Sea turtles: Can these great marine migrators navigate rising human threats?

Humanity is quickly crossing critical planetary boundaries that threaten sea turtle populations, their ecosystems and, ultimately, the “safe operating space” for human existence.Sea turtles have survived millions of years, but marathon migrations put them at increasing risk for the additive impacts of adverse anthropogenic activity on land and at sea, including impacts from biodiversity loss, climate change, ocean acidification, land-use change, pollution (especially plastics), and more.The synergistic effects of anthropogenic threats and the return on conservation interventions are largely unknown. But analysts understand that their efforts will need to focus on both nesting beaches and ocean migration routes, while acting on a host of adverse impacts across many of the nine known planetary boundaries.Avoiding extinction will require adaptation by turtles and people, and the evolution of new, innovative conservation practices. Key strategies: boosting populations to weather growing threats, rethinking how humanity fishes, studying turtle life cycles (especially at sea), safeguarding habitat, and deeply engaging local communities. For millions of years, countless sea turtles navigated the world’s oceans, migrating vast distances between foraging sites and natal nesting beaches. But today, those long journeys repeatedly expose them to harmful anthropogenic impacts and disruptive environmental changes. And despite worldwide conservation efforts, all seven sea turtle species are endangered or critically endangered at global or regional levels.
The mass movement of these, and other animals, by land, sea or air, represents one of Earth’s ancient rhythms and one of its great wonders. Those migrations also weave together vital living threads that strengthen ecosystem structure.
Now, for myriad reasons — including human-made physical hazards, climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and much more — the frayed fabric of those global eco-structures is shredding fast. Species are disappearing at unprecedented rates and biodiversity loss is irrevocably altering natural systems, imposing adverse impacts on the world’s migrators.
The burning question: can sea turtles, people and conservation strategies evolve fast enough to protect the world’s epic migrations and the animals that make them?
A leatherback turtle laying eggs. Image courtesy of Florida USFWS.
Crossing planetary boundaries poses multiple threats
Biodiversity is just one of nine planetary boundaries that allow a “safe operating space for humanity,” according to an interdisciplinary team of scientists convened by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The other eight boundaries that humanity must avoid overshooting are climate change, ocean acidification, land-system change, freshwater use, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol pollution, biogeochemical flows (imbalances in the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), and the impact of novel entities (such as chemicals, engineered materials or organisms).
Humanity has already breached the “core borders” of biodiversity loss and climate change, and overstepped the bounds of biogeochemical flows and land-system change. While the overshoot of just one core border could completely destabilize the Earth systems that sustain humanity, the crossing of any single boundary also risks destabilizing others — unleashing a domino effect. In coming decades, human activities will put as many as 1 million more plant and animal species at risk of extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) 2019 report.
“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net,’” said Sandra Díaz, an Argentinian ecologist who co-chaired the IPBES in 2019. “But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point.”
Leatherback hatchlings hustling from nest to sea on Aruba. Image by Elise Peterson via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).
Turtles at added risk due to boundaries overshoot
Sea turtles hold a tenuous and unenviable position in the planetary boundary framework. Their life cycle requires safe passage across sea and land. Leatherback migrations, for example, can traverse the borders of more than 30 countries.
As humanity rapidly approaches the limits of more planetary boundaries, it puts these intrepid mariners increasingly in harm’s way from a variety of sources. If conservation efforts cannot reverse sea turtle losses, their plight could herald extinction for other migratory species, even perhaps for the greatest migrator of all: Homo sapiens.
The best-known environmental threats to sea turtles mostly involve the biodiversity planetary boundary (fisheries bycatch and human take of turtle eggs, for example), and the land-use change boundary (habitat and/or nesting site losses).
But now, redefined within the context of other human planetary boundary transgressions, the turtles face a plethora of poorly understood new hazards, plus looming questions about how conservation can pivot to help.
Movement patterns for Western Pacific and Eastern Pacific leatherback sea turtle populations. A female leatherback holds the record known migration distance for air-breathing marine reptiles: more than 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles). Image courtesy of Bailey et al. (2012), PLOS ONE.
Assault on nesting beaches
Sea turtles are most visible to us when females come ashore to lay eggs, and that’s their habitat most studied by science. Climate change is one planetary boundary already known to be altering the sandy beaches where turtles nest and spend a brief but critical portion of their lives, posing multiple existential challenges. For example, because the sex of sea turtles is temperature dependent, more females are hatching as global warming pushes temperatures higher on the world’s nesting beaches. Today, females outnumber males three to one at many global sites.
“But how is feminization affecting populations?” asks Mariana Fuentes, a Florida State University marine conservation biologist. “How many males do there need to be to sustain populations? We don’t know.”
Novel entities, another planetary boundary, may be acting synergistically with global warming to turn up beach heat even more. Human-made microplastics mingled with nesting sand could be raising sand temperatures higher, says Fuentes, who is studying sand’s evolving thermal profile.
Clearly, all those females will need nesting beaches with optimal incubating environments — a key factor in the resilience of global turtle populations, Fuentes adds. But another boundary, land-use change, is reducing the availability and suitability of nest sites. As climate change escalates, more severe and frequent storms will erode more beaches, and primary nesting sites may disappear. Simultaneously, sea level rise due to climate change and the “armoring” of coastlines with human development, especially sea walls, will make the nesting situation worse.
Turtles have adapted and shifted to new nest areas in the past, but as humanity increasingly blocks beach access, will there be enough suitable nesting places?
A 9-centimeter (3.5-inch) sea turtle hatchling and the pieces of plastic found in its gastrointestinal tract. This amount of plastic could crowd out room for food that the hatchling needs to grow quickly and become less easy prey, says Jennifer Lynch, co-director of the Center for Marine Debris Research at Hawai‘i Pacific University in Honolulu. Image courtesy of Jennifer Lynch.
Leatherback turtle nesting on a beach in Grande Riviere, Trinidad and Tobago. Nesting sites help nourish coastal habitats. Image by Jordan Beard via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Trouble at sea
Sea turtles spend the bulk of their life cycle at sea. In the oceans, acidification is causing severe losses of the world’s coral reefs and wiping out critical sea turtle rookeries. Studies also predict that reductions in reef species will change the composition of the sand on nesting beaches, potentially reducing successful egg incubation. In addition, increasing seawater acidity due to carbon emissions is causing some fish species to lose their sense of smell, hearing and homing ability. No one yet knows whether sea turtles could be similarly affected.
And although studies show that turtles hear best underwater, there is limited data about their behavioral responses to noise. As offshore wind farm installations to combat climate change become more commonplace, auditory hazards could alter migration routes or other important habitat, Fuentes says. Studies will be needed to find out.
Additionally, oceans are contaminated with an alphabet soup of industrial pollutants. These so-called novel entities include persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, flame retardants, and a host of other toxicants.
“These are invisible threats [whose impacts] are hard to quantify,” says Jennifer Lynch, a research biologist affiliated with the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Meanwhile, industry and society continue flushing thousands of old and new chemicals into the sea, Lynch says. But sick sea turtles might only get tested for a mere dozen of those pollutants. It would be impossible to test for them all, so unknowns are rife: “Is the level of the chemical found in a turtle a toxic dose?” Lynch asks. We’ll probably never know because no one does toxic dosage testing on endangered turtles, she says. “We’ll never get ahead of these [contaminants].”
Even the impacts of oil spills on sea turtles are not well documented. A review of more than 2,000 oil spills worldwide, spanning 60 years, showed that effects on sea turtles were reported in less than 2% of incidents. And most of those documented effects related only to external oiling, not to internal harm from oil exposure, nor the impacts of oil absorbed into beach sand or the effect of chemical dispersants used in cleanups.
As ocean transport increases, novel fuel sources such as diluted bitumen pose potential new toxic perils.
An oil-coated sea turtle caught during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With increasing ocean transport using newer fuel sources, such as diluted bitumen or other chemicals, there is more potential for new types of toxic exposures. Image courtesy of Louisiana GOHSEP (Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness).
An oiled Kemp’s ridley sea turtle photographed during a boat-based survey during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. Studies show the effects of oil spills on sea turtles are not well documented. Image by Kate Sampson/NOAA.
Degraded ecosystems and chronic exposure to chemicals or heavy metals also lower a turtle’s immune defenses. Scientists say weakened immune systems could be playing a role in the development of fibropapillomatosis, a fleshy tumor often lethal to sea turtles.
Among novel entities, plastic pollution continues getting the bulk of media attention. These petroleum-based products contaminate all the world’s oceans with plastic nanoparticles, nylon fishing nets, plastic bags, and heaps of other trash.
“Microplastics make the headlines, but it is the macroplastics that are the top-tier threat to sea turtles,” states Lynch, who has analyzed the contents of hundreds of turtle gastrointestinal tracts in her role as co-director of the Center for Marine Debris Research at Hawai‘i Pacific University. While she routinely sees healthy-looking adult turtles that are “chock full” of plastic debris, the turtles that ingest meters-long monofilament fishing lines can die from twisted intestines. Those long lines can also become garrotes around flippers and necks.
The true extent of plastics harm at sea is very hard to quantify, Lynch says. How many turtles, for example, try to transit the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” but get entangled and die amid the plastic accumulation? Designing a study to answer that question feels impossible, Lynch adds. “So, the entanglement issue in the scientific literature is published as case studies, [but] case studies do not tell you anything about population level threat.”
Lynch is now laser-focused on reducing plastic pollution in Hawai‘i. One innovative project tracks derelict fishing gear that washes ashore back to the fishery or manufacturer of origin. “If they’re throwing it into the ocean because it’s scrap, then that’s littering,” says Lynch, who hopes the trace-back program can prevent repeat offenses. “We can do something about that!”
A leatherback sea turtle nabs a brown sea nettle. The large quantities of jellyfish that leatherbacks consume help control jellyfish populations. Unfortunately, plastic bags resemble jellyfish and get consumed by sea turtles. Image courtesy of Scott Benson (NOAA-ESA Permit #15634).
A sea turtle with fibropapillomas. These fleshy tumors are caused by a herpes virus infection and can be lethal for sea turtles. It is not clear why the virus affects only some turtle populations and not others or why the tumors are starting to wane in Hawaiian green turtle populations, yet worsening in other locations. Image courtesy of Peter Bennett & Ursula Keuper-Bennett.
Land-system changes are creating water quality problems for sea turtles, too. With increasing deforestation, cropland and pasture expansion by industrial agribusiness, and human development, the amount of sediment runoff and the cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients are being altered throughout Earth’s natural systems.
Agricultural runoff delivers an especially intense load of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to the world’s estuaries. These nutrients then “fertilize” the seas and produce huge mats of algae that reduce water oxygen levels to zero, causing the formation of massive dead zones. Dead zones, like the vast one found annually extending far beyond the mouth of the Mississippi River, are on the upswing globally, and even exist in the open ocean. How sea turtles are being affected is unknown.
Surviving the odds: The Eastern Pacific leatherbacks
The litany of threats seems to stack the odds against sea turtles. Yet, olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea) still appear for arribadas (mass nesting events) in India’s Odisha and Maharashtra states; black turtles (a variant of the green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas), have returned by the thousands to Mexican waters; and green sea turtle populations are thriving in Hawai‘i.
These successes arose from decades of dedicated efforts by local communities, regional conservation collaborations, and multinational agreements to protect marine habitats and nesting beaches, prevent egg collecting, reduce fisheries bycatch, and ban the export and sale of turtle products. But success is unevenly distributed around the globe.
The Eastern Pacific leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), for example, is in a decades-long decline. Since the 1980s, annual counts of nesting leatherbacks and their nests in Mexico and Central America have dropped by more than 90%, according to a 2020 population modeling study by the Laúd OPO Network. Pinpointed chronic losses are occurring due to fisheries bycatch and unsustainable levels of egg collection for human consumption.
But just because success is proving difficult in some regions, that’s no reason to give up, cautions Bryan Wallace, co-coordinator for Laúd OPO, also known as the Eastern Pacific Leatherback Conservation Network. “Just because the population is still on the ropes, doesn’t mean all the previous 30 or 40 years of effort wasn’t effective. We haven’t recovered the population [yet], which no doubt means we’ve got more to do,” he says.
Olive ridley arribada. A mass nesting event of olive ridley turtles in Oaxaca, Mexico. Image by Eder Omar Campos González via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
In the face of escalating anthropogenic threats, what is the “more” needed to avoid extinction? Wallace’s forthright answer: the survival of at least 200 more adult or subadult leatherbacks every year — starting within the next five years. His conclusion is based on population modeling scenarios and assumes continued success in protecting nests and hatchlings. Without more reproductive adults, the Eastern Pacific leatherbacks may go extinct in the next few decades.
Altering the way humanity fishes
Wallace makes an important point: Even if a turtle population can adapt to all the new anthropogenic challenges being thrown at it, there still need to be sufficient numbers of adult turtles to mate and survive those impacts: That winning numbers game needs to be a major component of future conservation efforts, according to Fuentes’ research into creating a sea turtle resilience index.
Saving adult turtles begins with a single high priority: preventing fisheries bycatch, long a focal point for conservationists. Recognized solutions include using turtle-friendly fishing gear, teaching fishers how to safely release entangled sea turtles, and restricting fishing along common sea turtle migration routes, while also getting fishing fleets to share information about, and avoid, sea turtle hotspots.
But despite these initiatives, sea turtles, including leatherbacks, spend most of their lives in harm’s way: swimming the global commons of the high seas where most industrial fishing fleets operate — also some of Earth’s least-protected places for marine life. So, targeting conservation toward small-scale fisheries, which account for more than 90% of commercial fishers worldwide that produce nearly 50% of the global catch, could make a big difference.
Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto, co-founder and president of ProDelphinus, a Peru-based NGO, has spent decades working to reduce bycatch by small fisheries along the more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) of her home country’s coastline.
To make their conservation plans more effective, Alfaro-Shigueto’s team developed a rapid bycatch assessment to fill information gaps. Instead of going to sea and counting actual bycatch, rapid assessments rely on land-based interviews with boat captains and fishers. ProDelphinus’s surveys from 43 ports in Peru, Ecuador and Chile showed that small-scale gillnet fisheries caught more than 46,000 sea turtles — and killed more than 16,000 — every year. The highest counts were in Peru and Ecuador, highlighting where to concentrate conservation work.
Researcher Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto observing bycatch aboard a fishing vessel. “We want to conserve turtles, and they want the fish,” says Alfaro-Shigueto. “So, let’s do something that will benefit the species, fishermen, and conservationists so everybody can see the benefit of working together.” For her work with ProDelphinus, she received the “Architect of Conservation” category of the Carlos Ponce Prize in 2020 and the Whitley Award in 2012. Image courtesy of Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto.
The Laúd OPO Network set up workshops to use this assessment method more widely. That led to a leatherback bycatch survey across 79 fishing communities in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Results estimated that a minimum of 345 leatherbacks were caught annually in small-scale fisheries across that region. The survey also found that ports close to nesting beaches were bycatch hotspots, providing a comprehensive regional map as to where the next phase of conservation should focus. Importantly, fishers reported that 80% of captured leatherbacks were released alive, which means teaching people how to safely release animals could improve bycatch survival rates.
Innovative uses of existing technology could also help reduce bycatch. In the eastern tropical Pacific, use of gillnets harmful to turtles by small-scale fisheries is among the highest in the world. ProDelphinus partnered with researchers at the University of Exeter, U.K., to distribute LED lights among three small-scale Peru fisheries. When fishers attached the lights to gillnets, it helped sea turtles avoid them, and bycatch dropped by more than 70%.
Improving on this idea, scientists at Arizona State University, U.S., designed solar-powered lights. When fishers in Baja California Sur, Mexico, put the flashing, self-charging lighted buoys on gillnets, they reduced sea turtle bycatch by 65-70% while maintaining target fish catch, says Jesse Senko, lead researcher and marine conservation scientist. With fewer turtles to disentangle and less net damage to repair, the fishers also saved time. Unfortunately, Senko estimates that mass production of the solar lights may take another five years. The leatherbacks might not be able to wait that long.
“In the big picture, we are not just trying to conserve turtles. We are also trying to promote sustainable fisheries,” says Alfaro-Shigueto. “The challenge now? Conservation is not fast enough and we are running out of time.”
When fishers attach LED lights to gillnets, it helps sea turtles avoid the nets and drops the rates of bycatch. Image courtesy of Jesse Senko.
Changing the future of sea turtle conservation
If sea turtles lack the time to adapt, perhaps it’s time for conservation to adapt its methods, say practitioners. For example, there’s a long-running terrestrial bias built into sea turtle research. Most studies are conducted on land where researchers can easily walk about, counting nesting females, eggs or hatchlings. “But that is a tiny sliver or snapshot of their overall lives,” says Kate Mansfield, a sea turtle biologist at the University of Central Florida.
For that reason, relatively little is known about males because they don’t come ashore. Likewise, leatherbacks spend most of their lives in the open ocean, and no one knows where they go during their “lost years,” or what may benefit or impair their survival while there.
“These animals live at least as long as humans. And they occur in different parts of the world at different ages and life stages,” explains Mansfield. “In order to best protect and conserve these species, we really need to know this stuff.”
A recent study, for example, changed scientists’ long-held assumption that young turtles cruise along ocean currents to reach distant forage sites. Mansfield and her colleagues stuck solar-powered tracking devices on juvenile greens. Surprisingly, they found that young turtles deliberately swam out of big currents to get to good foraging habitat provided by seaweed mats in the North Atlantic’s Sargasso Sea — sadly also “one of the dirtiest and most damaged parts of the open ocean.” The gyre of four currents bounding this shoreless sea traps huge amounts of plastic waste; turtle impacts aren’t known.
There are similar knowledge gaps about the journeys subadult and adult leatherbacks make. Now, Mansfield is testing a new tracking technology, called ICARUS, which pings satellite signals off the International Space Station for potentially more accurate turtle tracking.
But much more research is needed. The current dearth of data “would be like having human doctors in hospitals only knowing about, and able to treat, teenagers and older people,” says Mansfield. “It’s really important to understand where these animals are going … because they are ultimately the foundation of the rest of the population.”
Green sea turtles help manage seagrass meadows. A new study shows the two-way relationship between healthy seagrass and marine mega herbivores, pointing toward the importance of conservation efforts for ecosystem stability. Image by P. Lindgren via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Protecting habitat key to turtle conservation
Just keeping tabs on turtles and their movements may miss two essential points for successful future conservation: a focus on habitats and humans.
Species-focused approaches to conservation appeared during the 1960s and ’70s, when turtle extinctions seemed imminent, says Kartik Shanker, an ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. “But [since then] we haven’t been able to let go of that [approach] enough.”
In places where populations are recovering, Shanker argues, not enough is being done to safeguard sea turtle habitat, despite ecosystem protections that are part of international agreements, including the Indian Ocean’s Southeast Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
“When push comes to shove, management and mitigation actions have been species-focused instead of habitat-focused,” Shanker states. “Turtle populations do seem able to bounce back. But what they can’t bounce back from is if [nesting] beaches don’t exist anymore.”
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect strategy for protecting these beaches from human nature, with its penchant for coastal development, or Mother Nature.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about sea turtles,” says David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy. “This is an animal that’s existed for 100-plus million years. They know how to adapt.” Image courtesy of David Godfrey.
“To me, the key [sea turtle] conservation issues are protecting those breeding grounds and eliminating as many marine threats as we can,” says David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, a Florida-based NGO that monitors major nesting sites in Florida, Costa Rica and Panama, and advocates for policy changes to preserve key habitats.
A key problem: there’s a lot researchers don’t know about the value of potential population and habitat protection initiatives. For example, the outcomes of interventions — such as relocating nests to save them from sea level rise, or the incubation of eggs at cooler temperatures to produce more males — aren’t well understood, Fuentes admits.
With limited resources, it’s important to pinpoint the most effective actions, she urges. “There’s a lot that could be done, but we need to have a better understanding of the tradeoffs or effectiveness, and the return on conservation efforts before implementation.”
Another big blind spot is that threats are typically treated individually, “But we need to be considering the cumulative impacts — the synergies,” says Fuentes.
Whatever scientists discover about sea turtles and their collisions with humanity’s planetary boundary overshoots, it won’t be enough if that knowledge can’t be turned into practical action. “Scientists don’t always know the best way to translate the right information to the right person at the right time to ensure that the best science is used to maximize conservation outcomes,” Fuentes says.
For Godfrey, one of the most important things to know is not just the science, but the people in elected offices: “If you want to protect wildlife and the environment, those people make all the difference.”
Researcher Mariana Fuentes with a loggerhead sea turtle. “We need to be considering the cumulative impacts — the synergies,” says Fuentes, a marine conservation biologist at Florida State University. Image courtesy of Mariana Fuentes.
‘There will be another chance’: Embracing traditional points of view
As big as the anthropogenic impacts ahead may be, future conservation successes will still need to rely heavily on engaged individuals and local communities. “We need to be working towards — not severing — the links that people have with nature,” says Shanker, co-founder of Dakshin, an NGO focused on the human side of conservation.
In many situations, he notes, Indigenous resource utilization has been condemned and not considered part of conservation solutions. “It has become culturally embedded that any use of sea turtles is wrong,” a view Shanker says is predominantly Western in origin, but which drives much of global policy. That outlook is entrenched in places like India, he says, where the dominant paradigm is staunchly protectionist toward sea turtles and other species.
Even sustainable use, such as the legal egg harvest in Ostional, Costa Rica, stirs controversy. There, the monthly arribadas of olive ridleys produce so many eggs that community members can collect during the first nesting wave without major harm, while boosting the local economy.
Seeking to better understand what sea turtles mean to communities near nesting areas took marine biologist Jose Urteaga away from the turtle-nesting beaches of Nicaragua to study the social drivers of poaching and resource use at Stanford University in California.
In the 1980s, unsustainable egg harvesting on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast pushed the leatherback population there to collapse. In 2002, with the NGO Fauna & Flora International, Urteaga started working with communities: He trained locals to run an egg hatchery and created a program paying collectors to bring eggs to the hatchery instead of illegal markets. Those efforts expanded to protect nearly 100% of nest sites on three key beaches.
Still, the population continued crashing. In the 2019-20 season, not a single leatherback nest was found on the protected beaches — an impact that hurt both natural and human communities.
A nest of leatherback eggs. Saving eggs remains crucial to leatherback survival. But without more reproductive adults, the Eastern Pacific leatherback isn’t likely to recover from future impacts. Image courtesy of USFWS Northeast region.
During the early years of his conservation work, a memorable conversation with an elder egg trader forever changed Urteaga’s perception about local peoples’ stake in sea turtle survival. “What do the turtles mean to you?” he asked the old woman, confronting her as if she were the enemy. The elder replied:
I’m going to explain to you what these turtles and the ocean mean to me. When my sons were sick and I needed medicine for my sons, the turtles gave me the money to get medicine. When my sons were hungry and they needed food, the turtles gave me the food to feed my children. And when the children needed to go to the school, the turtles gave me the resources to send them to school. So, if that doesn’t tell you how important the turtles are, and what they mean to me, nothing is going to do it.
Years later, at Stanford, Urteaga analyzed the many human factors affecting turtle conservation. He found direct evidence of community commitment to conservation: I n Nicaragua, most local communities that paid incentives offered less money than the illegal market. But Urteaga found that collectors were willing to accept lower payment for the eggs because they viewed it as their contribution to sea turtle conservation.
The need to better understand people may also apply to conservationists themselves, notes Urteaga. Sea turtles, particularly the giant leatherback, are viewed as almost mythical creatures by many practitioners. “They touch some part of our heart, and sometimes we think that conservation, ultimately, is changing the minds and the souls of people in that direction,” he says.
But people in local communities, who live in totally different realities, don’t need to embrace that same mythical mindset to conserve turtles. “We can just agree on the need to protect a resource that is also important for them.”
Today, female leatherbacks are finally returning to the beaches of Nicaragua. Not many. But enough to reaffirm Urteaga’s optimism, an outlook he acquired from the dedicated community people he worked with over the decades. He says they tell him: “There will be another chance. There will be another turtle that will come. There will be another opportunity to protect the nests and to release those hatchlings to the sea.”
Adapting together — turtles and people — the great migrators may be able to continue their epic journeys for ages to come.
A green sea turtle entangled in marine debris. Studies show that plastics — ranging from nanoparticles to nylon fishing nets — can now be found in every part of the world; in the oceans, air, and at every level of the food chain, to the detriment of wildlife. Image courtesy of NOAA.
A nesting female returns to the sea after laying her eggs on Jamursba Medi Beach, Indonesia. “Sea turtles are survivors,” says researcher Bryan Wallace. Image by Jo Carletti via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Citations:
Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Mangel, J. C., Darquea, J., Donoso, M., Baquero, A., Doherty, P. D., & Godley, B. J. (2018). Untangling the impacts of nets in the southeastern Pacific: Rapid assessment of marine turtle bycatch to set conservation priorities in small-scale fisheries. Fisheries Research, 206, 185-192. doi:10.1016/j.fishres.2018.04.013
Bailey, H., Fossette, S., Bograd, S. J., Shillinger, G. L., Swithenbank, A. M., Georges, J., … Hays, G. C. (2012). Movement patterns for a critically endangered species, the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), linked to foraging success and population status. PLOS ONE, 7(5), e36401. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036401
Benson, S. R., Forney, K. A., Moore, J. E., LaCasella, E. L., Harvey, J. T., & Carretta, J. V. (2020). A long-term decline in the abundance of endangered leatherback turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, at a foraging ground in the California Current Ecosystem. Global Ecology and Conservation, 24, e01371. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01371
Laúd OPO Network (2020). Enhanced, coordinated conservation efforts required to avoid extinction of critically endangered eastern Pacific leatherback turtles. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 4772. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-60581-7
Mansfield, K. L., Wyneken, J., & Luo, J. (2021). First Atlantic satellite tracks of ‘lost years’ green turtles support the importance of the Sargasso Sea as a sea turtle nursery. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288(1950), 20210057. doi:10.1098/rspb.2021.0057
Mazaris, A. D., Schofield, G., Gkazinou, C., Almpanidou, V., & Hays, G. C. (2017). Global sea turtle conservation successes. Science Advances, 3(9), e1600730. doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600730
Sardeshpande, M., & MacMillan, D. (2019). Sea turtles support sustainable livelihoods at Ostional, Costa Rica. Oryx, 53(1), 81-91. doi:10.1017/S0030605317001855
Santidrián Tomillo, P., Genovart, M., Paladino, F. V., Spotila, J. R., & Oro, D. (2015). Climate change overruns resilience conferred by temperature-dependent sex determination in sea turtles and threatens their survival. Global Change Biology, 21(8), 2980-2988. doi:10.1111/gcb.12918
Urteaga, J., Torres, P., Gaitan, O., Rodríguez, G. & Dávila, P. (2012). Leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea, nesting beach conservation in the Pacific coast of Nicaragua (2002–2010). In: Proceedings of the 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation. San Diego, CA, USA. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-631. Retrieved from: https://internationalseaturtlesociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/31-turtle.pdf
Banner image: Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings crawl to sea. Image by Blair Witherington FWC-FWRI via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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Ocean Cleanup struggles to fulfill promise to scoop up plastic at sea

VICTORIA, Canada, Sept 16 (Reuters) – Docked at a Canadian port, crew members returned from a test run of the Ocean Cleanup’s system to rid the Pacific of plastic trash were thrilled by the meager results — even as marine scientists and other ocean experts doubted the effort could succeed.The non-profit, launched in 2013 amid buoyant media coverage, hopes to clear 90% of floating plastic from the world’s oceans by 2040. But the group’s own best-case scenario — still likely years away — envisions removing 20,000 tonnes a year from the North Pacific, a small fraction of the roughly 11 million tonnes of plastic flowing annually into the oceans.And that amount entering the ocean is expected to nearly triple to 29 million tonnes annually by 2040, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.The Ocean Cleanup, funded by cash donations and corporations including Coca-Cola (KO.N), as well as in-kind donors like A.P. Moller-Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), had fixed assets over $51 million (43 million euros) at the end of 2020.During 120 hours of deployment last month, System 002 — or “Jenny” as the crew nicknamed it — scooped up 8.2 tonnes of plastic, or less than a garbage truck’s standard haul. The Ocean Cleanup spokesperson Joost Dubois described the amount as “on the high end of our estimates” and emphasized that it was still just in the test phase.”I think they’re coming from a good place of wanting to help the ocean, but by far the best way to help the ocean is to prevent plastic from getting in the ocean in the first place,” said Miriam Goldstein, director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress think tank.”Once plastic has gotten into the open ocean, it becomes very expensive and fossil-fuel intensive to get it back out again.”GARBAGE GYREThe Ocean Cleanup’s first target is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest swirling mass of marine debris spanning 1.6 million square kilometers in the North Pacific between California and Hawaii. The group estimates the patch holds at least 79,000 tonnes of plastic.If the flow of plastic into the ocean continues unabated, the seas will contain more plastic mass than fish by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.The Ocean Cleanup, created by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was 18, initially planned on using an autonomous floating system driven by wind, waves and currents to remove plastic. But that first system, named Wilson, bobbed ineffectively alongside the garbage until it ultimately broke. A later design, System 001B, was more efficient, but the team estimated they would need 150 such systems to clear the patch at a high cost.With the Jenny system, two fuel-powered Maersk vessels tow the 520-meter wide horseshoe-shaped catchment system across the ocean surface. An underwater camera helps make sure marine life does not become entangled.”Jenny has outperformed everything we’ve done so far,” Dubois said of the recent six-week trials, during which the system picked up plastics small as 1 centimeter in diameter.The Ocean Cleanup hopes eventually to deploy 10 to 15 expanded-range Jennys — powered by 20 to 30 ships — to operate round the clock 365 days a year at the garbage patch. At that scale, organizers say, the effort could recover between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of plastic a year, though it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.The group regrets its reliance on ships that release climate-warming greenhouse emissions. The Ocean Cleanup is purchasing carbon credits to offset the heavy fuel use and noted that Maersk is experimenting with less-polluting biofuels. “Preferably we would have done something without any carbon footprint,” Dubois said.Maersk told Reuters that, because of the patch’s harsh and remote location, large vessels were needed to assist Jenny’s operations.”We see the value in not just the outcome of Ocean Cleanup’s programs, but also the iterative learning process,” said Robin Townley, head of special project logistics at Maersk.’WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE TRASH YOU COLLECT?’Prone to seasickness, the Ocean Cleanup’s founder Slat does not often venture out onto the open ocean.”The plastic that is already in the ocean — accumulated in those garbage patches — is not going away by itself,” Slat told Reuters. “It has to be removed if we want to return to clean oceans.”Marine scientists have long lambasted Slat’s vision. Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, a plastic pollution research organization in California, expressed frustration that “this downstream, end-of-the-line narrative (is) still (getting) a lot of attention.”He noted the group’s funding comes from companies “that are actually making the products and packaging. They don’t really like the preventative story because it impacts their bottom line.”Coca-Cola, ranked as the world’s largest plastic polluter by environmental groups, helps fund the Ocean Cleanup’s side initiative of using solar-powered “interceptors” to catch plastic in Asian and Caribbean riverways before it reaches the ocean.”We’ve been clear that we want to be part of the solution in addressing the critical issue of packaging waste, rather than part of the problem,” said Ben Jordan, senior director of environmental policy for Coca-Cola. “We’re making progress, but we still have much further to go.”Coca-Cola has committed to reduce the use of new plastic in its packaging by 20% in the next four years. read more While Eriksen said river cleanup was a more worthwhile goal, he bristled at the involvement of a company that is producing 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year. “It’s exactly that sort of greenwashing narrative.”The effort’s other confounding issue? “What do you do with the trash you collect?” Eriksen said.The small plastic haul from the System 001B was used to make $200 sunglasses, sold on the Ocean Cleanup’s website.In the future, the Ocean Cleanup hopes to partner with consumer brands to reuse salvaged plastic, Dubois said, though “we may have to incinerate” some.Reporting by Gloria Dickie; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa ShumakerOur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Formosa pays $2.8M in air pollution fines at its Point Comfort plant

Formosa Plastics Group has agreed to pay $2.85 million in fines for violating federal air pollution laws after a series of fires and explosions at its petrochemical manufacturing plant in Point Comfort.The company also agreed to improve its risk management program to resolve nearly two dozen alleged violations of the Chemical Accident Prevention Provisions of the Clean Air Act at the plant.More:Embattled ex-congressman Blake Farenthold finds safe harbor at the Port of Port LavacaThe Environmental Protection Agency began an investigation into Formosa following a series of fires, explosions and accidental releases at the plant from May 2013 through October 2016.Several workers during that time suffered second- and third-degree burns and chlorine inhalation that required hospitalization. The incidents also resulted in property damage and the release of extremely hazardous substances.The Clean Air Act requires companies to identify potential hazards, maintain safe facilities and minimize the consequences of accidental releases. The measure was put into place by Congress following a 1984 release of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India, which left more than 3,400 people dead and another 200,000 people injured.”Formosa repeatedly failed to comply with the chemical accident prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act at the Point Comfort plant, repeatedly placing their workers, neighbors and the environment in danger,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement will ensure Formosa’s compliance with essential regulations intended to protect workers and the community as well as help prevent dangerous chemical releases from occurring in the future.”More:Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fines Formosa for plastic pellets pollutionHeadquartered in Livingston, New Jersey, Formosa operates a 2,500-acre petrochemical plant in Point Comfort that consists of 16 units, including those used to produce polypropylene and ethylene dichloride.Construction of its Polypropylene III Unit, or PP III, would add a third olefins unit, a propane dehydrogenation unit, a low density polyethylene resin plant, another high density poly ethylene resin plant and an additional polypropylene line.The expansion work is expected to last two years.Groups and activists in recent years have fought to prevent Formosa Plastics from building one of the world’s largest plastics plants in St. James Parish, Louisiana. They described the latest settlement as a letdown.“This settlement is a joke. Pocket money for Formosa Plastics, who has made billions of dollars off the resources of Calhoun County, Texas, and the backs of the workers,” said Diane Wilson, the lead plaintiff in the successful water pollution lawsuit against Formosa Plastics. “How many worker deaths, worker injuries and communities destroyed do we have to witness at Formosa?”Chris Ramirez writes about energy, commerce and all things business. Support local coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe  Related headlinesMore:Judge rules against Formosa Plastics in pollution case, calling company ‘serial offender’More:Lowering the floor: How Texas ports adjust as demand climbs, cargo ships get biggerMore:Here are the environmental projects Formosa Plastics’ $50 million settlement will fund

Sunlight can break plastic down into chemicals that dissolve in water

Researchers are looking at the effect sunlight has on plastics. (WHOI)Sunlight can transform some plastics into water-soluble chemicals, new research has shown.Researchers previously thought that sunlight would only ever break down plastics in the sea into microplastics – which then persist in the environment forever.But analysis of real-world bags produced by retailers showed that the effect of sunlight is often very different.Researchers found that the chemical reaction can produce tens of thousands of water-soluble compounds, or formulas, in just weeks.Watch: Plastic threatening islands in CaribbeanThe researchers say this could mean manufacturers can produce plastics that are easier to break down in sunlight.Co-author Collin Ward, assistant scientist in Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department, said: “It’s astonishing to think that sunlight can break down plastic, which is essentially one compound that typically has some additives mixed in, into tens of thousands of compounds that dissolve in water.“We need to be thinking not only about the fate and impacts of the initial plastics that get leaked into the environment, but also about the transformation of those materials.”Read more: Melting snow in Himalayas drives growth of green sea slime visible from spaceHe added: “We don’t really know yet what impacts these products might pose to aquatic ecosystems or to biogeochemical processes such as carbon cycling. “While plastics breaking down more quickly than expected may seem like a good thing, it’s unclear how these chemicals may affect the environment.”The researchers write: “The growing evidence that photochemical transformation of plastics is an important transformation process in surface waters challenges a widely held assumption about the persistence of plastic in the environment.”They say scientists and policymakers “tend to assume that sunlight exposure merely physically fragments macroplastics to microplastics, which subsequently persist forever in the environment.”Story continuesThe new findings “fundamentally challenge this guideline and indicate that sunlight not only aids physical fragmentation of plastic, it chemically alters it, producing a suite of transformation products that no longer resemble the parent material,” the researchers write.Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly rightThe study examined the breakdown under sunlight of four different single-use consumer polyethylene plastic bags from three major American retailers that make a lot of plastic bags (Target, CVS and Walmart) and compared them to pure polyethylene film.Most plastic bags are not just a pure base resin, but include a complex formulation of chemical additives to make the plastic behave or look a certain way.Up to about one-third of the mass of each of the retailers’ plastic bags was inorganic additives.The organic compounds produced by sunlight were analysed at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, which designed and developed a mass spectrometer equipped with a 21 tesla magnet that achieves the highest mass resolution and accuracy in the world.Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopelessResearchers found that under sunlight exposure, the four retailer bags from about 5,000 formulas (for the Target bag) to 15,000 formulas (for the Walmart bag), while the pure polyethylene film produced about 9,000 formulas.Many previous studies of marine plastics have generally used pure polymers, which don’t reflect the reality of plastics released into the marine environment.Ward said: “If the goal is to understand the fate and impacts of these materials, we need to study plastics that are representative of those that are actually leaked into the environment, as well as study the weathering processes acting on them,”Co-author Christopher Reddy, senior scientist in WHOI’s Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department, said: “I am excited about this work because it provides actionable and attainable approaches for making less persistent plastics in the future.“By simply modifying the ingredients in their recipes, the plastic industry can make their products more susceptible to breakdown once the product reaches its useful lifespan.”Watch: Royal Marines complete ‘world’s most dangerous row’ to raise awareness of plastic pollution

Limerick company redesigns bottle caps to reduce plastic pollution

Limerick-based ISHKA Irish Spring Water is on course to dramatically reduce plastic pollution through the use of tethered caps and will trial the caps across its spring water range from this week – three years before EU rules making it compulsory for plastic bottle tops to remain connected to bottles. Pictured are Denis Sutton, Director, and Mark Taylor, Head of Operations, ISHKA Irish Spring Water.
LIMERICK-based ISHKA Irish Spring Water is on course to dramatically reduce plastic pollution through the use of tethered caps, becoming the first bottled water company in Ireland to do so.
The company will trial the caps across its spring water range from this week – three years before EU rules make it compulsory for plastic bottle tops to remain connected to bottles.Bottle tops account for 10% of plastic litter found on European beaches and the EU’s Single-Use Plastic Directive includes a provision to ensure they are recycled together with the rest of the bottle.
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Later this year, all ISHKA 500ml spring water bottles will have their caps fully attached to the bottle, making them extremely difficult to remove.
“ISHKA is determined to do all we can as a business to drive the necessary change in consumer behaviour to help solve our global waste problem and protect marine life,” said Denis Sutton, Director of ISHKA Irish Spring Water.
“Due to their current design and size, caps are much more likely to be littered – and while this may seem like a small problem, they are one of the top five most commonly found items of litter on beaches worldwide.
“A simple design change that keeps caps attached to bottles means they are much more likely to be recycled with the bottle, hence our early move to launch tethered caps well ahead of the EU Directive deadline.”
Recent research from ISHKA, through iReach, shows many consumers are embracing the green message, with half of all respondents saying the type of water they buy is influenced by whether bottles can be recycled after use.
A separate study by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that around 1,350 bottling lines EU-wide will need to be prepared to handle tethered caps.
“As a company, we’re continually committed to product innovation and differentiation with sustainability at the core,” said Mark Taylor, Head of Operations, ISHKA Irish Spring Water.
“Over the summer we invested substantially in tooling up our machines and adapting our production lines so that our 500ml bottles can be fully recycled from bottle through to the cap. And from early next year, our full range of bottle sizes will have tethered caps.”
Based in Ballyneety in Limerick, ISHKA Irish Spring Water lays claim to being Ireland’s freshest spring water as it is bottled straight from five certified wells, untouched by human contact and not stored prior to bottling.

California aims to ban recycling symbols on things that aren’t recyclable

The well-known three-arrows symbol doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is actually recyclable. A new bill would limit the products allowed to feature the mark.The triangular “chasing arrows” recycling symbol is everywhere: On disposable cups. On shower curtains. On children’s toys.What a lot of shoppers might not know is that any product can display the sign, even if it isn’t recyclable. It’s false advertising, critics say, and as a result, countless tons of non-recyclable garbage are thrown in the recycling bin each year, choking the recycling system.Late on Wednesday, California took steps toward becoming the first state to change that. A bill passed by the state’s assembly would ban companies from using the arrows symbol unless they can prove the material is in fact recycled in most California communities, and is used to make new products.“It’s a basic truth-in-advertising concept,” said California State Senator Ben Allen, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor. “We have a lot of people who are dutifully putting materials into the recycling bins that have the recycling symbols on them, thinking that they’re going to be recycled, but actually, they’re heading straight to the landfill,” he said.The measure, which is expected to clear the State Senate later this week and be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is part of a nascent effort across the country to fix a recycling system that has long been broken.Though materials like paper or metals are widely recycled, less than 10 percent of plastic consumed in the United States is recycled, according to the most recent estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, most plastic is incinerated or dumped in landfills, with the exception of some types of resins, like the kind used for bottled water or soda.For years, the United States also shipped much of its plastic waste overseas, choking local rivers and streams. A global convention now bans most trade in plastic waste, though U.S. waste exports have not completely ceased.This summer, Maine and Oregon passed laws overhauling their states’ recycling systems by requiring corporations to pay for the cost of recycling their packaging. In Oregon, the law included plans to establish a task force that would evaluate “misleading or confusing claims” related to recycling. Legislation is pending in New York that would, among other things, ban products from displaying misleading claims.In the past year, a number of environmental organizations have filed lawsuits seeking to combat misleading claims of recyclability by major corporations. Environmental groups have also criticized plans by the oil and gas industry to expand its production of petrochemicals, which are the main building blocks of plastic, because the process is highly polluting and creates new demand for fossil fuels.The recycling symbol is “subconsciously telling the people buying things, ‘You’re environmentally friendly,’” said Heidi Sanborn, the executive director of the National Stewardship Action Council, which advocates corporations to shoulder more responsibility for recycling their products.“Nobody should be able to lie to the public,” she said.In California, the bill won the backing of a coalition of environmental groups, local governments, waste haulers and recyclers. Recycling companies say the move will help them cut down on the non-recyclable trash thrown in recycling bins that needs to be transported, sorted and sent to the landfill.Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services, one of the country’s largest waste and recycling companies, said in an interview that more than a fifth of the material his company processes nationwide is non-recyclable garbage. That means that even on its best day, Republic is running at only 80 percent efficiency, processing materials it shouldn’t be processing, he said.Some of the most common forms of non-recyclable trash marring operations at Republic’s 70 facilities across the United States, which processes six million tons of curbside recycling a year: snack pouches, plastic film, grocery bags and packing material. Plastic bags, in particular, can’t be recycled in most curbside recycling programs and notoriously gum up recycling machines.“There are a lot of products in the marketplace today that have the chasing arrows that shouldn’t” Mr. Keller said. “There aren’t really any true end markets, or any real way to recover and ultimately recycle those materials in curbside programs.”The plastics and packaging industry has opposed the bill, saying it would create more confusion for consumers, not less. An industry memo circulated among California lawmakers urges them to oppose the bill unless it is amended, arguing it “would create a new definition of recyclability with unworkable criteria for complex products and single use packaging.”The letter was signed by industry heavyweights like the American Chemistry Council, the Plastics Industry Association and Ameripen, a packaging industry group. California should wait for Washington to come up with nationwide labeling standards, the groups said.In discussions over the bill, opposition industry groups also said that if a product is deemed non-recyclable, companies won’t invest in technologies to recycle it. Supporters of the bill say the opposite would be true: Tougher rules would incentivize manufacturers to make their products truly recyclable by investing in new packaging, for example.Dan Felton, Ameripen’s executive director, expressed concerns that the bill would actually reduce recycling rates. The bill “could have the unintended consequence of sending more packaging material to landfills at the very time when California needs to boost recycling,” he wrote in an email.The American Chemistry Council referred questions to Ameripen. The Plastics Industry Association, which represents plastic manufacturers, warned that the bill would determine a slew of products to be unrecyclable and therefore would be landfilled. (Supporters of the bill point out those products are landfilled anyway, despite displaying the recycling symbol.)Environmental groups said that strengthening government oversight is critical. “It’s the wild, wild West of product claims and labeling with no sheriff in town,” Jan Dell, an engineer and founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, an environmental organization, wrote in an email.The bill would make it a crime for corporations to use the chasing arrows recycling symbol on any product or packaging that hasn’t met the state’s recycling criteria. Products would be considered recyclable if CalRecycle, the state’s recycling department, determines they have a viable end market and meet certain design criteria, including not using toxic chemicals.In addition to plastics, the bill covers all consumer goods and packaging sold in the state, excluding some products that are already covered by existing recycling laws, such as beverage containers and certain kinds of batteries. Through its environmental advertising laws, California already prohibits companies from using words like “recyclable” or “biodegradable” without supporting evidence.

Goa's Sal River contaminated by microplastics; fish, shellfish laced with polymers

Representational image(IANS)Water, sediments and biota (animal and plant life) in the Sal river—a major water body in South Goa—are contaminated with microplastics (MPs), the most common being black MPs which are caused by the abrasion of motor vehicle tyres on road surfaces, a study has revealed.The first such study conducted in the Sal river by scientists and researchers attached to the National Institute of Oceanography and Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research, both in Goa, and the School of Civil Engineering, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), has also revealed the presence of three major polymers: polyacrylamide, a water-soluble synthetic linked to the mining industry; ethylene-vinyl alcohol used in packaging; and polyacetylene, an electrical conductivity agent.Among the biota, the study covered the examination of samples of shellfish, finfish, clams and oysters.Fringed by fast-paced real estate development, the Sal river, whose course runs through the coastal areas of the district before meeting the Arabian Sea by the picturesque Betul beach, is also a major source of livelihood for the local fisherfolk community.”Interestingly, MPs found in all the three matrices, water, sediment and biota from the Sal estuary were dominated by fibres (55.3 per cent, 76.6 per cent and 72.9 per cent, respectively), followed by fragments, films and other plastics. The prominent ubiquity of fibres in all three matrices suggests a variety of sources of MPs, most likely including domestic sewage, effluents from industries and laundry,” the study states.”Fragments were the second most abundant micro-debris in water (27 per cent) and biota (16.6 per cent). They mostly originate from the degradation/weathering of larger plastic pieces such as packaging materials, plastic bottles and other macro-plastic litter, which are often directly discarded into the estuarine environment,” the study adds.The research also found transparent spherical beads in the waters of the river along with sediments containing polypropylene, polyamide, polyacrylamide polymers.”These could originate from personal care products, textiles and wastewater treatment plants. Notably, no such beads were found in the shellfish and finfish samples,” it says.AdvertisementThe most commonly found MPs were plastics which were black in colour (43.9 per cent), which the study claims “might have come into the environment due to abrasion of tyres on the road surfaces as regular wear and tear”.The study, according to the researchers, was carried out to understand the abundance of MPs in the estuarine environment and how the particles find their way into seafood “through which humans may also be exposed”.As per the research, an average Indian consumes 10 kg of seafood per annum.”The average number of MPs in shellfish found in the present study is 2.6 MPs/g. Accordingly, the estimated annual intake of MPs from shellfish alone per capita for Goa would be 8084.1 particles per year per person. Shellfish, therefore, poses a possible threat in terms of consumption, as it is a local delicacy and also consumed by the many tourists in the area,” the study says.One of the top tourist states in the country, Goa is well known for its beaches and nightlife, as well as the variety of seafood on offer in the state’s coastal restaurants.The research comes a month after the NIO, one of the top marine research institutes in the country, indicated the presence of microplastics in government tap water supplied in Goa following research conducted along with a Delhi-based environmental consultancy firm.Reacting to the study, the state government in a rebuttal had questioned the NIO on why the central government’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research had not approached the state government for collaboration during the study.**
The above article has been published from a wire agency with minimal modifications to the headline and text.

Maine will make companies pay for recycling. Here’s how it works.

The law aims to take the cost burden of recycling away from taxpayers. One environmental advocate said the change could be “transformative.”Recycling, that feel-good moment when people put their paper and plastic in special bins, was a headache for municipal governments even in good times. And, only a small amount was actually getting recycled.Then, five years ago, China stopped buying most of America’s recycling, and dozens of cities across the United States suspended or weakened their recycling programs.Now, Maine has implemented a new law that could transform the way packaging is recycled by requiring manufacturers, rather than taxpayers, to cover the cost. Nearly a dozen states have been considering similar regulations and Oregon is about to sign its own version in coming weeks.Maine’s law “is transformative,” said Sarah Nichols, who leads the sustainability program at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. More fundamentally, “It’s going to be the difference between having a recycling program or not.”The recycling market is a commodities market and can be volatile. And, recycling has become extremely expensive for municipal governments. The idea behind the Maine and Oregon laws is that, with sufficient funding, more of what gets thrown away could be recycled instead of dumped in landfills or burned in incinerators. In other countries with such laws, that has proved to be the case.Essentially, these programs work by charging producers a fee based on a number of factors, including the tonnage of packaging they put on the market. Those fees are typically paid into a producer responsibility organization, a nonprofit group contracted and audited by the state. It reimburses municipal governments for their recycling operations with the fees collected from producers.Nearly all European Union member states, as well as Japan, South Korea and five Canadian provinces, have laws like these and they have seen their recycling rates soar and their collection programs remain resilient, even in the face of a collapse in the global recycling market caused in part by China’s decision in 2017 to stop importing other nations’ recyclables.Ireland’s recycling rate for plastics and paper products, for instance, rose from 19 percent in 2000 to 65 percent in 2017. Nearly every E.U. country with such programs has a recycling rate between 60 and 80 percent, according to an analysis by the Product Stewardship Institute. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, America’s recycling rate was 32 percent, a decline from a few years earlier.Nevertheless, laws like these have faced opposition from manufacturers, packaging-industry groups and retailers.In Maine, the packaging industry supported a competing bill that would have given producers more oversight of the program. It also would have exempted packaging for a range of pharmaceutical products and hazardous substances, including paint thinners, antifreeze and household cleaning products.One of the industry’s main objections to the bill that ultimately passed was that it gave the government too much authority and left the industry with not enough voice in the process. “No one knows packaging better than our members,” said Dan Felton, the executive director of the packaging industry group Ameripen, in a statement following the passage of the law. “Funds should be managed by industry.”Recycling is important for environmental reasons as well as in the fight against climate change. There are concerns that a growing market for plastics could drive demand for oil, contributing to the release of greenhouse gas emissions precisely at a time when the world needs to drastically cut emissions. By 2050, the plastics industry is expected to consume 20 percent of all the oil produced.The oil industry, concerned about declining demand as the world moves toward electric cars and away from fossil fuels, has pivoted toward making more plastic — spending more than $200 billion on chemical and plastic manufacturing plants in the United States. Vast amounts of plastic waste are exported to Africa and South Asia, where they often end up in dumps or in waterways and oceans. In the ocean, they can break down into microplastics that harm wildlife.China’s decision in 2017 precipitated a crisis in recycling. Without China as a market to import all that waste, recycling costs soared in the United States. Dozens of cities suspended their recycling programs or turned to landfilling and burning the recyclables they collected. In Oregon alone, 44 cities and 12 counties had to stop collecting certain plastics like polypropylene.Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, signed the new recycling policies into law this month.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated PressTo cope, state legislators and environmental protection agencies began looking for solutions. A number of them, including Maine and Oregon, settled on what is known as an extended producer responsibility program, or E.P.R., for packaging products.In Maine, packaging products covered by the law make up as much as 40 percent of the waste stream.In both states, one important benefit of the program is that it will make recycling more uniform statewide. Today, recycling is a patchwork, with variations between cities about what can be thrown in the recycling bin.These programs exist on a spectrum from producer-run and producer-controlled, to government-run. In Maine, the government is taking the lead, having the final say on how the program will be run, including setting the fees. In Oregon, the producer responsibility organization is expected to involve manufacturers to a larger degree, including them on an advisory council.In another key difference, Maine is also requiring producers to cover 100 percent of its municipalities’ recycling costs. Oregon, by contrast, will require producers to cover around 28 percent of the costs of recycling, with municipalities continuing to cover the rest.Built into both laws is an incentive for companies to reconsider the design and materials used in their packaging. A number of popular consumer products are hard to recycle, like disposable coffee cups — they’re made of a paper base, but with a plastic coating inside, and another plastic lid, as well as possibly a cardboard sleeve.Both Maine and Oregon are considering charging higher rates for packaging that is hard to recycle and therefore doesn’t have a recycling market or products that contain certain toxic chemicals, such as PFAS.For many companies, this might require a shift in mind-set.Scott Cassel, the founder of the Product Stewardship Institute and the former director of waste policy in Massachusetts, described the effect of one dairy company’s decision to change from a clear plastic milk bottle to an opaque white bottle. The opaque bottles were costlier to recycle, so the switch cost the government more money. “The choice of their container really matters,” Mr. Cassel said. “The producer of that product had their own reasons, but they didn’t consider the cost of the material to the recycling market.”Sorting plastics near Nairobi, Kenya. There is growing evidence that waste shipped to Africa and South Asia for recycling ends up in unregulated dumps or waterways.Baz Ratner/ReutersThirty-three states currently have extended producer responsibility laws on the books, but they are far more narrow. Typically they focus only on specific products, like used mattresses and tubs of paint.In those narrow applications, they have proven effective. Connecticut’s mattress, paint, electronic and thermostat E.P.R. programs have diverted more than 26 million pounds of waste since 2008, according to an analysis by the Product Stewardship Institute.A number of the packaging E.P.R. programs introduced in statehouses this year faced significant opposition from the packaging and retail industries, including the one in Maine. One of the industries’ main contentions was that the laws would lead to higher grocery prices for consumers. A study by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality of Canadian E.P.R. programs found that consumer product prices had increased by only $0.0056 per item.Some major consumer-product companies have begun voicing support for policies like these. In 2016, Greenpeace obtained internal documents from Coca-Cola Europe, which depicted extended producer responsibility as a policy that the company was fighting. In a sign of change, this spring, more than 100 multinational companies, including Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Walmart, signed a pledge committing to support E.P.R. policies.Sustainability and Climate Change: Join the Discussion The New York TimesOur Netting Zero series of virtual events brings together New York Times journalists with opinion leaders and experts to understand the challenges posed by global warming and to take the lead for change. Sign up for upcoming events or watch earlier discussions.

We’re eating and drinking Great Lakes plastic. How alarmed should we be?

Editor’s note: This is the third entry in a series examining the causes, impacts and solutions to plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Read the first and second stories here.Thirsty? Would you like a little plastic with your drinking water?That may sound ridiculous, but researchers say it has, unfortunately, become a serious problem that bears further study as evidence mounts that people are eating, drinking and inhaling microscopic pieces of plastic on a regular basis.In Michigan, water utility managers say microplastic contamination is matter of emerging concern, but the problem ranks lower on the priorities list because research into the overall ubiquity and health implications of such contamination is in its infancy.The story is similar for microplastics in food — particularly in fish harvested from the Great Lakes, which are, sadly, awash in plastic fragments. The smallest pieces are entering the base of the food web and showing up in fish guts. But how those tiny particles are affecting the health of animals and potentially the humans that eat them isn’t well understood.“We’re breathing this stuff in, too,” said Sherri Mason, sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend who studies microplastic in the Great Lakes.Ever since Mason began speaking in public about plastic pollution, the question of how the manmade material is affecting humans has been frequently asked.“That is always where it leads to,” Mason said. “It’s frustrating that we don’t have all the answers. But the data we have right now is not (encouraging).”When it comes to plastic in tap water, all eyes are on California as the most populous U.S. state develops regulatory guidelines for microplastics in drinking water. The state’s Water Resources Control Board is expected this year to issue a preliminary safety threshold for the microscopic particles, which are defined as three-dimensional in shape and less than five millimeters long.The effort is complicated by the lack of standardized test methods for microplastics in drinking water and a relative scarcity of research on their ubiquity and health impacts. But researchers say it’s an important precautionary step that’s probably overdue.“We now know that we live in a soup of plastic that is getting ever denser. And we don’t seem to be changing our ways. And the contaminants, they live longer than we do, meaning that the soup will get thicker,” Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University, told the nonprofit news site CalMatters.“So, is it too early to do something? No, it is actually a bit late.”In the Great Lakes region, Mason co-led a 2018 study that found microplastic fibers in 159 samples of tap water from around the world, including 12 brands of beer brewed with Great Lakes source water and 12 commercial sea salt brands.Most of the plastics in the water samples were tiny fibers, which are suspected to have come from the air. That makes it a difficult problem for utilities to control.“As soon as your water comes into contact with air, that’s got microplastics in it,” Mason said. “I think utilities feel like there’s nothing they can do.”A Loyola University Chicago student exams micro plastic with a microscope at an environmental research lab at Loyola in Chicago, Ill. on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.comUtility managers discuss microplastics at conferences, but “I can’t say that utilities are particularly focused on it,” said Bonnifer Ballard, director of the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association, a trade group that represents municipal water utilities. “It’s clearly getting through the system, but I don’t think its pervasive, so it doesn’t rise to the top in terms of concerns.”The longevity of plastic — which can last for hundreds of years, breaking down into smaller pieces as time goes by — is a major concern for Myron Erickson, public utilities director for the city of Wyoming, which draws its water from Lake Michigan.But Erickson is less concerned about people consuming microplastic through municipal water systems because conventional treatments that process surface water from lakes and rivers are meant to remove solid particles. Once the water percolates through a filter bed, Erickson said it doesn’t see the light of day again until it comes out someone’s tap.“It’s a closed, pressurized system by design. There really isn’t a way for it to become contaminated,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s impossible, but that’s not where I’m worried when I think microplastics. I’m worried about the oceans, the air we’re breathing and the fact that there isn’t ever going to be a Flint or a Belmont of microplastics to bring it to population’s attention. The Belmont and Flint of microplastic is Planet Earth.”But evidence suggests that some plastic is coming out of the tap. The 2018 study which found microplastic in tap water samples from around the globe included 33 samples from the United States with an overall average of more than nine plastic particles per sample. Researchers in the effort took precautions to avoid potential airborne fiber contamination.Tap water from Holland, Alpena, Chicago, Milwaukee, Duluth, Buffalo and Clayton, N.Y., all contained at least one microplastic fiber. Each of those utilities draws water from a Great Lakes intake. But beer brewed with that water contained more particles overall, leading study authors to conclude the results “indicate that any contamination within the beer is not just from the water used to brew the beer itself.”“That’s almost certainly coming from employees and humans making and handling and bottling the beer,” said Erickson. “Drinking water doesn’t really work that way.”Bottled water — typically packaged in single-use plastic bottles and generally subject to less regulatory oversight than public utilities — appears to contain more plastic on average than tap samples, according to another 2018 study led by Mason. Analysis of nearly all major bottled brands sourced from around the world found an average of 10 particles per liter. Water bottled in glass had lower particle counts and authors wrote that “data suggests the contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and/or the bottling process itself.”When it comes to the Great Lakes, another major point of concern for human ingestion of plastic is through contaminated fish. Microplastic fibers are showing up in high quantities in fish guts, but the question researchers are still driving toward is whether those particles are being absorbed into fish tissue that people would consume.A dead cormorant, a type of diving bird, is bird is tangled up in plastic balloon ribbon at the Elberta, Mich. beach pier on Lake Michigan, Aug. 14, 2021. Balloon debris is among the 22 million pounds of plastic estimated to enter the Great Lakes each year. (Garret Ellison | MLive)Garret Ellison | MLiveWhat is abundantly clear is that rivers are bringing plastics from various sources to the Great Lakes and, along the way, fish in those rivers are eating them. In 2016 and 2017, Loyola University Chicago biologists sampled 74 fish from the Muskegon and St. Joseph rivers in Michigan and the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin. They found that 85 percent had microplastics in their digestive tract, with an average of 13 particles per fish.Canadian researchers published a study this year which found a record 915 particles in the digestive tract of a Lake Ontario brown bullhead. High particle counts were found in other fish, including white suckers from Humber Bay and Toronto Harbor, which had more than 500 particles apiece. A longnose sucker from Lake Superior’s Mountain Bay had 790 particles. In the Humber River, up to 68 particles were found in common shiner minnows.“Microplastic is interacting with aquatic wildlife,” said Rachel McNeish, a post doc researcher on the Loyola study. “Fish are consuming it — either actively eating it thinking its food, eating insects with microplastic in them or maybe just drinking water with microplastic. Or they may consume it through contact with sediment. In any case, microplastic is entering the food web.”Does that mean fish which ate plastic pose a health risk to humans?John Scott, a chemist at the Illinois Sustainability Technology Center (ISTC) who studies microplastics, said particles in the lakes are known to absorb and concentrate contaminants such as PCBs, PFAS, DDT, flame retardants and other toxic chemicals. When it comes to chemicals, the question is whether or not the plastics eaten by fish amplify biomagnification of contaminants up the food chain. In other words, are they making larger fish more unsafe to consume than they otherwise would be?In 2018, researchers suspended plastic nurdle pellets in Muskegon Lake for three months. After one month, they found pollutants like PFAS, PCBs and PAHs had concentrated in a biofilm that developed on the pellets at levels hundreds of times higher than background levels.“There is that potential for magnification,” said Alan Steinman, a Grand Valley State University researcher who led the study — which led to more questions. “If it’s taken up by an organism, we don’t know if it will be further biomagnified and have a negative impact.”Scott, who was co-author on the Muskegon Lake study, said chemical additives in plastic — which is primarily made using fossil fuels — are also a concern. “There’s thousands of these additives in plastic and not at trivial levels,” he said.To cross biological membranes and not be simply expelled by the body as waste, plastic particles would have to break down to nanoplastic levels. Research on the toxic effects of plastic on humans micro and nano levels is still in its infancy, but some studies have indicate the potential for serious problems. A 2021 scientific review in the journal Nanomaterials noted that researchers have already been able to demonstrate the microscopic particles are “able to cause serious impacts on the human body, including physical stress and damage, apoptosis, necrosis, inflammation, oxidative stress and immune responses.”“Everyone is talking about microplastic, but down the road, I think that might shift to nano or even pico plastics,” Scott said. “Those things are more liable to get into the body and stay there.”Related stories:Great Lakes plastic pollution is only getting worseIndustrial plastic pellets litter Great Lakes beachesZeeland plastic powder spill sparks evacuationsMicroplastic fibers prevalent in Great Lakes tributariesAnn Arbor eyes ban on single-use plasticsLawmakers want to ban the ban on plastic bag banningMichigan PFAS site list surges past 100 amid new standards