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.

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 11.47.14 AM.png

This is Not a Drill: Keep Australia’s Coasts Oil-Free

The Great Australian Bight, South Australia. Aussie Oc at English Wikipedia. CC 3.0

The Great Australian Bight, South Australia. Aussie Oc at English Wikipedia. CC 3.0

The Great Australian Bight is known worldwide for its beautiful oceanic environment,home to diverse forms of marine life, and its coastline lined by the longest sea cliffs in the world.  A bight is a large open bay; this specific bay runs from Cape Carnot in South Australia, all the way to Cape Pasley in Western Australia: over 700 miles of ocean and sky that thousands of whales, seals, fish, birds, plants, and surfers call home.  

Equinor, a Norwegian oil company, has plans to carry out a drilling operation in the Great Australian Bight, ultimately turning it into a deepwater oil field.  This operation would devastate the 85% of rare marine life that exists in the Bight. Not only is it endangering the various species that live among the coasts, but the increase in pollution could disrupt the people of Australia.  A potential spill in the Bight could result in the death of several endangered species: killer whales, southern right whales, blue whales, dolphins, endemic Australian sea lions, and many more. The Bight also supports multi-billion dollar fishery, aquaculture, and tourism industries.  Drilling would, most likely, halt if not destroy this economy altogether. Not unlike BP’s drilling expedition, the proposal for drilling in the Great Australian Bight could have severe consequences, and ultimately the same catastrophic ending as BP’s drilling operation could incur. 8 years after the BP oil spill, the Gulf is still experiencing significant impacts, and scientists expect them to continue.  Scientists say that they may not know for another 30 or 40 years the extent of the effects. If the Equinor drilling operation resulted in another massive oil spill in our current environmental state, our economy and Earth would take much longer to bounce back than the BP oil spill. If this were to occur in summer, it would also not only affect Australia but also places as far away as northeastern Europe. If it were to happen in winter, the oil would most likely impact Kangaroo Island, the Eyre Peninsula and the Spencer Gulf in South Australia. It could also potentially reach the Victorian and Tasmanian coastline, heading towards New Zealand.  Known the remarkable economic and environmental values that would be put at risk from Equinor’s drilling operation in the Great Australian Bight, this project should not be considered.

Equinor’s drilling plan has led activists and surfers worldwide to strike and start a viral movement, ‘#Fightforthebight,’ to save this Australian coastline.  Surfers have paddled out in peaceful protests displaying signs with slogans like “Big oil has no future” or “Kill the Drill.” Several worldwide famous surfers that call Australia home, like Stephanie Gilmore, Nat Young, Mick Fanning, and many more, have signed an open letter concerning the Equinor’s drilling proposition and its potential impact on their coasts. To take action and help keep Australia’s coasts oil-free you can sign a Statement of Concern or donate here: .

AMELIA BAUMANN is an aspiring writer and editor from New Jersey. I love to travel and am intrigued with the diversity of culture around the world.  I am passionate about our environment and  especially keeping our oceans clean.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 2.19.42 PM.png

In Haiti, Climate Aid Comes with Strings Attached

Haiti had not yet recovered from its devastating 2010 earthquake when it was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. It is one of the world’s most vulnerable nations to climate change.  AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Haiti had not yet recovered from its devastating 2010 earthquake when it was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. It is one of the world’s most vulnerable nations to climate change. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Perhaps no people know better than Haitians just how dangerous, destructive and destabilizing climate change can be.

Haiti – which had not yet recovered from a massive 2010 earthquake when Hurricane Matthew killed perhaps a thousand people and caused a cholera outbreak in 2016 – is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Scientists say extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods and droughts will become worse as the planet warms. Island nations are expected to be among the hardest hit by those and other impacts of a changing climate, like shoreline erosion.

For poor island countries like Haiti, studies show, the economic costs, infrastructural damage and loss of human life is already overwhelming. And scientists expect it will only get worse.

To help Haiti address this pending crisis, international donors have stepped in with funding for climate action. The problem with that system, as I found in a recent analysis of international climate aid in Haiti, is that the money may not be going where it’s most needed.

Extreme vulnerability

Though Haiti’s greenhouse gas emissions amount cumulatively to less than 0.03 percent of global carbon emissions, it is a full participant in the 2015 Paris climate agreement and has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by 5 percent by 2030.

To meet that goal, Haitian officials say, the Caribbean country must switch 1 million traditional light bulbs for more efficient LED bulbs, grow 137,500 hectares of new forest and shift 47 percent of its electricity generation to renewable sources. Those are just a few objectives in Haiti’s 2015-2030 climate plan.

Almost a fifth of Haiti’s population works in agriculture. To achieve climate resilience, farmers must still be able to feed people even after a disaster.  Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Almost a fifth of Haiti’s population works in agriculture. To achieve climate resilience, farmers must still be able to feed people even after a disaster. Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

It needs help to meet them.

Haiti is among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 60 percent of the population lives on less than US$2.41 per day, according to the country’s 2012 household survey, the most recent poverty data available.

More than 20 percent of its national budget is funded by loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – a setup that gives international lenders an unusual level of control over Haiti’s government expenditures.

The same is true of Haiti’s climate mitigation efforts. The majority of the money behind its 15-year plan to finance climate mitigation and adaptation activities – from disaster preparation and renewable energy development to increasing food security – also comes from international donors.

The crowdsourced nature of Haiti’s climate budget can make it hard to determine just how much money Haiti has to spend – and what, exactly, the government can spend it on.

So, last year, I worked with the Climate Policy Lab at the Fletcher School at Tufts University to analyze Haiti’s climate budget.

A hodgepodge of climate funding

In an unpublished 2018 study, we found that the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank are the two biggest donors to Haiti’s $1.1 billion climate fund. Switzerland is also a major financier, having given the Caribbean nation $64.4 million since 2009, as is Japan, which has given $14.8 million to help fund Haiti’s climate efforts.

Most of this $1.1 billion comes in the form of grants, not loans – it’s free money. And, in a country with a gross domestic product of $8 billion, $1.1 billion for climate mitigation is a substantial sum of money.

However, as my recent analysis of the Tufts climate study shows, the bulk of the money appears to be misallocated.

Numerous international donors, each of which has set its own climate objectives, fund climate action in the country. The result, I found in my analysis, is that Haiti’s climate budget is a mashup of donor priorities that puts too much money behind certain initiatives while underfunding other environmental needs.

Fully 70 percent of Haiti’s $1.1 billion climate budget – $773 million – is earmarked for making energy production more sustainable in Haiti. This involves improving hydroelectric power and increasing solar usage, among other energy upgrades.

Renewable energy may have seemed like a sensible priority for the World Bank and other individual donors. But, put together, this is a disproportionately high investment for a country with such low carbon emissions, my analysis shows. My research suggests the money could be better used to connect more Haitians to the energy grid. Currently, just 20 percent of Haitians – most of them in Port-au-Prince – have semi-reliable electricity. Power is a necessity after any disaster.

Reforestation projects are also notably absent in Haiti’s climate budget.

Haiti is the Caribbean’s most deforested nationSeventy percent of forests on the island have disappeared since the late 1980s. It desperately needs reforestation projects to reduce flooding, coastal erosion and water pollution and prevent mudslides.

Yet in my analysis of the total $116 million in donor funds earmarked for watershed management and soil conservation, I found barely a mention of reforestation.

Hillside neighborhoods like this area outside Port-au-Prince are prone to mudslides during heavy rain.  Reuters/Swoan Parker

Hillside neighborhoods like this area outside Port-au-Prince are prone to mudslides during heavy rain. Reuters/Swoan Parker

Mismatch between perception and reality

Other areas of Haiti’s climate change plan are somewhat better funded but, to my mind, misguided.

Take disaster risk reduction, for example. Of the $269 million earmarked for reducing disaster risk in Haiti, most funds are set aside for rebuilding after disasters.

That may seem sensible in a country prone to earthquakes, flooding and hurricanes, but research shows that sustainable construction – not merely rebuilding – better prepares a country for disasters and other long-term effects of climate change. Planning saves time, energy, money and human life.

Haiti’s international donors have set aside little money for ensuring that new highways, buildings and other critical infrastructure in Haiti are constructed in a resilient, climate-ready manner – before the next big disaster happens.

Addressing the power imbalance

This kind of mismatch between local needs and donor priorities is a common hazard of internationally funded budgets.

Donors call the shots about how their money is spent from afar. Often they don’t have enough on-the-ground information to be making such important executive decisions.

In interviews, local Haitian officials told me that the municipal agencies that actually engage with people and communities have little say over how they may spend climate funds or which environmental projects are implemented.

In Haiti, this problem is not limited to climate funding – it’s a hazard of running a national government on the largess of other countries.

Last year, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a United Nations donor agency, announced a community-based strategy to building climate resilience in Haitian agriculture by partnering with local organizations and agencies.

“This community-based approach will support Haitians working together to enhance their economic potential, resilience and coping strategies when faced with climatic and economic shocks,” a 2018 report said.

My climate research in Haiti supports this assessment.

If international donors allow Haitian authorities more control over funding, working more closely with local community organizations, they would not only help address its most important needs, the strategy would be cost-effective. Money channeled to where Haiti most needs it is money well spent.

KESTON K. PERRY is a Postdoctoral researcher, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University.


Ireland Becomes the First Country to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Executive Director of Trócaire calls the bill “both substantive and symbolic.”

Sunset in Skerries, Ireland.  Giuseppe Milo. CC BY 2.0

Sunset in Skerries, Ireland. Giuseppe Milo. CC BY 2.0

Last July, Ireland moved to take public funds out of fossil fuels. While many universities, organizations, and even cities have made similar commitments, Ireland will be the first country to do so. According to the New York Times, Ireland’s action represents the most substantial advance for divestment in the world.

The bill commiting to divestment was passed with all party support by the lower house of Parliament and necessitates that money from the sovereign fund (8.9 billion euros) be taken out of fossil fuels. According to a statement, the change will be made, “as soon as practicable.” (The phrase likely refers to changes made to the bill: originally it called for divestment within five years, but was altered to give the government more flexibility.)

According to the Guardian, the bill defines a fossil fuel company as one that receives 20% or more of its income from the “exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels.”

The divestment bill will move on to the Senate which has the ability to delay, but not overturn it. According to the aid of Thomas Pringle, the parliament member who introduced the bill, it has the support of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and is thus almost guaranteed to become law. Varadkar’s support is expected, as he has professed hopes that Ireland will become a “leader in climate action.”

According to Pringle himself, the “movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted. Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”

Eamonn Meehan, director of Trócaire, the environmental organization that advocated for the bill, told the New York Times that the bill, “will stop public money being invested against the public interest, and it sends a clear signal nationally and globally that action on the climate crisis needs to be accelerated urgently, starting with the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Currently, Ireland has over 300 million euros in fossil fuel investments, according to the Guardian. The country's decision to divest is so momentous in part because of its reputation as slacker in fighting climate change. According to a survey by Climate Action Network, conducted a month before the decision, Ireland was was ranked second to last in the category of climate action, followed by Poland. The country’s decision to divest promises a greener future for Ireland.

Now, Ireland hopes that other countries will follow its lead. According to Gerry Liston of the Global Legal Action Network, and drafter of the bill, “governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”




EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

emma bruce.png

Mask off: How Beijing is Managing its Smog Problem

Earlier this month, California made national headlines when the worst wildfire in the state’s history covered parts of it in smoke, creating yet another worry for citizens already vexed by the high cost of living and rising homelessness. Some news stations, hoping to illustrate the seriousness of the matter, stressed that the air quality in California was “worse than Beijing’s,” an announcement that prompted many locals to don the air masks that one often sees in images of the Chinese capital. In media, locally, and abroad, Beijing has become synonymous with bad air. The internet is peppered with images of skyscrapers draped in brown or grey fog. But recent efforts by the government have made some headway in the battle with Beijing’s notorious smog and could give us insight into how to battle this problem at home.

A smoggy day in Beijing. By 螺钉 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A smoggy day in Beijing. By 螺钉 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Those who have been to Beijing know that air quality is but one of many dangers; crossing an intersection can be like an action movie at times and drinking water out of the tap is generally a bad idea. Smog, however, is the issue most often associated with Beijing in the media. Fortunately, Beijing is aware of its reputation and has taken steps over the last few years to improve its air quality. The city has pledged to shut down 1000 manufacturing factories by 2020 to help reduce smog. It is also experimenting with new technology. Early last year Beijing employed the use a solar-powered air vacuum to help clean up the city’s air. Developed by Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde, the Smog Free Tower sucks up 30,000 cubic meters of polluted air per hour. The air is then cleaned at a nano level and released back into the city. In a particularly bold move, Beijing's government is investigating the possibility of switching from coal to natural gas as the primary source of heating for millions of households. This shift will be implemented gradually, as concern for the well-being of Beijingers during the winter months supersedes the need for cleaner air.

Dan Roosegaardes's Smog Free Tower. By Bic - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Dan Roosegaardes's Smog Free Tower. By Bic - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

People can change, and ideally, their reputations will change as well. Beijing’s efforts to clean its air shows an environmental consciousness that contradicts its reputation as a dirty industrialized city. As smog becomes a more recurrent issue in cities and courtiers around the world, communities that once judged China for its smog may get to learn a thing or two about how to fight it.

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 4.06.36 PM.png

Fighting Plastic Pollution on Easter Island’s Shores

When Francis Picco traveled to Easter Island for vacation in 1989, he fell in love—both with the woman who would become his wife and with the breathtaking landscape. Over time, he began to notice a troubling addition to the rocky shores: plastic waste, most of it from commercial fishing vessels. Determined to give back to the island that has given him so much, Picco spends hours each week picking up refuse by hand.

MEXICO: Turning Gas Guzzlers Into Clean Cars

In Mexico City, more than 3.5 million cars navigate the streets, plazas and avenues of North America’s most populous urban area. That makes for a ton of exhaust, but luckily, there’s a solution to this environmental problem. Enter engineer/auto mechanic Alvaro de la Paz and computer scientist Hector Ruiz. Together, they’re transforming old gasoline-fueled automobiles into electric cars. Over the past decade, the pair has converted more than two dozen vehicles into zero-emissions automobiles. While that may seem like a small dent in an enormous cloud of exhaust, the pair hopes that their project will inspire younger generations to work for a brighter, cleaner future.