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Waiter, there’s some plastic in my fish

For a while now, scientists have known that fish are ingesting small pieces of plastic. But it wasn’t clear how much of that was reaching our dinner plate. Ecologist Chelsea Rochman wanted to find out. 

Rochman, who’s speaking at the @montereybayaquarium Sustainable Foods Institute, sampled fish from markets in California and Indonesia.

“We found plastic and fibers from textiles (e.g., clothing, carpet, fishing nets) in about 1 out of every 4 seafood items sampled,” she told the @huffingtonpost

The study, which Rochman conducted while at UC Davis, was one of the first to directly link plastic in the oceans to the fish on our dinner plates.

So how concerned should we be?

“We know much more about how plastic debris is harmful to fish and much less about how plastic debris in our fish is harmful to our health,” Rochman explains.

Lab studies have demonstrated that plastic can get stuck in the guts of fish and make them feel full. This changes their feeding behavior. Previous research from Rochman demonstrates that small plastic debris can transfer harmful chemicals to fish. This causes stress on the liver and changes the activity of genes related to reproduction. 

“Studies have shown plastic debris in shellfish, fish and even sea salt. So, yes, we need more research to answer questions about how plastic debris may impact food security (i.e. fish stocks) and food safety.”

This is what Rochman plans to study next.

“Seafood is very healthy. It has essential fatty acids. I would never want to scare anybody away from eating seafood,” She said. “We need to see if we need a toxic threshold for plastic in fish.”

What can the rest of us do?

The recent ban on microbeads was a major victory. But microbeads in products like toothpaste and face wash are just one part of the problem. Single-use plastic items — bottles, bags, plates, straws and utensils — are also big contributors to the microplastic problem. The less we use, the better. 

Why plastic bag recycling isn’t enough

“I recycle my plastic bags already. Why should I support Proposition 67?”

It’s a good question, and one we get often. First, we applaud your efforts to recycle. And it’s great you’re doing your research on Prop 67, the California ballot referendum to uphold the statewide ban on single-use, carryout plastic bags.

Unfortunately, recycling has its limitations in tackling the global challenge of ocean plastic pollution. And the reasons might not be obvious.

Too expensive to recycle

Many people recycle their single-use plastic bags, either in grocery stores or in their curbside recycling bins. But it’s still not making much of a dent in the numbers heading to the landfill. Of the approximately 15 billion single-use plastic bags that Californians use each year, only about 3 percent are ultimately recycled.

Instead, the bags notoriously jam recycling machinery. As a result, cities and counties spend an enormous amount of time, labor and money removing plastic bags from the recycling stream.

Recycling alone won’t keep plastic bags out of the ocean. Single-use plastic bags, in particular, go everywhere. They’re so lightweight, they easily blow out of recycling bins, trash cans, garbage trucks and landfills—making them one of the largest sources of accidental litter. Animals often eat these bags, or get tangled up in them. Plastic bags also clutter our open spaces and clog our storm drains.

Bag bans work

But here’s some good news: Studies show that bag bans work. There are more than 150 local bag bans in place throughout California, and they have helped to significantly reduce plastic-bag litter (and save millions of dollars in associated clean-up costs). Plastic bags are the fourth most commonly found item in international coastal cleanups, but they’re a lot less prevalent where bag bans are in place.

For example, since San Jose’s bag ban law went into effect in 2012, the city has seen 76% fewer plastic bags in creeks and rivers, 69% fewer in storm drains, and 59% in park and roadside litter. After almost every jurisdiction bordering the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary banned plastic carry-out bags, the number of bags removed during beach clean-ups has dropped by 70%.

Consider the positive impact a statewide bag ban would have in California—a state with the third-longest coastline in the U.S and the sixth-largest economy in the world!

Monterey Bay Aquarium urges a YES vote on Proposition 67 to uphold the state law banning single-use plastic carryout bags statewide. We also recommend a NO vote on Proposition 65, which would further delay the ban’s implementation.

Still not convinced that plastic bags blow? Check out this parody on the “adventures” of plastic bag litter.

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Happy 10th Aquarium anniversary, Makana! 

Makana—named after the Hawaiian word for “Gift”—is the only Laysan albatross at an accredited zoo or aquarium in the US. 

Part of a breeding program on Kona, the Big Island of Hawai’i, Makana damaged her left wing when she was four months old. Although her caretakers tried to rehabilitate her wing, she never fully recovered and is unable to fly. 

Thankfully, we had room for her at the Aquarium, and she’s been with us now for a decade as an ambassador for her species and the animals that live and forage in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre—the “Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch” you may have heard about on the news. 

The North Pacific Gyre is a massive, circulating body of water that concentrates trash—the overwhelming majority of which is “single-use plastic,” like carry-out plastic bags and straws and bottle caps and coffee lids that we use once and then throw “away.”

This jar represents the stomach contents of one Laysan albatross found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. 98% of Makana’s wild cousins have ingested some kind of plastic.

Except, “away” is actually somewhere: a vast area in the open sea where Makana’s wild cousins and countless other animals make a living. Even though we don’t see where our trash goes, there are species like Laysan albatrosses that know exactly where “away” is. 

That’s why simple solutions and slight adjustments in our everyday lives, like voting for plastic bag bans and switching to reusable alternatives, matter so much to the ocean and animals like Makana. California voters: please vote YES on Prop 67 and NO on Prop 65 for a plastic free ocean!

If you want to come and see Makana for yourself, she stops by the Kelp Forest at 1:30 p.m. most days for an “Albatross Encounter at 1:30 p.m. Stop on by and say “Aloha”! In the meantime—happy Aquarium anniversary Makana!

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‘Armchair / Jacket’ from the ‘Inflatables’ line, by C.P. Company (2001)

“This bright blue polyurethane design could be worn as a waterproof barrier shell hooded jacket and featured magnetic buttons throughout. It could also be rapidly inflated with the provided air compressor to create an armchair that could be used in a multitude of conditions.”

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Adidas’ new sneaker is made from ocean waste 

A sneaker fashioned from 11 plastic bottles doesn’t exactly sound comfortable, let alone something you’d want to walk around in. But thanks to Adidas’ latest collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, there’s a new limited-edition sneaker made from from a combination of ocean waste and recycled materials that’s both environmentally conscious and unexpectedly stylish. But Adidas’ devotion to being eco-friendly doesn’t stop there.

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‘Cyberhelvetia’ - 3deluxe (2002)

“Themed installation with Internet connection for the Swiss Expo.02, in the context of a traditional Swiss swimming baths. Instead of the pool: a glass ashlar with interactive projections. 

The so-called pool was filled with ‘virtual water’, which visitors both on the spot and on the Internet enhanced by adding imaginative life forms. The reciprocal interaction between real and virtually present people and the digital creatures constantly created new atmospheric images on the projected surface of the pool, so that the overall impression was essentially of a living organism. The virtual water also responded to climatic conditions in the form of data from a weather station on the pavilion roof. The artificial surface of the water changed during the course of the day and seasons, and thus linked the artificial with nature as well as the virtual with what can be experienced in reality.”