will be integrated into their range, and existing products will be able to be repaired and recycled. Everyone loves Ikea so it’s great that they’re flagging up how we’ve reached ‘peak home furnishings’, and they’re a powerhouse in their field so it’s time for other companies to follow on. The more we recycle, the less plastic will find its way into the sea.

5p plastic bags success

It looks like the plastic bag charge is working for the sea. Some estimates have been made and scaled up, and it looks like, if we carry on using bags at the same rate as we did in the first six months after the 5p charge came in in England, then usage will have dropped by 83% from the 2014 figure of 7.64 billion plastic bags. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all saw reductions of between 70-80% in bag usage in the first year after the charge was brought in. So good news, everyone keep doing what you’re doing – it’s going well.

Talking about polystyrene

People are making noise about needing to ban polystyrene because of the impact it has on the ocean. It takes hundreds of years to decompose, leaks carcinogenic chemicals into water bodies and can cause choking and starvation in marine life. Wales was the first country in the UK to charge for plastic bags, and this move was driven by the consumers. Now environmentally conscious shoppers are concerned about the amount of single use polystyrene and they’re calling for a ban for polystyrene fast food containers. Looking at the success of the plastic bag charge, this one is definitely worth pursuing.

The next UNESCO World Heritage Sites might include the deep sea

At the moment the deep oceans are barely protected. To be honest, we don’t even know much about what’s down there to protect. However, there’s talk that the next UNESCO World Heritage Sites may include deep ocean habitats. This would be a massive deal. It would mean the importance of the deep sea and high seas is being recognised, but it would also be a positive step towards the protection of deep sea species and important breeding grounds from damaging human activities.

RePlast – building blocks from ocean plastic

Once plastic has found its way into the ocean it’s notoriously difficult to remove, but some people are finding a way. Gregor Gomory created RePlast, building blocks made of compressed marine plastic that don’t need any glue. The plan is to use them as an alternative building material for low-cost housing. They help to reuse existing plastic, they’ve got a low carbon footprint and they’re a good incentive to chase marine plastic and extract it. Good for people and good for the sea.

Five projects turning marine debris into cool stuff

Ocean Optimism

As I’ve mentioned in posts before, far too much plastic and other debris currently ends up in the oceans. It’s damaging to the marine environment in lots of ways, but hopefully you knew that already.

There are lots of projects out there which are tackling the problem, by gathering plastic from the oceans and turning it into useful products which also raise awareness of the impacts of marine plastic pollution. Here are just a few.

RAW for the Oceans – denim made from ocean plastic

Pharrell Williams has co-designed a denim collection made from Bionic Yarn, using plastic collected from the oceans.  It’s broken down into fibres, combined with cotton and spun into yarn which is then used to create the denim. See the collection here.

Adidas trainers


Adidas shoes made using recycled plastic fishing nets Source:

Adidas have been working on a prototype trainer with Parley for the Oceans which incorporates recycled fishing net fibres into the design. It looks like these specific ones might not be available to buy, but Adidas are looking to incorporate more recycled plastic into their designs in the future.

ZSL ‘Net-Works’

Net-Works-a-business-students-perspective-620x330 net-works-philippines-weighing-nets

Net-Works is a project initiated and supported by the Zoological Society of London which turns discarded fishing nets into carpet tiles. This is a way in which local fishermen can earn money from old nets which they would otherwise have discarded for nothing, and creates a practical use for discarded nets which are clogging up the sea. The money benefits the local community and local marine environment becomes less polluted.

Aurora Robson – meaningful art from marine debris


Aurora Robson: Kamilo, 2011.

Aurora Robson is the an artist who uses marine plastic debris to create dramatic sculptures which highlight the vast amount of litter which exists in our seas. Other artists such as Mandy Barker have also been very successful in exploring ways to represent the pressure that the ocean is under from marine debris through striking photography. You can check her work out here.

Ecover Ocean Plastic Project


Ecover have been working with fishermen to create a pathway for ocean plastic to become recycled plastic bottles containing, so far, 10% ocean plastic. Ecover commissioned fishermen to trawl for plastics, and then these were cleaned, processed and recycled into washing up liquid bottles.

5p plastic bag charge – for the oceans

Marine Pollution, Step Up For The Sea

As of today, you’ll have to pay 5p for a bag in most shops, and people, including me, will probably grumble about it at some point when they get to the checkout and realise they have no bags. The papers have pushed the importance of reducing the 8.5 billion plastic bags that were given out last year, but not many have linked the impact of these 8+ billion bags to the environment, particularly the oceans. I think it’s important to be clear why this is a great move for conservation, even if it might be a bit annoying sometimes when you’re in a rush.

Here’s a reminder of just some of the damage that plastic does to the oceans.

Entanglements and ingestion

Marine life of all kinds regularly gets caught up in plastic bags, meaning they can’t open their mouths to feed or swim properly. Plastic takes such a long time to degrade that juvenile turtles and other marine life can get caught in plastic bags and packaging, and as they grow larger the plastic will restrict their growth.

Seabirds, fish and marine mammals can also ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. Scientists have dissected some individuals to find their stomachs full of plastic, indicating that they starved to death, or choked on the plastic.

Floating rubbish dumps

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 13.31.02

Pacific Trash Vortex by NatGeo Education

When ocean currents meet they swirl together in gyres, and so does anything that they are transporting. The Pacific Trash Vortex is one such area where the vast amounts of plastic and other marine debris which is being carried is forced together to form mats of plastic on the surface. Smaller fragments are also suspended in the water column and a huge heap can form on the seabed.


It’s well known that plastics take a long time to biodegrade. As they do they break down into smaller and smaller fragments and  are often too small to be seen. Some plastics also reach the ocean in tiny form, such as the microbeads which are often used in cosmetics. Even tiny marine organisms such as zooplankton have been observed ingesting microplastics, indicating that it really has impacted all aspects of the oceans.


Zooplankton which has ingested microplastic fragments (in green)

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA

So this is why reducing plastic bags is so important, and the 5p charge is a step in the right direction. Cutting down on plastic bags by using bags we’ve already got is a way that we can help slow down the rate at which we are rapidly clogging up and poisoning the oceans.