TO MARK OUR 50th EDITION, WE LOOK BACK ON FIVE KEY OCEAN STORIES THIS YEAR
At the start of the year, we reported the Japanese Government was restarting commercial whaling and leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC). This will end its so-called ‘scientific’ whaling in the Antarctic region, and limit the country’s catch to seas near Japan and the country's exclusive economic zone. Australia’s ABC news published a detailed analysis of what this means for whales and the wider environmental movement, declaring it a disaster.
But not everyone saw it that way. Sea Shepherd has worked for years to oppose Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean – both in court and on the high seas. Founder Paul Watson issued a statement on why this is a good thing, namely that the move officially ends whaling in the Southern Ocean and leaves Japan, Norway and Iceland isolated as the last remaining rogue nations. “Whaling as a ‘legal’ industry has ended,” he wrote. “All that remains is to mop up the pirates.”
With plastic piling up around the world, media outlets published detailed reports on the current state of the world’s recycling industry following China’s ban on waste imports. The country’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s waste has left municipalities and waste companies from the US to Australia scrambling for alternatives – but experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.
Over the coming decade, as many as 111 million tons of plastics will have to find a new place to be processed or otherwise disposed of as a result of China’s ban, according to engineering professor Jenna Jambeck. While this means many places are burning and dumping more plastic in the short term, there is a potential upside. China, with its high volume of imports, had been the source of more than a quarter of the world’s mismanaged waste. So if proper alternatives are found, says Jambeck, plastic pollution could actually decrease.
In May, the United Nations previewed its landmark Global Biodiversity Assessment Report – and as we reported the findings are an epic wake up call.
”Around 1 million species face extinction unless action is taken,” according to the 145 experts from 50 countries who compiled the massive 1,500 page report. “Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before.”
The report, which follows months of protests around the world, includes a strong consensus: the current global response is “insufficient” and that “transformative changes” are needed to restore and protect nature.
In a special edition of State of the Oceans, we looked deeper into this unprecedented report and examined our options…
For nearly two centuries, scientists have wrestled with “Darwin’s Paradox” – the enduring mystery of why coral reefs thrive in tropical waters, which are woefully short on nutrients. Reefs are teeming oases in aquatic wastelands, and researchers have puzzled endlessly over how they flourish. Now, science may have the answer at last.
Thousands of species of tiny fish, rarely longer than an inch, serve themselves up as a never-ending feast for bigger fish. They’re called “cryptobenthic” fishes because they live on the seabed floor and often hide in crevices in coral reefs — “crypto” coming from the Greek word for “hidden.” They reproduce quickly and die young, gobbled up like candy during their first few weeks of life. Thanks to them, coral reefs can florish.
We cover plastic pollution issues nearly every week, but a few big stories stand out. In June, research from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found that plastic debris less than 5mm across, known as microplastic, is common from the surface to the seafloor. It may also be entering marine food webs in the deep ocean. The study suggests that most of this microplastic is coming from consumer products.
Just last month, a series of shocking discoveries about the extent of microplastic pollution hit the headlines. First, a geological researcher collecting rainwater samples across Colorado analyzed them under a microscope and found the water contained a rainbow of plastic fibers, as well as beads and shards.
Two days later, researchers studying snow across Europe and the Arctic discovered widespread plastic contamination, even in the remote Arctic. In their highest concentrations in Bavarian Alps, microplastic particles numbered 150,000 per liter. In Arctic snow, the highest sampling was less at 14,000 per liter, but perhaps even more horrifying in its context, given the northern remoteness of the location.