Protecting Our Oceans from Ghost Traps

At any given time, there are thought to be over 360,000 tons of loose fishing gear floating through our oceans. These disregarded pieces of debris are a danger to our aquatic ecosystems, trapping fish, turtles, birds and even whales. Kurt Lieber assembled the Ocean Defender Alliance, a group of volunteer divers cleaning California’s coasts of ghost nets and traps.

Scuba Divers Fight Ocean Debris

Divers free a seal from fishing nets. National Ocean Service. CC 1.0.

Divers free a seal from fishing nets. National Ocean Service. CC 1.0.

It’s no secret that plastic waste harms marine life. Pictures of turtles caught in six-pack rings and seals stuck in netting circulate the web, reminding consumers to limit their waste, and to reduce, reuse, recycle. The most recent trend in ocean-awareness has been a campaign to stop using plastic straws, which are too lightweight to make it into a mechanical recycling sorter, and end up in the sea.

Now, the data is even more clear. A recent study based on four years of diving on over 150 coral reefs concludes that a coral’s likelihood of disease increases from 4% to 84% when it comes in contact with plastic. Plastic harms coral by decreasing their exposure to the sun, and tearing open their skin, thereby making them more susceptible to disease.The facts are frightening, especially considering that it is estimated that there 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean.

One outstanding organization, Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris, is trying to change these statistics. The organization was founded in 2011, and has empowered 50,000 divers to clean and report on debris from the reefs they love to visit.

Dive Against Debris focuses on two aspects of conservation: policy and community.

Their policy arm focuses on advancing local, national, and international laws on shark awareness and marine conservation.

Community work involves cleaning debris from reefs, and collecting data on the types and quantity of the waste. Data can be found on their interactive map, which shows type and quantity of debris by location.

Another aspect of community work involves fundraising and activism. Divers are encouraged to raise funds and awareness for the cause, as well as encourage environmentally-friendly diving practices among their peers. They are active on social media through campaigns like #NoExcuseForSingleUse or #MakeTimeForMakos.

Dive Against Debris makes it easy for enthusiastic scuba divers to find a community and make an impact while exploring the ocean and doing what they love.

ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur.

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Tides of Change : Japan to Resume Commercial Whaling

For more than thirty years, the island nation of Japan has fought to expand its commercial whaling operations. That fight has mostly been a losing one, with its efforts often being blocked by anti-whaling countries around the world and condemned by the International Whaling Commission, an organization whose members include Japan itself. However, Japan’s recently proposed exit from the commission will allow the country to reclaim one of its most time-honored traditions, and the move is drawing international criticism.

Two Minke Whales being loaded onto the Nisshin Maru. The ship has facilities on board which allow it to freeze and process whales while at sea. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. CC BY-SA 3.0

Two Minke Whales being loaded onto the Nisshin Maru. The ship has facilities on board which allow it to freeze and process whales while at sea. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1982 the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, imposed a global moratorium on all commercial whaling, save for subsistence whaling by Aboriginal communities. The moratorium went into effect in 1985 and was met with opposition from Iceland, Norway, and Japan, countries with strong whaling traditions. In Japan, whale meat generally served the same purpose that beef or lamb served in Western societies and this was especially true during hard times. In the 1940s as the country was recovering from World War 2, whale meat was the single most consumed meat among Japanese people, and it remained so through the 1960s. After the announcement of the IWC’s whaling ban, Japan petitioned for the right to continue whaling in the Antarctic for “scientific purposes” though the specific nature of its research remained unclear. Whale activists claimed that this “research whaling” was in fact, commercial whaling in disguise, and vessels like the Nisshin Maru, Japan’s largest whaling vessel and the world's only factory whaling ship, became a frequent target of animals rights groups, with some going so far as to board vessels of their own and try to disrupt the Maru’s whaling expeditions by obstructing its path. Earlier this year, Japan expressed a desire to develop new ships, fast enough to outrun those of the activists, but the plan appears to have been scrapped, as the Japanese government announced in late December that it will formally withdraw from the IWC, discontinue its operations in the Antarctic and resume commercial whaling operations in its own coastal waters. Though the demand for whale meat has diminished somewhat in Japan, the practice of whale fishing is still considered by many to be intrinsic to the country’s cultural identity.

Environmental conservation hinges on the idea that some of the Earth’s resources are non-renewable. Humans can hunt an animal to extinction, and that extinction creates an imbalance in the ecosystem that the animal once belonged to. The effects of that imbalance can, in turn, come back to haunt humans, either directly or indirectly. These are, however, relatively young ideas, and pitting them against hundreds of years of tradition is sure to be a test for all parties involved.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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