plastic pollution

Thinking of Releasing Balloons and Lanterns? Think Twice!

Thousands of balloons or lit lanterns released into the sky: we have all seen it at least one, and it’s a very mesmerizing sight. People release balloons for various occasions: weddings, birthdays, memorials, graduations, charity events…Unfortunately, these balloons and lanterns have to come back down to Earth at some point, and end up creating an environmental disaster.

Balloons usually slowly deflate overtime, and end up getting stuck on trees, bushes, or floating in the middle of the oceans. They also take years to break down, as it is with many other forms of plastic. Latex balloons are falsely-marketed as biodegradable, and can take years to break down. Once in the air, free-flying balloons and lanterns can travel as far as 1,300 miles away from its release site. 

Many terrestrial and marine species, such as turtles, dolphins, or birds have been hurt or killed by balloons. If ingested, a balloon will block the digestive tract of the animal, thus letting them starve to death. Other animals may become entangled in the ribbon or the ballon, impeding their movements or causing them to choke.

(Rusty Blackbird found dead due to entanglement in balloon ribbon. Photo: David E. Gurniewicz)

Sea turtles are some of the most at-risk animals, as deflated balloons floating in the sea looks dangerously similar to their favorite food: jellyfishes.

(A sea turtle entangled in ribbons. Photo by FWC)

(A sea turtle that appears to have ingested a balloon. Photo by L. Byrd – Sea Turtle Hospital, Mote Marine Laboratory)

A few US states and cities have anti-balloon laws:  Ocean City and Baltimore in Maryland, Louisville in Kentucky, Huntsville in Alabama, and the entire states of California, Connecticut, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Virginia. Plymouth in the UK, and New South Wales and Sunshine Coast-Queensland in Australia also have laws in place.

The thing is, balloon pollution is completely avoidable. Just don’t do it! Is your joy and wonder of letting a balloon go really worth the death and pain of other living organisms? There are plenty of alternatives to releasing plastic into the sky. And if you were to stumble upon a balloon on the beach or while out on a boat, please make sure you pick it up.


Your personal care products could be contributing to an increase of plastic pollution in the environment.

We’ve all seen the advertisements for facial washes and body scrubs that have “gentle microbeads that smooth away roughness without over-drying or irritating your skin” (*cough* Neutrogena *cough*). It sounds great and all, but those face-smoothing microbeads are anything but gentle.

The beads are made of polyethylene and polypropylene micro-plastic particles. With a diameter of approximately .5mm, the beads can easily travel through sink drains and filtration systems, quickly working their way into local waterways. Once in a body of water, the plastics soak up pollutants such as pesticides, hydrocarbons, and other industrial chemicals from the surrounding air and water. While that may sound great, the now chemically-soaked micro-plastics (whose rounded shape resembles tasty fish eggs) are consumed by fish and aquatic reptiles. These beads have also been discovered in the digestive and circulatory systems of mussels and worms. The beads continue on their journey through food webs, impacting every species along the way–including humans.

In 2012, 5 Gyres–an organization who aims to reduce plastic pollution–took water and sediment samples from the Great Lakes. They discovered that these microbeads could be found in numbers of more than 107,500 particles per square mile. Add that number to the amount of particles found in aquatic organisms and you’re looking at a minefield of toxins. Brief note: One tube of Neutrogena’s “Deep Clean” contains an estimated 360,000 microbeads. Let that sink in for a second.

Recently, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill that would call for a ban of microbead-containing products. By 2018, companies will have to stop producing these products, and any product containing beads can no longer be sold by the end of 2019. A similar bill is currently being reviewed in California, showing proof of progress in the ban of microbeads. Though progress is occurring, it is important to note that plenty of damage can be done in Illinois alone before the products are banned. More and more companies are adding microbeads to their face cleansers, body scrubs, and even toothpastes as a result of a consumer’s desire for “icy blue microbeads” that “exfoliate and clean deep down to pores!”

The best way to reduce the amount of microplastics in waterways is to simply cease purchasing products that contain microbeads. has provided a frequently updated list of products containing microbeads. For those of you who cannot give up your beady exfoliants, there are products out there that use sands and organic materials (such as plant wax) for the same deep-cleansing and face-smoothing purpose. This is the simplest way to help the environment without even having to change your personal care routines! Please help, and visit the links below for more information.

Photograph and information from: The Atlantic

Information from: 5Gyres

Rise Above Microplastics

To find micro plastics in your daily life, look no further than your bathroom cabinet. Microplastic particles and microbeads can be found in facial scrubs, shampoos & soaps, toothpaste, eyeliners, lip gloss, deodorant and sunblock sticks. Moreover, microbeads flow through sewer systems around the world before making their way into rivers and canals and ultimately, straight into the seas and oceans, where they contribute to the plastic soup. 

Micro-plastics are pervasive in the environment; they absorb persistent organic pollutants, and are consumed by a variety of marine life, including the fish we consume daily. 

(Source: 5Gyres)

Marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microplastics and therefore indiscriminately feed on micro plastics, as theylook just like fish eggs, and thus like food to a variety of aquatic organisms. Fish and seafood regularly consumed by humans have been recorded with plastic fragments inside their guts and body tissues. Scientists hypothesize that over time, they will start accumulating in the food chain, transferring from species to species, with consequences ultimately for humans.

(Source: National Geographic)

It’s bad enough that microbeads are contributing to our ongoing plastics problem. But unlike most other microplastics, which result from plastic litter that has broken down over time, microbeads are actually designed to go down our drains and through our pipes. Once they do, they’re small enough to pass through the filters in wastewater-treatment systems—and right into lakes, rivers, and oceans.

(Source: Master Divers)

Great, sustainable alternatives are products made with apricot shells or cocoa beans. Responding to pressure from groups like 5 Gyres, a number of cosmetics companies—including Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and the Body Shop—have pledged to remove microbeads from their products. Eventually. Unfortunately, they say, it will take a few years to find safe and effective natural alternatives.

Please act responsibly and do not purchase anymore product that contain microbeads (usually in the form of polyethylene), as they are devastating for our oceans. It’s the in the small, daily actions of every individual that will lead to cleaner oceans.

I highly suggest you read 5Gyres’ paper on their findings during a Great Lake research trip, and it will also give you more information on the different kinds of micro plastics and microbeads found in various cosmetics products.


Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis

Our Makana is the only Laysan albatross at any aquarium or zoo in the world. A permanent wing injury means she can’t fly or survive on her own, but since her arrival at the Aquarium in 2006 she’s been a great ambassador for her kin in the wild. 

Makana stars in her own daily program at the Aquarium at 1:30 p.m. in front of the Kelp Forest exhibit. We show off her impressive wing span (over 6 feet!), and share stories about the epic migrations wild Laysan albatross make (50,000 miles!) and the deadly threats her kin faces from ocean plastic pollution and longline fishing gear.

Not a Birdbrain

Our aviculturists say Makana is intelligent and curious, and they love working with her. She even learned to step onto a shallow acrylic box with a mirror at the bottom so we can check the soles of her feet. Why? Healthy feet are particularly important to seabirds and shorebirds on exhibit at aquariums and zoos; ours have some of the best feet anywhere!

Albatross are the largest seabirds and among the world’s most accomplished fliers. They routinely travel thousands of miles and can remain aloft for months at a time.

The Laysan albatross is one of only three tropical albatrosses. They breed on the northern Hawaiian Islands (Midway Atoll in particular) as well as on Guadalupe Island just west of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Laysans have a ritualistic mating dance that involves considerable bill snapping and neck swaying.

Makana is known to clack and “moo” while flirting with some of her male caretakers; she seems to particularly like tall men. But she’s known to chirp and twitter in front of guests during her program, too. Next time you visit the Aquarium, stop by and say hello!

Our thanks to National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore for the wonderful images of our animals that he created for his PhotoArk project.

Plastic is found in virtually everything these days. Your food and hygiene products are packaged in it. Your car, phone and computer are made from it. And you might even chew on it daily in the form of gum. While most plastics are touted as recyclable, the reality is that they’re “downcycled.” A plastic milk carton can never be recycled into another carton — it can be made into a lower-quality item like plastic lumber, which can’t be recycled.
16 simple ways to reduce plastic waste

Depth of plastic pollution in oceans revealed

Wind and waves can mix buoyant ocean plastics throughout the water column, but most of their mass remains at the sea surface, according to research led by The University of Western Australia.

PhD candidate Julia Reisser and her international team published the study in the journal Biogeosciences, reporting the first ever high-resolution vertical profiles of plastic pollution in the so-called “ocean garbage patches”.

Most of the submerged plastics were very small - less than 1 mm across. Previous studies noticed that tiny plastics were missing from the oceans.

“We have shown that at least a fraction of this missing plastic is still adrift at sea, but at depths greater than the surface layer that is usually sampled by scientists,” Ms Reisser said.

When the wind was stronger than 10 knots, more than half of the 0.5-1mm particles were underwater. But even when there was no wind, about 20 per cent of these little plastics were still below the surface.

By using a new measuring device called a Multi-level Trawl, the researchers were able to measure plastic concentrations in ten layers simultaneously, down to a depth of 5 meters.

While taking measurements in the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, the team demonstrated that the mass concentration of millimetre-sized plastics drops exponentially from the sea surface to deeper waters.

Boyan Slat, founder of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation and co-author of the study, said the results of the study are good news to those developing technologies to extract plastic from oceanic garbage patches.

“Almost all plastic was on or very close to the surface, meaning it’s within reachable distances for a cleanup operation,” Mr Slat said.

The pioneering survey was conducted aboard the SV Sea Dragon, owned by Pangaea Exploration. It was sponsored by The University of Western Australia and the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. Ms Reisser received an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship and a UWA Completion Scholarship.

From the University of Western Australia.

Photo credit: NOAA
We could end up with 'as much plastic in our oceans as fish'

The head of Ocean Conservancy says a burgeoning middle class and low recycling rates could lead to not-even-remotely-acceptable levels of trash washed out to sea.

Yikes! How scary is that? Everybody can make little changes in their daily lives to reduce the amount of plastic they use. Here are a few tips that I’ve covered on the blog:

- What YOU can do to reduce the use of plastic, and that includes recycling, bringing reusable totes and produce bags to the store, drinking from a reusable water bottle, and participate in beach clean-ups!

- Avoid purchasing products that contain microplastics. Microplastic particles and microbeads are most often made of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon. PE and PP are the most common found in cosmetics and bath products.

- Avoid releasing plastic balloons and lanterns

- Feature on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and what is being done about it

Quantifying the impact of debris on marine life

A recent study conducted by researchers at Plymouth University scoured reports from all over the world to find that roughly 44,000 marine organisms from 693 species had encountered – sometimes fatally – man-made debris in their environment. The information was gathered from reports dating back to the 1960s, and covered instances of ecosystem degradation, entanglement, ingestion, and rafting.

Plastic was by far the most common type of debris involved in the encounters, accounting for almost 92% of the cases. 400 species had become entangled in, or had ingested, debris, with plastic rope and netting being the most common culprit in entanglements. Almost 80% of entanglement cases resulted in either direct harm or the death of the animal. Northern right whales, northern fulmars, and three species of sea turtles – green, loggerhead, and hawksbill – were the most likely to experience entanglement.

Plastic fragments were the most common debris involved in ingestion, and California sea lions, green sea turtles, and multiple seabirds – Atlantic puffins, greater shearwaters, and northern fulmars  among them – were the most likely to have ingested those fragments. Only 4% of ingestion cases showed direct harm, but the study was not able to thoroughly explore the nonlethal impacts, such as impacts on reproduction and metabolism, of ingestion.

17% of the species involved in the study were listed as either threatened or near-threatened on the IUCN Red List. Hawaiian monk seals, loggerhead sea turtles, and sooty shearwaters were among the threatened species on the list. All known sea turtle species and more than half of all marine mammal and seabird species had been affected by debris. Researchers found that the number had gotten higher since the last major study into this issue.

Marine pollution is a well-known problem, particularly plastic pollution. The high number of threatened and endangered species involved in this study indicates that this pollution is likely directly impacting species survival and may be contributing to species extinction.

Based on materials originally written for EurekAlert and provided by Plymouth University.

Journal reference: S.C. Gall, R.C. Thompson. The impact of debris on marine lifeMarine Pollution Bulletin, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.12.041

Image: Entangled green sea turtle (Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program on Flickr.)

Ocean Cleanup Array vs 5Gyres : A Healthy Debate to Remove plastic from Oceans

Here comes the first part of the attempt by Boyan Slat and his plans to remove plastic waste from…

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Hydaway: A Collapsible, Reusable Water Bottle That Fits In Your Pocket
90, 000 plastic bottles are thrown away every minute, but you can be part of the solution by using a reusable container. This is what motivated Niki Singlaub to create the Hydaway collapsible bottle. This container can store up to 600 ml (21oz) in its food-grade silicone, but collapses to just over 3.2 cm (1.25in) in height when not in use.

Ah, when can I buy this? The Kickstarter campaign was successful and it looks like they are in production! I already carry my own reusable water bottle around, but this is so practical and so environmentally friendly! I love it!

50,000: Estimated number of pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of the world’s oceans
2.4 million pounds: Amount of plastic pollution that enters the world’s oceans every hour
1 million: Number of plastic cups that are consumed on airline flights in the U.S. every 6 hours
2 million: Number of plastic beverage bottles that are used in the U.S. ever 5 minutes. The number of plastic water bottles discarded in the U.S. every week could circle the Earth five times.

Learn more about Our Garbage By The Numbers.