Tackling the oceans' pollutions Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 June 2010 10:53
Researcher Marcus Eriksen, left, checks a plastic bucket with a trigger fish trapped inside after finding it floating in the Sargasso Sea, north Atlantic ocean, as fellow researcher Anna Cummins reacts.

Source: Royal Gazette - June 8, 2010

Today is World Oceans Day and Bermuda, as an island, has reason to mark the day.

Just as some cultures have a lot of different words for snow, Bermudians have a lot of different expressions for the state of the ocean. The sea is choppy, rough, calm, like glass. It has white caps.

Here's another word to describe the ocean: crisis.

In recent years scientists have become increasingly concerned about the state of the world's oceans and one of the biggest threats to the ocean is pollution.

Throw a piece of plastic trash into the ocean and it stays there, forever. Plastic does not biodegrade in the ocean and on land it breaks down over a period of thousands of years.

In the Atlantic Ocean there is a swirling pile of trash known as a "gyre" that stretches for miles, between Bermuda and the Azores Islands.The pile has been brought together by the ocean currents and contains billions of bits of plastic broken down into small pieces.

In this Feb. 15, 2010 photo released by 5 Gyres, a coastal area of the Azores Islands in Portugal, is shown littered with plastic garbage. Researchers are warning of a new blight on the North Atlantic ocean: a swirl of confetti-like plastic bits, bottle caps and other refuse stretching for thousands of square miles. (AP Photo/5 Gyres)

This trash is said to kill 100,000 marine animals and seabirds every year and scientists often find plastic bags, bottle tops and polystyrene foam from fast food in the stomachs of dead dolphins and turtles.

Bonnie Monteleone, a graduate student from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, recently visited Bermuda during a scientific study on the Atlantic Ocean Ocean Gyre. She spent more than a month at sea with marine scientists poking about in the ocean's garbage.

Ms Monteleone described what she saw as "shocking". On every trawl of the ocean the scientific team pulled up not just small bits of plastic but also pieces large enough to be navigational hazards. They found everything from toilet seats to a radar unit with motor attached.

For years, scientists worried about the effects of global warming on Bermuda's coral reefs. Corals are very picky about the water temperature necessary to thrive and Bermuda's corals are some of the most northerly in the world.

Dr. Nick Bates, a scientist at BIOS, has predicted that the world's climate could shift as much as five degrees in the near future, if world leaders don't soon get a grip on climate change.

This would cause widespread marine disaster, cause parts of Africa to dry out even more, and with the loss of fish stocks would cause widespread world hunger, among other things.

Scientists also think that ocean acidification might be a huge threat to the world's oceans.

The ocean is naturally slightly alkaline, but scientists now have direct evidence that the huge volume of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is changing the chemistry of the ocean.

The Foraminifera Homotrema Rubrum, which gives the blush to Bermuda beaches, is one of the many ocean organisms, that scientists think will be badly affected by rising pH levels in the ocean.

"There are a lot of organisms effected by rising pH levels in the ocean," said BIOS scientist Dr. Andreas Andersson in an earlier interview with The Royal Gazette. "The crustose coralline algae, for example, is incredibly important. They are quite vulnerable.

"They also produce this mineral phase that is more soluble than what the corals produce.

They cue the coral larvae to settle. Less of this algae cover may mean less coral larvae settling and building the coral community.

"We have experimental evidence that suggests that these guys cannot recruit and settle down when the acid levels of the ocean rise," said Dr. Andersson.

And there is already data to suggest that over the next century, Bermuda will see about a 30 percent decrease in the growth rate of new corals.

But the good news is that Bermuda's corals are actually in a better state than in many other countries and this is partly thanks to Bermuda's progressive marine laws that protect the ocean.

In a report by Dr. Ross Jones written in 2004 entitled: "The Coral Reef Crisis: Protecting Bermuda's Marine Ecology"., Dr. Jones wrote: "Fortunately, our coral reef research to date has shown that Bermuda's reefs have fared well in the last decade when compared to the degradation reported throughout the rest of the world and in spite of four known bleaching events off Bermuda in the last 30 years.

"For example, monitoring at sites on the northern rim reefs has indicated no change in hard coral cover since 1992."

One thing that ordinary people can do for the ocean is is reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

"We bring everything into Bermuda," added Dr. Bates. "Perhaps if everyone grew a few vegetables in their garden that would be one less trip the container ships had to make to Bermuda.

"Bermuda can try and diversify energy production. The government is already pretty cognizant of that and are trying to diversify. But we are always going to be pretty energy hungry."

■ To learn more about World Oceans Day go to http://www.theoceanproject.org

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