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Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean, After All -- And Fast

Planet Earth

Carolyn Barry

for National Geographic News

August 20, 2009

 

Though ocean-borne plastic trash has a reputation as an indestructible, immortal environmental villain, scientists announced yesterday that some plastics actually decompose rapidly in the ocean. And, the researchers say, that's not a good thing.

The team's new study is the first to show that degrading plastics are leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A into the seas, possibly threatening ocean animals, and us.

Scientists had previously thought plastics broke down only at very high temperatures and over hundreds of years.

The researchers behind a new study, however, found that plastic breaks down at cooler temperatures than expected, and within a year of the trash hitting the water.

The Japan-based team collected samples in waters from the U.S., Europe, India, Japan, and elsewhere, lead researcher Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy at Nihon University in Japan, said via email.

All the water samples were found to contain derivatives of polystyrene, a common plastic used in disposable cutlery, Styrofoam, and DVD cases, among other things, said Saido, who presented the findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., today.

Plastic, he said, should be considered a new source of chemical pollution in the ocean.

 

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 Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean, After All -- And Fast



 

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We Must Save the Living Environment

Planet Earth

E. O. Wilson: We must save the living environment

Saving Earth's biodiversity will take nothing less than an IPCC for species, says the world's leading biologist and ant guru.

What's this idea all about?

It sounds immodest but I call it Wilson's law. It says that if you save the living environment, you will automatically save the physical environment. But if you only try to save the physical environment, you will lose them both. That is a defensible law.

So we need a major rethink?

When we talk about the world going green, the media and the public think of pollution or fresh-water shortage. They understand, and want to do something. But that is the physical world; concern for the living environment has been slow to take off, as Julia Marton-Lefèvre, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), will agree. We are not making the headway we should be in preventing the destruction of ecosystems and species. I have written book after book arguing that if we don't start caring about holding onto them, we will have big problems - some unforeseeable. Most Americans have only the vaguest notion about any of that, even though they can talk intelligently about climate change. Yet when it comes to the living world they are in danger of losing something they scarcely understand.

 

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We must Save the Living Environment

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Robson Bight update: Good News

Planet EarthApril 19, 2008

Robson Bight update:
Good news!

Hello everyone,

We have good news. Yesterday, British Columbia’s Environment Minister Barry Penner announced that Canada’s federal government will cooperate with the province in removing the diesel fuel tanker now lying underwater in the Ecological Reserve at Robson Bight. Though no definite timing was stated, subsequent comments by Minister Penner clearly indicated that officials are aware that the northern resident orcas are expected to return by early summer.

The decision represents real progress on an issue that should have impelled immediate action of the part of governments. The aftermath of the August 20th accident saw a smoke & mirrors dance (“no problem”) that delayed inspection of the wreckage, and then, once the dire situation had been dramatically revealed in underwater imagery, we were treated with stalling instead of planning. It took considerable effort from the public side to convince our governments to do an underwater inspection of the wreckage in the first instance, and then even more effort to convince them to do what was obvious from the outset. Now, finally, we have a decision, but is it in time?

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Danger Still Lurks Below for Robson Bight Orcas

Planet Earth


March 27, 2008
Robson Bight update : Waiting, waiting …

 

... the diesel might remain inside the tanker, or it might not. If it is released when orcas are present, the result could be catastrophic. - Dr. Paul Spong



When a barge dangerously laden with logging equipment, including a tanker truck of diesel fuel, spilled its load in the heart of the world’s best known orca habitat – the Ecological Reserve at Robson Bight - last August 20th, 2007,  whale lovers were outraged, environmentalists dismayed, the public alerted, and even the oil industry took note.



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US judge reinstates sonar curbs

Planet EarthA judge has ruled that the US Navy must adhere to a curb on the use of strong sonar in waters off California, amid concerns about its effect on whales.

Judge Florence-Marie Cooper overturned an exemption granted last month by President George W Bush.

He had cited national security when he ordered the Navy's submarine detection exercises should go on.

Conservationists hailed the judge's ruling. It is the latest in a series of disputes over the Navy's use of sonar.

Environmental campaign groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRCD) say whale strandings and deaths are associated with sonar blasts, which are also thought to damage the brains and ears of marine mammals.

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