Life beneath the Arctic ice Is chock-Full of microplastics

Picture a raft of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, and you’re probably imagining a pristine marriage of white and blue. But during summertime, below the surface, something much greener and goopier lurks. A type of algae, Melosira arctica, grows in large, dangling masses and curtains that cling to the underside of Arctic sea ice, mostly obscured from a bird’s eye view.The algae, made up of long strings and clumps of single-celled organisms called diatoms, is an essential player in the polar ecosystem. It’s food for zooplankton, which in turn nourish everything from fish to birds to seals to whales — either directly or through an indirect, upwards cascade along the Pac-Man-esque chain of life. In the deep ocean, benthic critters also rely on making meals out of blobs of sunken algae. By one assessment, M. arctica accounted for about 45% of Arctic primary production in 2012. In short: the algae supports the entire food web.But in the hidden, slimy world of under-ice scum, something else is abundant: microplastics. Researchers have documented alarmingly high concentrations of teeny tiny plastic particles inside samples of M. arctica, according to a new study published Friday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The work adds to the growing body of evidence that microplastics are truly everywhere: in freshly fallen Antarctic snow, the air, baby poop, our blood — everywhere.

All 12 samples of algae the scientists collected from ice floes contained microplastics. In total, they counted about 400 individual plastic bits in the algae they examined. Extrapolating that to a concentration by volume, the researchers estimate that every cubic metre of M. arctica contains 31,000 microplastic particles — greater that 10 times the concentration they detected in the surrounding sea water. It could be bad news for the algae, the organisms that rely on it, and even the climate.Though microplastics are seemingly ubiquitous, the findings were still doubly surprising to Melanie Bergmann, the lead study author and a biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. In an email, she told Gizmodo she hadn’t expected to document such high levels of microplastics in M. arctica, nor for those concentrations to be so much higher than what was in the water. But in retrospect, the gummy nature of the algae probably explains it.Sea ice itself contains a lot of microplasitcs (up to millions of particles per cubic metre, depending on location, according to earlier research Bergmann worked on). Sea ice both sequesters plastic from the ocean through its freeze/melt cycle and collects the pollution from above as it is deposited by wind currents. In turn, that sea ice contamination likely trickles down to the algae. “When the sea ice melts in spring, microplastic probably becomes trapped [by] their sticky surface,” Bergmann hypothesizes. And both ice floes and their attached algal masses move around, scooping up plastic particles as they follow ocean currents.

Within the Arctic marine ecosystem, previous research has found the highest levels of microplastics in seafloor sediments, the biologist further explained. The algae cycle may explain a large part of those plastic deposits. By getting trapped in a gunky web of M. arctica filaments, the minuscule bits of manmade trash are actually hitching an express ride to the bottom of the ocean. Large chunks of algae sink much faster than tiny bits of debris on their own, which are more likely to remain suspended in the water column. So, on the bright side, the new study solves something of a mystery. But the benefit of novel knowledge may be the only silver lining here.Because the algae is the scaffolding of an Arctic food web, everything that eats it (or eats something that eats it) is almost certainly ingesting all of the plastic bits contained within. The health impacts of microplastics aren’t yet well established, but some early studies suggest they’re probably not good for people or wildlife. In this way, M. arctica’s sticky affinity for plastic could be slowly poisoning the entire ecosystem.

Then, there’s the way the pollution could be hurting the algae itself. Laboratory experiments of other algal species have shown that microplastics can hinder an organism’s ability to photosynthesize and damage algal cells. “We don’t yet know how widely this occurs amongst different algae and if this also affects ice algae,” said Bergmann; the impact of microplastics seems to vary a lot by species, she added.But in the era of climate change, any additional stress on already rapidly changing Arctic systems is unwelcome. And, if algae is indeed less able to photosynthesize when it’s stuffed with plastic, then it’s also less able to sequester carbon and less able to mitigate climate change — a small but potentially significant Arctic feedback loop, she explained.For now, all of this is still a question mark. More research is needed to understand how microplastics travel through the food web and what they do to the organisms that ingest them (Bergmann is hoping to conduct future studies specifically on the deep-sea creatures living among the plastic-inundated sediments). But if scientific experiments don’t soon reveal the consequences of our plastic dependence, time probably will. “As microplastic concentrations are increasing, we will see an increase in its effects. In certain areas or species, we may cross critical thresholds,” Bergmann said. “Some scientists think that we have already.”

How long you can use your vintage Tupperware and other plastic food storage products

Sign up for CNN’s Adulthood, But Better newsletter series. Our seven-part guide has tips to help you make more informed decisions around personal finance, career, wellness and personal connections.


Since Tupperware, the iconic kitchen brand that’s been a household name for decades, signaled recently that it might be going out of business, you might be wondering how long your stash of its food storage containers is safe to use — especially if it’s vintage.

Figuring out the answer to that question for any type of reusable plastic food storage products — not just Tupperware — often comes down to understanding what they’re made of. Bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, is a chemical that, according to the United States Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, has been used for years in the production of certain plastics to make them more durable and shatter-resistant. Unfortunately, it can also make them potential health hazards.

circa 1950: A woman holds three Tupperware containers while standing in front of a group of women seated in a living room during a Tupperware party. Some of the women wear hats made from the plastic containers. A table in the foreground displays a range of the company’s products.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

So this is how the Tupperware party ends

In human studies, BPA exposure has been associated with a higher risk of a wide range of health conditions or issues, such as infertility, altered fetal growth of the fetus, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and aggression among children, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis and heart disease, said Laura Vandenberg, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

New shark-inspired robot can help tackle water pollution

LONDON (WSVN) — A new robot inspired by sharks that eat just about anything, is making waves in the fight against ocean pollution.The autonomous “Waste Shark” is designed to collect trash, debris, and biomass from the surface of city waters. Creator Richard Hardiman explained that the device measures water quality by analyzing parameters such as turbidity, salinity, temperature, PH balance, and water depth.London’s River Thames has a Waste Shark hard at work and is reportedly capable of clearing the equivalent of more than 22,000 plastic bottles a day. Data collected by the United Nations revealed 85% of marine litter is some form of plastic and predictions indicated that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean could outweigh all the fish.The Waste Shark’s ability to stop trash before it reaches the ocean could make a significant impact in reducing this pollution. According to Hardiman, the device can travel up to three miles before it needs to be recharged and can collect more than 1,000 pounds of trash before it needs to be emptied.“Once you empty it, you can put it back in,” he said. “It’s got batteries inside it so, it’s purely electric.”While each machine costs approximately $25,000, the investment could prove valuable in improving water quality and reducing the impact of plastic waste on our oceans.
Copyright 2023 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox

Op-ed: Why is the chemical industry pitting public health against economic growth?

Recent reporting on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposed rules that would restrict or ban an array of toxic chemicals used in industrial manufacturing presented the regulation as a ‘tough choice’ for a White House seeking to balance its economic agenda and public health.

The “public health vs economic growth” framing is unhelpful and demonstrably false. The only “tough choice” to be made is whether to stick with an outdated and toxic model that benefits a few regressive companies or to focus on innovation in chemistry that catches up to our competitors abroad and saves on American medical bills to boot.

To understand why, let’s tally the costs of continuing business as usual. A report just published on March 21 in the Annals of Global Health estimates that in 2015 the health-related costs of plastic production – the single most common use of industrial chemical manufacturing today – exceeded $250 billion globally. And, in the U.S. alone, the annual health costs of disease and disability caused by four industrial chemicals – PBDE, BPA, DEHP and PFAS – approach a staggering $1 trillion. Considering that there are more than 86,000 industrial chemicals in circulation, it seems likely that the actual health costs are much, much higher.

A growing emerging body of research supports those seemingly astronomical estimates. A 2015 study published by the Lancet Group estimated that the cost of disease mediated by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the U.S. could exceed $340 billion annually. A 2022 cohort study used historical data to link phthalate exposure in the US to roughly 100,000 premature deaths and a resulting $40 billion in societal costs annually.

There are serious climate risks too. A 2022 study from Lund University in Sweden found that petrochemicals are responsible for a tenth of global greenhouse gas emissions when researchers evaluate their full lifecycle, which might include everything from a fracking well in Pennsylvania to a raft of Styrofoam disintegrating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. More recently, the Minderoo Foundation published an analysis showing that cradle-to-grave greenhouse gas emissions from plastics alone – a subset of total petrochemical use – were roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of Russia.
Critically, the plastics and petrochemicals industry has known about the health-harming effects of its products for decades. In the 1970s, research by 3M scientists showed conclusively that compounds in the PFAS forever chemical family bioaccumulate in the human body and pose significant health risks. Yet rather than remove the chemicals from use and develop safe alternatives, the industry doubled down on defending their products, resulting in the universal PFAS contamination that can be found in every American and every American community today.

EPA’s oversight is important

EPA Administrator Michael Regan.Credit: Mecklenburg County/flickrStatus quo chemistry is costing us money and shortening our lives. To make matters worse it’s also standing in the way of necessary innovation and likely impairing economic growth. By not incorporating the cost of health and environmental harms of petrochemical production and use, the existing industry enjoys an artificially low cost of doing business, thus hindering new researchers and companies seeking to develop healthier, more sustainable chemical products.The European Union (EU) has found an approach that could translate. Europe is pursuing a “Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability” roadmap that puts innovation at its core while strengthening the concept of “no data, no market.” This can only be achieved by testing the chemicals before they enter the market with the best of today’s biomedical science, including tests for endocrine disruption.The European approach centered on safer solutions is already in action at the state level in the U.S. – from Maine to Washington state. Corporations are taking the lead as well, enacting ever more stringent chemical policies to protect their workers and customers. Related: The Titans of Plastic The EPA’s oversight is important. So is preventing the U.S. petrochemical industry from expanding with a new generation of toxic projects that will extend the health-harming and economy-stifling status quo for decades. Many of these projects are located in disadvantaged communities that are already severely polluted – places like the Gulf Coast of Texas, “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, and the Ohio River Valley. That’s why Michael Bloomberg recently launched a new campaign, Beyond Petrochemicals: People Over Pollution, that will block the expansion of more than 120 proposed petrochemical and plastic projects concentrated in three target geographies – Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley – and will also work to establish stricter rules for existing plants to safeguard the health of American communities. The EPA’s proposed rules represent a critical step towards leveling a playing field that has enriched the few and harmed the many for far too long. Now is the time to unleash the innovative brilliance of American scientists and companies in pursuit of chemistry that is truly safe and sustainable by design, from the production facility to the store shelves and into our homes. Our health and our climate cannot wait another moment.Linda Birnbaum is former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Scholar in Residence at Duke University. Terry Collins is a Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon and founder of Sudoc.From Your Site ArticlesRelated Articles Around the Web

Plastic pollution credits could be the new carbon offsets

Humanity has produced over 9.5 billion metric tons of plastic. That’s over one metric ton, aka 2,200 pounds, per each of the Earth’s 7.9 billion inhabitants. That plastic doesn’t go away.
“All the plastic we’ve ever produced since the inception of the material is still here,” said David Katz, CEO of Plastic Bank, a company that’s trying to implement plastic recycling systems in developing nations. “If you yourself remember a small toy you played with when you were a child, it’s still here somewhere. Remember that coffee cup lid that you took 10 years ago? It’s here somewhere still, too.”

Globally, only about 9% of plastic is recycled. But that’s not generally because the recycling technology is lacking. It’s usually because it’s not economically feasible to collect, clean and sort plastic waste — at least not in the U.S., where new plastic is cheaper.
Katz said he’s found a way to make the economics work in developing nations where Plastic Bank operates, including Brazil, Egypt and the Philippines. It goes like this:
Plastic Bank’s partner companies help fund informal waste collection efforts in one or more of the countries where it operates. Local plastic collectors pick up plastic in their area. That plastic might otherwise end up in the ocean, since the organization operates in communities within 50 kilometers of a waterway.
These informal waste workers often clean and sort their material before dropping it off at Plastic Bank collection centers, where it’s weighed and sent to local processors. There, it’s further sorted and shredded into flakes. Local processors might turn the flakes into pellets or ship them overseas to be turned into pellets. Some of Plastic Bank’s partners then buy the recycled material at a premium for use in their new products.
The plastic collectors are paid for the market value of the material, plus a premium that Plastic Bank provides, allowing some of the world’s poorest to support themselves through plastic collection alone.

Asis Wijayanto and his wife Atmawati support themselves and their daughter by collecting plastic with Plastic Bank. They live in Bali, Indonesia.
Ruda Putra

“The money we earn from collecting plastic is used to support our family’s daily necessities and to pay our daughter’s tuition fee,” said Atmawati, a waste collector CNBC spoke with in Indonesia who collects and sorts plastic with her husband.
And Plastic Bank profits too. Katz said the company is estimating it will bring in $60 million in revenue this year.
Ultimately, this all works because it’s cheaper to pay informal and low-wage workers in developing nations to collect and recycle plastic than it is to pay for municipal recycling infrastructure in wealthier countries. Even though recycled plastic still generally costs more, Plastic Bank partners such as cleaning supplies manufacturer SC Johnson and German multinational consumer goods company Henkel are willing to pay a premium for the green credentials.

Plastic credits

But only about 20% of Plastic Bank’s partners are actually buying recycled plastic for use in new products. The other 80% are buying plastic credits, meant to help offset their new plastic production by funding recycling efforts in the countries where Plastic Bank operates.
Both types of partnerships support waste collection and recycling, but Alix Grabowski, director of plastic and material science at the World Wildlife Fund, said it’s far preferable to use recycled plastic rather than pay for offsets.
“We need to make sure that plastic credits don’t enable business as usual,” Grabowski said. “We really want to see that companies are first really cleaning up their own house, right? Looking at their own portfolio, making reductions, and working on things like reuse and thinking about changing to responsible sources for the plastic that they do need before they’re looking at something like credits.”
The whole concept of plastic credits is born out of the voluntary carbon credits and offsets market, which has long been plagued with questions around efficacy. Verra, a nonprofit organization that operates one of the most widely used carbon crediting programs, is now working to develop standards for the plastic credits market. Yet just a few months ago a Guardian investigation found that the great majority of Verra’s certified rainforest carbon offsets are worthless, findings that Verra described as “patently unreliable.”
But the plastic credits and carbon credits markets do have some key differences, said Svanika Balasubramanian, co-founder and CEO of rePurpose Global, a for-profit company that sells plastic credits to companies looking to measure and reduce their plastic footprint.
“We’re not thinking about avoidance, we’re thinking about actual recovery, right? So we’re not calculating what was avoided from the oceans. In a sense, we’re actually calculating what we recovered. And so the math becomes a lot easier.”
Like Plastic Bank, RePurpose’s partners generate credits by funding plastic recovery and recycling projects largely in the developing world. While Plastic Bank works solely with informal waste workers, RePurpose works with a variety of in-country partners to address gaps in local waste management infrastructure.

Workers with RePurpose Global’s partner organization Green Worms collect plastic in Kerala, India.
RePurpose Global

“And so these can be nonprofits, these can be private sector waste management organizations, these can be waste worker unions and cooperatives,” Balasubramanian said.
RePurpose also helps brands identify how they can reduce their use of new plastic or use alternative packaging materials, but unlike Plastic Bank it doesn’t sell recycled plastic. RePurpose wouldn’t reveal its revenue, but said it’s upward of $1 million and growing quickly.
Companies that buy credits from Plastic Bank and RePurpose can be certified as Plastic Neutral or Plastic Net-Zero, meaning they’re removing as much plastic from the environment as they’re producing. But the WWF opposes terms like these — borrowed lingo from the carbon credits market that Grabowski said is misleading.
“So if you bought a plastic product and it said that it was plastic neutral, what would you interpret that to mean? Would you think that that meant this product has no impact? Because that isn’t true […] 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels,” Grabowski explained. “It impacts our climate. It impacts communities around the world. And the fact that someone cleaned that piece up does not negate all of this other life cycle impacts.”

Looking forward

Grabowski said that while credits can be a part of a larger solution, addressing the full scope of the plastic waste crisis must involve regulatory change. “So rather than really focusing on voluntary initiatives like credits, which are all voluntary, we want to see companies actually advocate for mandatory measures, like extended producer responsibility.”
Extended producer responsibility laws are intended to make producers responsible for their product’s end-of-life impacts, by factoring the cost of disposal and processing in to the upfront price. Some states, including Maine, Oregon, Colorado and California, already have EPR laws on the books for plastic packaging, as do countries throughout Europe.
Many hope policies like this will be incentivized by the Global Plastic Pollution Treaty, which is currently being negotiated after the UN voted last year to create a legally binding international agreement to end plastic pollution.
“That’s a good beginning,” Katz said. “More needs to occur. More policy needs to change. And we are combating Big Oil. So there’s a lot of work to be done.”
After all, fossil fuels are the building blocks of plastic, and as the world transitions to renewable energy, plastic is set to become the largest driver of global oil demand. With this in mind, Katz said, we can’t afford to ignore any possible avenues for progress, including the emergent plastic credits market that Plastic Bank and RePurpose are helping to create.
“The best is the enemy of the good enough, and what we need to be doing today is implement stuff and then figure it out as we go and make sure that we’re providing value to those organizations doing the most authentic work,” he said. “Let’s not vilify those who are trying. And give space for it to emerge and evolve.”
Watch the video to learn more about how organizations are helping fund plastic recycling by selling plastic pollution credits.

Mystery sparked as sick turtle found spewing 'pink liquid'

A very sick green sea turtle has been found in a clump of seaweed on a beach, while vomiting a strange pink-colored liquid.The turtle was spotted by resident Jenn Symonds, on Middleton Beach in Adelaide, Australia, who then contacted wildlife volunteers from the local Wildlife Welfare Organisation.Exhausted and very unwell, the turtle was throwing up the strange pink substance, ABC News Australia reported.”This enormous green sea turtle was reported to WWO by Jenn from Middleton Beach,” wrote the Wildlife Welfare Organisation (WWO) in a Facebook post containing pictures and videos of the turtle’s rescue.
Stock image of a green sea turtle on a beach. A sick green turtle was found on a beach in Adelaide, Australia, but was taken to a vet by volunteer rescuers.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Green sea turtles are the largest hard-shelled sea turtles in the world, and only the second largest turtles after the gargantuan leatherback turtle.They are found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, having been spotted off the coast of over 140 countries and nesting in around 80 countries, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”These green turtles can weigh around 140kgs [308 lbs] and they are the green colour due to their herbivorous diet,” the WWO wrote.”This turtle is way out of its range as they are usually found in tropical and sub tropical waters. They are classified as endangered. When special animals like this are reported a strict protocol should be followed.”The WWO described how, under the direct orders of the Department of Environment and Water, the turtle was to be examined by a veterinarian.The volunteers first moved the turtle out of the seaweed and onto the sand, before it was taken to a vet for a health assessment so they could figure out what was making it so sick.”WWO transported the precious cargo to Dr Anne Fowler. She quipped it was the largest animal in her clinic since a 10kg turkey. The WWO team assisted Dr Anne with X-rays and blood tests,” the post said.
Green sea turtles are estimated to have experience a population decline of 50 percent over the past decade.The major threats to these creatures include being caught in the nets and fishing lines meant to trap other species, habitat loss on beaches due to coastal development, illegal egg harvesting and hunting, being hit by boats and other vessels, and plastic pollution.Green turtles often eat plastics floating in the ocean thinking it is food, which often includes fishing line, balloons and plastic bags, filling them up so that they cannot eat real food or poisoning them.They may also become entangled in this plastic pollution, causing them to drown or struggle to stay submerged in ocean currents.
The X-ray scans of the Adelaide turtle found that the turtle had no plastics, hooks or fishing line within its system, however, so something else was causing the turtle to throw up the strange pink liquid.Further testing will help the vet to determine what is wrong, if the creature can be saved, or if it should be taken to a nearby zoo.”The blood tests will denote whether there is any anemia or sepsis,” wrote WWO in the Facebook post. If all clear, the turtle will be transported to the zoo tomorrow. It was a long day for the WWO team, Justin, Cheryl, Tess and Jackie but they wouldn’t have missed it for the world. What a privilege.”Do you have an animal or nature story to share with Newsweek? Do you have a question about green turtles? Let us know via

Microplastics are polluting the ocean at a shocking rate

If you throw a polyester sweatshirt in the washing machine, it doesn’t emerge as quite its former self. All that agitation breaks loose plastic microfibers, which your machine flushes to a wastewater treatment facility. Any particles that aren’t filtered out get pumped to sea. Like other forms of microplastic—broken-down bottles and bags, paint chips, and pellets known as nurdles—microfiber pollution in the oceans has mirrored the exponential growth of plastic production: Humanity now makes a trillion pounds of the stuff a year. According to the World Economic Forum, production could triple from 2016 levels by the year 2050.A new analysis provides the most wide-ranging quantification yet of exactly how much of this stuff is tainting the ocean’s surface. An international team of researchers calculates that between 82 and 358 trillion plastic particles—a collective 2.4 to 10.8 billion pounds—are floating across the world … and that’s only in the top foot of seawater. That’s also only counting the bits down to a third of a millimeter long, even though microplastics can get much, much smaller, and they grow much more numerous as they do so. (Microplastics are defined as particles smaller than 5 millimeters long.) Scientists are now able to detect nanoplastics in the environment, which are measured on the scale of millionths of a meter, small enough to penetrate cells—though it remains difficult and expensive to tally them. If this new study had considered the smallest of plastics, the numbers of oceanic particles would no longer be in the trillions. “We’re talking about quintillions, probably, that’s out there, if not more,” says Scott Coffin, a research scientist at the California State Water Resources Control Board and a coauthor of the study, which was published today in the journal PLoS ONE. “That’s the elephant in the room,” agrees Marcus Eriksen, cofounder of the 5 Gyres Institute and the study’s lead author. “If we’re going to talk about the number of particles out there, we’re not even looking at the nanoscale particles. And that really dovetails into all the research on human health impacts.” Scientists have only just begun to study these effects, but they are already finding that the smallest microplastics readily move through the body, showing up in our blood, guts, lungs, placentas, and even infants’ first feces.Eriksen and Coffin did their quantification by gathering reams of previous data on plastic samples from across the world’s oceans. They combined this with data they collected during their own ocean expeditions. All told, the researchers used nearly 12,000 samples of plastic particle concentrations, stretching between the years 1979 and 2019. That allowed them to calculate not only how much may be out there, but how those concentrations have changed over time. They found that between 1990 and 2005, particle counts fluctuated. That may have been due to the effectiveness of international agreements, like 1988 regulations limiting plastic pollution from ships. “That’s the first time that we’ve ever had any sort of evidence that those international treaties in plastic pollution have actually been effective,” says Coffin.

Panama ocean conference draws $20 billion, marine biodiversity commitments

The eighth annual Our Ocean Conference took place in Panama March 2-3.Participants made 341 commitments worth nearly $20 billion, including funding for expanding and improving marine protected areas and biodiversity corridors.One key announcement came from Panama, which said it would protect more than 54% of its marine region. International delegates attending the eighth annual Our Ocean Conference in Panama March 2-3 have pledged billions to protect the world’s oceans. Participants made 341 commitments worth nearly $20 billion, including funding for expanding and improving marine protected areas and biodiversity corridors.
Previous Our Ocean conferences have generated more than 1,800 commitments worth approximately $108 billion.
The president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, who inaugurated the event, said the conference was an opportunity for “countries of the world to hold frank conversations with the purpose of committing ourselves to actions for the preservation and strengthening of life in the ocean.
“As Panamanians we inhabit a narrow strip surrounded by blue,” Cohen said in a statement. “To protect it, we should all think of the ocean as a source of life and recognize it as a great ally in our fight against the climate and biodiversity crises.”
Panama, the first Latin American country to host an Our Ocean conference, announced at the event that it was adding 36,058 square miles to its existing Banco Volcán Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Caribbean Sea, an area characterized by deep-sea mountain ranges and high biodiversity. The Banco Volcán MPA was established in 2015 ​​with the protection of 5,487 square miles. Its expansion would bring the total amount of ocean protection within Panama’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to more than 54%.
Panama was the first Latin American country to host an Our Ocean conference. Image by Gregory Piper / Ocean Image Bank.
“With the protection of more than half of its seas, including extensive ocean reserves on both sides of the isthmus, Panama is not only ensuring the conservation of its marine biodiversity and the livelihoods of the people who depend on these ecosystems in the long-term, but is also positioned to lead a much more ambitious regional effort,” Héctor Guzmán, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and co-founder of the marine conservation network MigraMar, who contributed to the scientific research behind the MPA’s expansion, said in a statement.
Panama’s Ministry of Environment also stated at the conference that the country intended to stop more than 160,000 tons of plastic from being imported and consumed in the country by eliminating single-use plastics like cups and utensils, plastic packaging and virgin plastic.
Another commitment came from charitable organizations Bloomberg Philanthropies and Arcadia, which established a fund worth $51 million to help support Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), NGOs and governments to improve and expand marine protection and to help nations protect 30% of oceans by 2030, a goal of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
An alliance of organizations, foundations and private donors also committed to a donation of $5 million to help developing countries join the high seas treaty that was being negotiated — and eventually agreed upon — in New York at the same time as the Our Ocean Conference.
A coalition of groups, known as the Connect to Protect Eastern Tropical Pacific Coalition, also announced a recent commitment of $118.5 million in private and public funds to strengthen marine protections for the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR), an area encompassing more than 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) of highly productive and biodiverse waters of Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica.
The U.S. and the European Union also pledged large sums — about $6 billion and $865 million, respectively — to help protect marine biodiversity.
Dan Crockett, the oceans and climate director at the NGO Blue Marine Foundation, who attended the conference, said the amount and worth of the commitments made were “impressive.”
Participants made 341 commitments worth nearly $20 billion at the Our Ocean Conference in Panama. Image by Gregory Piper / Ocean Image Bank.
“There was a strength to the amount of money being put on the table,” Crockett told Mongabay over a call. “And that’s one of the biggest challenges that we face in this space. SDG [sustainable development goal] 14 Life below Water is critically underfunded. And there were 341 commitments worth very close to $20 billion.”
Crockett said he also felt encouraged to see countries working collaboratively to create marine protected areas across political boundaries, such as the development of CMAR, which can help protect migratory species that “do not know about or respect” country boundaries.
“That really was and continues to be incredibly inspiring and encouraging,” Crockett said. “If environment ministers can set down their differences and come together around ambitious ocean conservation, it provides a lot of hope for the potential for 30 by 30.”
Tony Long, chief executive officer of the platform Global Fishing Watch, who also attended Our Ocean, told Mongabay in a voice message that conference attendees showed a “clear commitment to providing ocean sustainability” and motivation to enact those changes.
He added that pushing these commitments into action would be the crucial next step.
“There have been some fantastic commitments here, but we still need those actions to take place,” Long said. “The more we see the community come together to drive those actions forward, the quicker the health of our ocean will be maintained.”
Banner image caption: Sea lion with a starfish, La Paz. Image byHannes Klostermann / Ocean Image Bank.
Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a senior staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

Is biodegradable better? Making sense of 'compostable' plastics

Bacardi rum bottles, Skittles sweet wrappers, designer water bottles — a bevy of companies are developing biodegradable plastic packaging they say is better for the environment than traditional plastics.
While experts agree we should use less plastic in any form, some say as long as plastics are here to stay, we should be using degradable materials — and also pushing governments to help us dispose of them.