10 facts about OCEANIC PLASTIC POLLUTION that should be common knowledge

1. 6 billion kilograms of garbage is dumped into the ocean every year. Most of it is plastic.

2. Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.

3. Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles per hour.

4. It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

5. Thousands of marine creatures die by mistakenly swallowing plastic bags that resemble jellyfish.

6. Within the bodies of the animals, the plastic debris block airways or digestion channels, causing the animals to suffocate or starve to death.

7. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.

8. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.

9. Plastics can also act as a sort of “chemical sponge”, concentrating many of the most damaging of the pollutants found in the world’s oceans. So any animals eating these pieces of plastic debris will also be taking in highly toxic pollutants.

10. The second most abundant ocean pollutant after plastic, is cigarettes.

1. http://facts.randomhistory.com/pollution-facts.html

2. http://www.reusethisbag.com/reusable-bag-infographics/the-truth-about-plastic.php

3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LZ71svh1RVo

4. http://ecowatch.com/2014/04/07/22-facts-plastic-pollution-10-things-can-do-about-it/

5. http://www.seeturtles.org/ocean-plastic

6. http://www.all-recycling-facts.com/ocean-pollution.html

7. http://ecowatch.com/2012/07/09/marine-litter-birds/


8. http://ecowatch.com/2014/04/07/22-facts-plastic-pollution-10-things-can-do-about-it

9. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/fit-for-the-future/pollution/trash-vortex/

10. http://www.reusethisbag.com/reusable-bag-infographics/the-truth-about-plastic.php

Is any form of animal captivity ethically sound?

I recently read an article published on the ‘One green planet’ website, called:
‘The Cost of Captivity: Similarities in How Farm and Zoo Animals Suffer’.

This article summaries 5  signs of mental and physical distress that are commonly seen in BOTH factory farm and zoo animals; high cortisol levels, self-mutilation, aggression, bar biting and pacing. The point being to demonstrate that although the conditions in most zoos are obviously better in terms of space and welfare, keeping wild animals in captivity under any circumstance has negative impacts on their quality of life, and can be argued as ethically unsound.

I do tend to bang on about this film a lot BUT… The ‘Black fish’ effect has evidently had a great impact on public perceptions of keeping animals in captivity; with many protesting outside Sea World, numbers of marine park visitors falling and some aquariums stopping shows and even planning on releasing captive cetaceans. My point here is that now people are awakened to the negative aspects of zoos and aquariums, how come this attitude has not trickled down to other cases, such as tigers, elephants and penguins? My best guess is that it is because these cases are seen as less severe as other animals are not forced to ‘perform’ for large crowds, but that is only half the real problem, as shown by the mental and physical stress shown by the orcas at Sea World.

Zoos obviously have some really important positive attributes, which should not be overlooked. Zoos provide a space to protect endangered species from threats such as poaching and habitat destruction, which if uncontrolled can cause extinction in some cases. Captive breeding programmes provide a safe and closely monitored environment where the number of breeding individuals can rebuild for species to eventually be returned into the wild. Modern zoos have also broadened their role not only for recreation but they have also become an accessible and enjoyable way to educate both adults and children about animals, their behaviours and habitats, and the environmental and/or conservation issues they may face. A lot of zoos are able provide a substantial inlet for donations to conservation charities from this education process.

The argument remains as to whether these pros outweigh the cons

Zoo animals are often kept in confined areas, in an unchanging environment, with boringly unvaried daily activities.In the UK, the standards set for modern zoo practise do not state any specific area requirements for animal enclosures, and so therefore it is assumed that enclosure size is decided by each individual zoological park. This means that an elephant enclosure in one zoo could be 5 times larger than that in another, as long as said area fits all other requirements such as temperature regulation, shelter, cleanliness etc.

Elephant enclosure in Bukittinggi zoo, west Sumatra

Roger Williams Zoo Elephant Enclosure
Elephant enclosure in Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, Rhode Island

People may say that zoo animals are better looked after than those in the wild, as they receive regular health checks, and immediate action is undertaken if they are unwell. However, I sometimes wonder if the animals were not cooped up in enclosures, removed from their natural habitats, would they require so much medical attention? On a recent visit to Whipsnade Zoo I was lucky enough to observe tigers taking part in some ‘enrichment’ activities. The keeper explained to me that they hid food in the trees and within pieces of bark to create a challenge for the tigers, to encourage them to maintain their natural hunting abilities and to keep them busy in the day. Again, I thought to myself that the zoo would not need to do this, if the tigers were left in their natural habitats in the first place. What would happen if enrichment did not occur; would the animals become tame, or simply go mad?

In terms of lifespan, studies have shown that wild African elephants live longer than their zoo counterparts, and many other species show the same results. This is due to various social, environmental and health stresses that come along with captivity.

It must be noted that the number of animals in captivity globally, is extremely small compared to those in the wild, but this is a very disconnected way to approach this topic. I believe that the welfare of each individual is just as important as the welfare and health of the whole species. Although SOME of the individuals kept in captivity are endangered and/or part of captive breeding programmes, many of them are not being prepared for release into natural habitats. In fact re-releases can prove to be very difficult to complete and are conducted by less than 20% of zoos globally.

I have gradually changed my opinion on zoos, as I have actively become more aware of the issues surrounding animal captivity. As upsetting as it is to imagine that in the future my great grandchildren may not be able to go on a day out to the zoo, some of my fondest childhood memories, I would feel better in the knowledge that they would be living in a society where animal welfare is of high priority.

If anyone is keen to read further into this issue, I would highly recommend reading ‘Ethics on the Ark’. A thought provoking book with a very unbiased view on zoos, animal welfare and wildlife conservation.

Coral Bleaching

Coral bleaching is when all colour is lost from a reef, in contrast to the usual brightly coloured sea floors we would expect to see. It can be caused by changing ocean temperatures, extra sunlight, disease, water pollution, changes in salinity and increased sedimentation in the ocean.



Corals get their bright colours from a symbiotic (harmonious) relationship with zooxanthellae, a colourful algae that lives in their tissues. The algae photosynthesise, and through this they convert light energy into chemical energy, and provide carbon compounds to the coral which is used as an energy source for life, growth and reproduction.  In return, the coral provide zooxanthellae with a protected environment to live in, and a supply of carbon dioxide which is required for photoysnthesis. This relationship allows corals to grow by day via photosynthesis, and by night via predation of plankton.

Corals also have very specific requirements for healthy growth:

  1. Light is required for algal photosynthesis. The more intense the light source the greater the rate of photosynthesis and energy production. Light intensity decreases as water depth increases and so corals rarely survive below 48m depth, and the abundance of corals also decreases rapidly with depth.
  2. An optimal temperature requirement for coral growth is between 23-25°C, although temperatures as low as 16°C can be tolerated by some species.
  3. Sedimentation, the settling out of particles within the water column, can reduce coral growth. This is because sedimentation reduces the amount of light available for photosynthesis, and so reduces algal growth. Silt that drops out of the water column onto the coral itself can also block feeding and respiration.
  4. Coral requires salinities of 30-40 ppt (30-40 dissolved grams of salt per 1000g of seawater).

Climate change and anthropogenic activities are altering these 4 important requirements, and causing coral bleaching and the death of coral reefs. As sea temperatures increase in response to increasing atmospheric temperatures, this causes stress and the corals reject the zooxanthellae from their bodies, they loose their colour and therefore become ‘bleached’. Rising temperatures have also lead to more evaporation from the oceans, causing salinity to increase. Increased water pollution from urban and agricultural run off is increasing sedimentation in coastal waters, and reducing light available for photosynthesis.

Corals provide a home to 25% of all marine life, they provide nurseries for many species of commercially important fish, they protect shorelines and coastal areas from storm waves and therefore flooding, they are a significant attraction for the tourism industry. They must be protected and conserved in order for other marine species to survive, and if we wish to maintain sustainable fishing practises and tourism based economies.

What can we do about it?

Resilient reefs can sometimes recover from coral bleaching. Conservation efforts to create marine protected areas may help to reduce sedimentation and physical reef destruction, and education on how to look after reefs in coastal areas can help.

For those of us who do not live in the tropics, the main way to help reduce coral bleaching is to reduce our individual contributions to climate change, by reducing your carbon footprint.

Talking whales and dolphins with ORCA’s Rachael Forster

I recently caught up with an old friend for my first interview with Conservation Careers.

The aim of the interview was to gain some insight on Rachael’s path into a career in conservation, and to ask her for helpful tips and advice for other individuals hoping to work in a similar field in the future.

It was a joy to catch up with her, and she had some really great things to say!

Follow the link to have a read:

Why are you a vegetarian?

I recently became a vegetarian in January 2014, after eating meat for the first 21 years of my life. Nearly 1 year on I still find it difficult to communicate to people why I decided to make the change, without talking their ear off for half an hour and them not wishing they hadn’t asked in the first place.

I started to think differently about eating meat during my time studying at university. Reading environmental science meant I was constantly faced with shocking figures about the outrageous amount of damage humans are doing to the environment via deforestation, land use changes, greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable farming practises.One common theme that I noticed was that agriculture was something to do with most of these  issues.

Deforestation and land use changes are largely driven by human need to create more space for the increasing amount of agricultural farming practises, to feed our growing population. Livestock based agriculture currently takes up 30%of the earth’s land space (bear in mind that only 20% of earth surface is covered by land, 80% is water), and this is expected to grow with population increases. It has been calculated that 7 football fields’ worth of land is bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals and the crops that feed them

Approximately 65% of human-related nitrous oxide (N2O) and 35%of methane (CH4) comes from agriculture. These gases have  296 times and 23 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2 respectively. Universal vegetarianism would therefore result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Livestock not only produces GHG emissions but also requires extremely high amounts of energy for production. Cattle consume 16 times more grain than they produce as meat, so they require 16 times as much energy just to grow those crops, just so we can waste them on livestock. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth. Once the meat is produced it also then requires MORE energy to refrigerate and transport before it reaches peoples dinner tables. It is also useful to note that a pound of potatoes takes 99.6% less water to produce than a pound of beef, and 97% less than a pound of chicken.

Unsustainable farming practises obviously do occur in plant crop based agriculture, but the more severe problems are seen in the meat and fishing industries. I often get posed with the question, “But you still eat fish, right?” NO. No I don’t. Unsustainable fishing practises are destroying coral reefs and marine environments, sometimes much more severely than on land. Bottom trawling  methods use large nets, kept open and weighted down by heavy ‘doors’ and metal rollers, which are then dragged by a trawler across the sea bed. This may pick up fish and shrimps but also catches and kills other marine life along the way. Over 65% of the World’s seagrass communities have been lost by land reclamation, eutrophication, disease and unsustainable fishing practices.

Ethics obviously underlies my disagreement with all of the above. The ethics of animal cruelty is another factor I can no longer ignore. I began to realise there was no real difference between me eating some chicken, and me eating my poor cat. I had just never thought about it like that before. After watching this video I realised this is the same for many people:

I am to gain a career in marine conservation in the near future, and the final and maybe the most important thought I had to push me towards vegetarianism, was CONSISTENCY. If I was going to spend my life devoted to conserving species at risk due to climate change, and other anthropogenic  impacts, surely it would be illogical to still support and provide a market for the very industry which is responsible for these problems.

One positive thing I can say from all of this, is that I will always be the one that brought hummus.