Plastic pollution has emerged as an important aspect of today’s environmental issues. It is now a crucial element of the threats our oceans and marine biodiversity facing. I am sure you have heard of the young whale recently washed up in the Philippines, with a staggering 40 kg of plastic in its stomach. According to a report by the United Nations, 8 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans annually. It also says, that 500 times more plastic particles are found in the oceans, than stars in our entire galaxy. Shocking!
Why do we use it?
There are properties of plastics that makes it attractive for industries. First of all, a very good reason for its widespread use is its flexibility, and incredible resilience to organic materials and water. The more polymer chains it contains, the more dense it is, therefore it can be used as piping in the water- and gas industry. In addition, it has an impressive strength, but it is still easy to shape and colour if needed.
When I say plastic, you must think of those PET bottles everyone heard of. You might think it further, and picture your shower gel, washing up liquid, or bin bags. However, one cannot simply quantify the number of items that can be produced from some sort of plastic. It is literally everywhere! In your car, in products you buy, in your house, even in the food you eat.
A profound problem with plastic is that very small percentage of it actually floats on the ocean surface. The vast majority sinks to the bottom of the ocean. We are not just talking those PET bottles here, but tiny tiny particles. It contaminates everything that lives in the ocean, including animals, and those plants that provides vital oxygen for you and me.
Make a difference
There is a steady rise in terms of talking about plastic pollution. What we really need is a radical shift in attention. No organisations, foundations or governments can ease this disease so long as the population doesn’t stand behind it.
We live in a world, where things are given to us on a silver platter. We don’t think, we don’t act. Although I cannot blame anyone. We forget that if our generation looks away, there won’t be anything left for our children.
I’ve recently had the luck to work with a brilliant team of scientists, and conservationists. A very great team gathered for the Hamworthy beach and Ham Common clean. We also did a survey for the Marine Conservation Society by digging up a 100 metres long, and 25 metres wide beach area and collected data on various types of litter we found there. It is always heart warming to work with enthusiastic and passionate people who work tirelessly to protect our environment.
The results just came back, and I am genuinely shocked. When we arrived at the beach, I’ve looked around, and I thought we will hardly find anything. It looked so clean. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A hundred metres beach, 48 kg of plastic
Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it is not there.
It’s not just our marine biodiversity and oceans that face this threat. It is us, collectively. Almost 250 pieces of plastic pellets, over 500 metal pieces, fishing nets and shopping bags, crisp packets and rubbers, and countless more.
Take action, and get together with your family and friends and participate. Stand up for the environment, and stand up for our future! If you don’t know where to start, join a beach clean with the Marine Conservation Society, and be with us through the Great British Beach Clean!
“Wait, you’re how old?” This is a question
I’m pretty used to getting, especially after telling someone my plans to
graduate. Let’s back up a few steps first. I grew up on a farm in a small town
in Kansas, population: 600. There were more cows than people, no really, I’m
serious. Education was always something that was very important to me as (at
the time) a straight A student involved in numerous clubs in activities. Around
the age of twelve I joined Mensa International which only increased my drive
for the pursuit of knowledge more.
Passion for the road
At age fifteen I was able to enroll in my
first college class and I was ecstatic. High school was typically pretty boring
for me as I never thought it provided enough of a challenge. While I was taking
more advanced science classes my passion for botany continued to grow. As a kid
I would go out with my dad to do soil samples in fields and he would tell me
about the important nutrients that each crop needed for a good yield. During
those times I probably wasn’t paying as much attention to what he was saying as
I should have, I was just have too much fun digging up samples. I think it was
a combination of those hot summer farm days and my new access to harder science
classes that peaked my interest in STEM.
At age seventeen I was the first female to
graduate with my Associates degree before my high school diploma for that area
(only two had done it before me, both boys). That was probably my biggest
accomplishment at the time, I was immensely proud of myself and all that hard
work paid off by getting me into a Biology program at a private university in
Now we should be pretty much caught back
up in the timeline. I’ll be graduating in May with my Bachelors at age
nineteen, another early milestone since most people don’t graduate until they
are twenty-one. While this is a huge accomplishment, I won’t say it was easy.
Lots of long nights and early mornings, dealing with the prejudice associated
with working in the STEM field as a young woman, and still keeping your head up
through it all. Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s also an honor to be a woman in
STEM, working towards a better future that was laid out for us by previous
groundbreaking female scientists.
If it weren’t for STEM I wouldn’t have
learned what I am capable of under stressful conditions, I wouldn’t have been
able to live on the East Coast for a summer doing internship research, I
wouldn’t have met some amazing people or be able to tell you random facts and
processes off of the top of my head. So keep your chin up ladies, because there
are plenty of little girls watching that want to be scientists, engineers,
technologists, and mathematicians, just like us.
If someone would have told me I will end up crawling, literally crawling on my hands and knees through mud just to get to my goal during fieldwork I would have laughed at their faces. Yet I did it. Let me go back a few months.
I’m currently a Master student studying an MSc in Marine Biology from the University of Groningen. I moved her last August to begin my adventure, but originally I am from Malta which is a tiny island in the Mediterranean with divine seas and mouthwatering food. I never actually thought I would reach this point in my life. It had seemed so far away.
Living in a different country is always hard. Luckily for me I made good friends and adapted quickly to the sunless environment (oh sun how I miss thee). My advice if your moving somewhere new, introduce yourself to your neighbours, roommates and classmates. Chances are they are all in the same boat as you are and are feeling lost. These people will form the support group you will need to get through university.
So how did I end up crawling again you might ask? Well, my main aim out of this Masters is to discover which field I want to specialise in. Before coming here, I was inclined towards both Botany and Marine biology and my tutor back home suggested I could combine the two in the form of sea grass! So when it came to pick a topic I looked for one with sea grass and lo and behold there was one going on about sea grass restoration in the Wadden Sea! I jumped at the opportunity to be on the project and haven’t looked back since.
Since starting the fieldwork aspect of my thesis I have encountered a lot of new and unfamiliar environments such as mudflats. Not just any mudflats but one where if you stand still for a few seconds you find yourself knee deep and stuck in the mud (yes, I am in fact speaking from experience). It took me 25 minutes to get to my goal what took every one 5 minutes to do. Luckily I had help and was never alone. My friends kept pulling me out of the mud, but obviously I kept on getting stuck.
So finally someone suggested crawling. Best idea ever! Yes, I did end up covered in mud. Yes, I was late. Yes, I was tired and scared. But I was tenacious and didn’t give up. Just like you shouldn’t dear reader give up on your goal, because you know what? The second time I went there it only took me 10 minutes to get to our location and I only fell once on the way there!
It is 1957. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography convinced Charles David Keeling to set up a base in Hawaii. The Mauna Loa Observatory presents unbiased data about the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere since 1958.
Why is this so important?
Because the observations maintain the longest, continuous record of this particular data set. It is far from other sources of air pollution. Furthermore, not influenced by the fossil fuel burning of the cities, as it is on an island, way above (3000 m) sea level. Within only a few years of Keeling setting base it was very clear, that the carbon dioxide levels are rising in the atmosphere. It is of paramount importance that these reading made it possible to compare the results with those recovered from the past.
Scientist are able to capture data from trapped air bubbles in ice cores. Today they can present data 400.000 years back, and that is just incredible! It is clear from the NASA recording, that during ice ages the atmospheric carbon was around 200 ppm (parts per million). During warmer periods it was closer to 300 ppm. After the 1950s we have reached and left behind this 300 ppm, and never looked back.
We are now at levels never seen before in the last half a million year. This is just not something that we can avoid anymore!
Keeling Curve and photosynthesis
An interesting fact about the CO2 levels on an annual basis. Looking at the graph you can see, the concentration drops suddenly from time to time, and then it climbs back up. And why is that? The considerable decrease happened during spring and summer. It is because that is when a chemical reaction called photosynthesis is the most efficient. Throughout photosynthesis plants absorb carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, and produce glucose and oxygen.
This is one in a million reason why we need to protect biodiversity, and look after our planet. Plants not just absorb and store carbon dioxide, but release essential oxygen.
Although the report never stated what is the reason for the increase, it is not hard to read between the lines. Anthropogenic activities are pushing the limits of the environment, the only question is: