US President Barack Obama proposes ban on single-use Plastic Bags

Banning the use of plastic bags is a major step to reduce the usage of plastic but not a great impact on the big problem of colossal disposal of plastics on the oceans

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FILE - Plastic trash on the shoreline of cocoa beach in India. VOA
  • About 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year
  • Dangerous chemicals are also leeching into the bodies of the marine creatures and harm them hugely
  • A bag ban can be not much helpful considering the huge amount of plastic dumped in the oceans but it is a great step on the project of reducing plastic dump altogether

Sept 18, 2016: President Barack Obama has proposed a ban on single-use plastic bags. This is a major blow in a small but growing fight against the ‘disposable society’ as referred by the environmentalists. At present, only 12 cities or counties in the United States have barred the usage of plastic bags. But those include three of the nation’s largest cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.

If you doubt that this is a real problem, here’s the most sobering statistic you’ll hear today: According to research published in 2015 in the journal Science, “4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic” end up in the world’s oceans every year.

Here’s a reference point for just how much plastic that is: A Nimitz class super-carrier, the largest warship ever built, weighs a measly 100,000 metric tonnes. Dump 48 of those just offshore, and that equals the low-end estimate of the plastic that is washing into the world’s oceans every year. A lot of this plastic ends up accumulating in circular currents, called gyres, throughout the world’s oceans.

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Think of them as giant whirlpools where all this plastic is spinning toward the centre of the pool. But these trash gyres, which have made headlines over the past few years, aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye. “Much of the debris is actually small pieces of floating plastic …” NOAA says. “It is possible to sail through the ‘garbage patch’ area and see very little or no debris on the water’s surface.”

One word, plastics

It’s impossible to say just how much of that plastic debris is in the form of bags, but we do know that sea turtles often mistake bags for jellyfish — one of their favourite foods. And all too often the plastic they eat ends up lodging in their digestive systems, which can kill them. But the bigger problem is that plastic of all kinds is incredibly durable and long lasting. The lifespan of plastic is measured in hundreds of years, and if it ends up in landfills, covered by dirt or other garbage, it can be almost immortal.

And even if it does degrade, it does so in a way that causes, even more, problems to the environment. Eventually, larger plastics degrade into what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls microplastics, smaller than 5mm in size.

The research on what all this plastic, big and little, is doing to the environment is still being conducted, but some environmental groups suggest that 100,000 sea creatures are killed every year because they get tangled up in plastic, and an estimated 1 million seabirds die every year of starvation because their stomachs are filled with plastic debris.

NOAA calls these kinds of plastic problems “direct impacts.”

Plastic and what’s in it

Another element of the plastic problem still being researched is what NOAA calls “indirect impacts.” These come from the chemicals that plastics have in them, and the chemicals they absorb as they degrade.

Emma Tonge from NOAA told VOA that plastic “can accumulate pollutants, such as PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] up to 100,000 to 1,000,000 times the levels found in sea water.” And while these chemicals were banned in 1971, they’re still floating around.

New research in the past few years suggests these dangerous chemicals are also leeching into the bodies of the fish that eat the plastics. And once in the fish, they can stress and damage the fish, as well as us if we catch and eat them.

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Banning single-use plastic bags won’t come anywhere near solving the problem because of the wide range of plastics — everything from “common domestic material [bags, Styrofoam cups, bottles, balloons] to industrial products [strapping bands, plastic sheeting, hard hats] to lost or discarded fishing gear [nets, buoys, traps, lines],” all of which NOAA says it is finding in the oceans.

But a bag ban would help, and NOAA says the agency is continuing to “support a number of projects across the country that use outreach and education as a means to prevent marine debris.” These programs focus on prevention, or keeping the plastic from getting into the ocean through what NOAA calls “changes that incorporate the three R’s [reduce, reuse, recycle].” It’s a start that could benefit not only the sea life that is steadily ingesting plastic but carnivores like us at the top of the food chain who may be eating contaminated seafood. (VOA)

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All you Need to Know About Animal Culture

Animal culture to conserve endangered species

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Animal culture
Animal culture - the learning of non-human species through socially transmitted behaviour - is being linked to conservation action. Pixabay

For the first time, animal culture – the learning of non-human species through socially transmitted behaviour – is being linked to conservation action, biologists said on Wednesday.

The Convention on the Conservation on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has been spearheading efforts to use scientific knowledge on animal culture, to better protect endangered wildlife.

Two such proposals were presented to delegates meeting this week in Gandhinagar to consider conservation measures for the eastern tropical pacific sperm whale and the nut-cracking chimpanzee.

Animal culture
The Convention on the Conservation on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)is the only United Nations treaty that addresses migratory species and their habitats. Pixabay

There is evidence that whales, dolphins, elephants and primates acquire some of their knowledge and skills through social learning.

In addition to individual learning, some animals may learn socially from adults or peers about various behaviours, including optimal migration routes.

The concerted action of the sperm whale recognizes the complex social structure within four subspecies. They differ little from each other in their nuclear DNA, but their vocalizations vary considerably, and these can only be acquired through social interaction and learning.

Collecting data through acoustic and photographic records can help conservationists fully understand the social structure of all subspecies. The proposed conservation measures call for research and transboundary information exchange to close knowledge gaps.

The initiative for the nut-cracking chimpanzees highlights the species’ unique technological culture. The species can crack open different types of nut by using stones and pieces of wood as a hammer and anvil.

Despite nuts, stones and wood being commonly available, nut-cracking skills occur only in the most westerly parts of this subspecies’ range spanning Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Co’te d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and not in other populations across Africa.

Scientists say this cultural capacity enables these chimpanzees to survive dry seasons in their western habitats.

Such behaviour could enhance survival prospects of chimpanzees in areas showing climate induced changes to vegetation.

Animal culture
The Convention on the Conservation on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has been spearheading efforts to use scientific knowledge to better protect endangered wildlife. Pixabay

Human activities that disrupt the social fabric of culturally developed species can have severe impacts. Once a species has vanished from an area, critical knowledge can also be lost.

For example, the southern right whales’ knowledge of migration routes around New Zealand’s coastline was lost to the species as a result of commercial whaling in the 1800s.

Nowadays, a handful of whales, however have again started to calve around New Zealand.

Recent evidence of genetic mixing among these whales suggests that the species may recolonize forgotten migration destinations once the population recovers from the impact of whaling.

Protecting cultural knowledge among peers and across generations may be vital for the survival and successful reproduction of certain species.

Supporting individuals that act as “repositories” of social knowledge such as elephant matriarchs, or groups of knowledgeable elders, may be just as important as conserving critical habitat.

Understanding how sperm whales pass on valuable information to their offspring or why some groups of chimpanzees have a culture of cracking nutritious nuts with stone tools while others do not, can be key to evaluating conservation challenges for such species.

Scientific research has made significant progress in animal culture. However, it is necessary to develop findings and recommendations that show how this complex issue can be further considered in conservation efforts under CMS.

Also Read- Health and Future of Every Child Under Threat Due to Climate Change: Report

CMS is the only United Nations treaty that addresses migratory species and their habitats.

Delegates at the ongoing 13th meeting of the CMS COP13, which India is hosting for the first time, will also consider the need for guidance and implementation tools to mitigate the impacts of linear infrastructure on migratory species. (IANS)

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Neutralizing Ocean Acidification Possible with this Surf Wax Formula

Activists create surf wax formula to neutralize ocean acidification

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Ocean
Environmentalists have developed a surf wax that will reduce acidification in ocean. Pixabay

Australian environmental activists said on Tuesday that they have developed a surf wax formula that helps neutralize ocean acidification.

SmartWax, a brand manufacturing the formula, comes with the image of global leaders that deny climate change, such as US President Donald Trump, the non-profit responsible for the project, Clean Ocean Foundation Australia, told Efe news.

Surfers commonly apply the wax on the board before going into the sea as it helps to prevent them slipping.

From January 2020, they will also include the face of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

About 25 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, one of the planet’s major polluters, are absorbed by oceans, contributing to their acidification and endangering marine life and ecosystems.

Surf Wax
This surf wax should be applied on the surfing board. Pixabay

According to Unesco data, if measures are not taken to reverse its effects before 2100, more than 50 per cent of marine life will be extinct.

“We can no longer afford to sit by and watch our oceans turn to acid and marine environments turn into a wasteland. SmartWax shows that we can all shape a better future for our ocean if we stick to it,” Clean Ocean Foundation CEO John Germill said in a statement.

Also Read- Global Warming Can Make You Fall ill More Often: Study

This wax, made from a natural substance capable of neutralizing ocean acids, will contribute towards small gradual changes to try to get the sea waters back to their natural pH levels.

With about 35 million surfers worldwide, Clean Ocean estimated that if all surf-board wax brands used their formula, it could help treat about 112 million liters of seawater per day. (IANS)

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NOAA Assailing Agency for Undermining its Weather Forecasters as It Defends President Donald Trump’s Claim

They say NOAA's action risks the credibility of the nation's weather and science agency and may even risk lives

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NOAA, Agency, Weather Forecasters
President Trump, left, listens as Kenneth Graham, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, on screen, gives an update during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. VOA

Former top officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are assailing the agency for undermining its weather forecasters as it defends President Donald Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian had threatened Alabama.

They say NOAA’s action risks the credibility of the nation’s weather and science agency and may even risk lives.

The critics served both Republican and Democratic presidents. Among them are four former top NOAA officials and a former disaster response chief.

NOAA, Agency, Weather Forecasters
President Trump, left, listens as Kenneth Graham, director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, on screen, gives an update during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. VOA

On Friday, a NOAA statement from an anonymous spokesperson lent support to Trump’s warning days earlier that Alabama faced danger from Dorian. Alabama had never been included in official hurricane advisories and his information was outdated.

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The statement undermined a National Weather Service tweet from Sunday that had said Alabama would see no impact from Dorian. (VOA)

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