Striking Back with Awareness

The global Climate Strike Week, September 20th to September 27th, concludes today as many stand out calling attention to our worldwide epidemic. This climate strike was by far one of the most united efforts ever mobilized among green activists. With an estimated 150 countries around the world joining in a reported 4638 events, the global climate strike amassed over four million participating advocates. In the largest climate strike to date, the people raised concerns for government neglect to pollution, businesses operating at the expense of our ecosystems, and individuals needing to reevaluate their wasteful habits. Being that this event was done on such a large scale many events were created by local youth leading the strike. Strikers created a large variety of creative signs ranging from inspiring and eye catching, to informative and eye opening as seen with this popular sign which the creator shared to be reprinted:


Image created and shared by activist Chris Wymant via twitter @ChrisWymant

These organized events primarily took place in highly populated cities like Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Paris, yet other organizers focused on protesting against specific entities as seen with the protests outside the headquarters of American oil and gas company Chevron and various government buildings. While many fight for government intervention it’s crucial to reflect on the power of the consumer in shaping their community. Large businesses with unsustainable practices cannot flourish if their products do not sell, and we have the power to not support them. Additionally, the power of our political votes also play a direct role in shaping the way our countries deal with and handle green issues. We have these powers, and we must use them if we wish to see change.

The success of the Global Climate Strike marks not only a victory of bringing awareness to our worldwide threat but also a triumph in displaying the ability of people from all backgrounds to coalesce for our earth. As of now, few immediate actions have taken place as a result of this climate strike. but it is undeniable that the voices of those gathered have been heard and acknowledged. Just as many stood up to lead events in their towns we need to capture that courage and power as we advance our efforts from a call to an action.

Topsoil Erosion: The agricultural disaster beneath our feet.

Farming has been a vital aspect of life since the dawn of mankind. Today over 11% of the world’s land is used for growing crops and with the human population pushing to 10 billion by approximately 2055, the need for more farm land continues to grow. While designating more land and resources into growing crops sounds like a simple solution, there exists a limiting factor that few people realize we are quickly depleting: topsoil. As suggested in the name, topsoil consists of the top 13 to 25 cm of soil around the earth that contains the highest concentration of nutrients and microorganisms. Since crops need these optimal nutrient-rich environments to be grown on a large scale the preservation of topsoil remains crucial for the sustainability of our agricultural practices. This layer of soil faces widespread erosion as plowed dry land gets carried away by wind and water. Current estimates believe that our topsoil could be gone as early as within the next century if agricultural practices fail to change. Awareness of our topsoil crisis arose following the dustbowl in the 1930’s which led to the formation of the Soil Conservation Service. The establishment of this department did bring a wave of agricultural improvements at the time, however the consistent increase in the need for crops brings the issue to the table again. Luckily there are simple steps to keeping soil erosion to a minimum which we must advocate for employing on a worldwide scale.

  1. Keep crops in the soil year round.

  2. Reduce deforestation as uprooted trees leave the ground exposed to the elements.

  3. Rotate crop species allowing a healthy flow of nutrients.

  4. Consider practices such as Contour, Strip, or Terrace farming minimizing erosion in accordance to the type of land the crops are planted on.

  5. Plant grass in waterways adding a root system to hold soil from running off.

  6. Avoid conventional plowing and tilling techniques and replace them with conservation tillage.

Utilizing these practices serves as the first step into developing a more sustainable agriculture system for our crops. Although top soil can naturally form as organic matter seeps into the ground and miniature ecosystems arise, this process can take hundreds of years to complete and come full circle. It is necessary that we begin addressing the weight of the problem now as our food sources are most definitely not the type of issues we would want to play catch-up with. While eventually the fact will have to be faced that a limited amount of resources on earth cannot sustain an unlimited amount of people, the wasteful practices of today remain unjustified. Our world’s resources won’t last forever and it’s time we begin acting like it.

Sharks: Predator or Prey?

Kicking off Shark Week we are looking into The truth behind the King of the Sea.

Often depicted as ferocious, threatening, and dangerous creatures, shark attacks are actually so rare that only a measly 70 to 100 attacks are recorded each year worldwide. Despite the frequency of shark attacks in movies and shows the chances of you winning the lotto jackpot are 16x higher than your chances of being attacked by a shark. Alternatively, around 100 million sharks are killed by humans annually. These sharks are hunted primarily for their dorsal fin which gains value from its use in cultural dishes. Rather than being an invasive powerhouse in the ocean, shark populations appear to be declining overall due to overfishing and poaching. Although strict regulations are put in place to limit shark fishing, the large profits from shark fin soup (fueled by Asia’s perception of the dish as a delicacy) has prompted fishermen to push the boundaries of the laws. Many fishermen are cutting the fins off sharks before releasing the bodies back into the ocean in order to minimize perceived yields and attempt to undermine the measure of sharks killed during the catch. As of today only 5.6% of the estimated 430 shark species are listed as endangered. However, sharks can take up to 26 years to reach sexual maturity showing that the effort of restoring shark populations faces hefty challenges. Awareness continues to grow for these organisms as events such as shark week work to educate and provide insight on the reality of so called terrifying creatures. In 2010 the Shark conservation act required sharks brought into the U.S. to still have fins attached, in 2013 the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora added 5 additional shark species to their Appendix II therefore giving them extra protection, and even today petitions arise calling for more sustainable methods of fishing. As people learn about sharks we hope to see more people approach these animals with a fascinated respect rather than an intimidated fear; after all can we really say they’re the predator of the ocean?

Worlds Largest Underwater Cleanup

One month ago off the coast of Deerfield Beach, Florida a group of 633 volunteers gathered to create the largest underwater cleanup to date. Each equipped with SCUBA gear and a hope for a cleaner ocean, the volunteers hunted the ocean along the coast for trash, plastics, and lost fishing supplies. The event held by Dixie Divers dive shop and the Deerfield Beach Women’s Club on June 15th was a complete success and removed an estimated 3,000 pounds of pollution from the ocean in addition to setting the world record for the largest event of its kind, a goal they have been reaching for annually. The day filled with community, excitement, and surprise also provided a great educational experience as divers assessed the materials yielded during the cleanup. Fishing lines alone accounted for 161 pounds of the waste, and current reports estimate the fishing line gathered could stretch for an expansive 219 miles. Fishing weights were also found in excess, adding to the community’s concerns of over-fishing and wasteful fishing practices. Even though there’s always more work to be done, the divers were satisfied with the day’s work, combating against the 8 million tons of trash entering the ocean annually.

The new record which was previously held by a group of divers led by Ahmed Gabr in Egypt’s Red Sea has already been confirmed by Guinness World records who were present at the event and were able to make the announcement the day of. This inspiring news showcases the power of community and service that we value highly in our endeavors; we hope to see the record challenged again at next years event which will surely sport an astounding turnout.

The Unseen Effects of a Changing Climate

Discussions involving the current climate and the human impact on it continue to gain momentum in today’s conversations. More research articles are emerging analyzing how and in what ways the changing climate effects organisms of different biomes. Despite the uptick of interest in this area of study, changes are still occurring unnoticed right at our doorstep inside the world of microorganisms. Understandably, researching diverse microorganisms which are invisible to the human eye can pose some challenges and be overlooked in a area where other large organisms are readily accessible to be observed. However, when the role of microorganisms in every environment becomes acknowledged as the lifeline for all other organisms in that habitat the prominence of studying these organisms is highlighted. For example, in marine systems microorganisms constitute for an estimated 90% of marine biomass, and they provide nutrients for a plethora of keystone organisms in marine food webs. While CO2 drives an increase in global temperatures, rising ocean acidification (observed already as a global decrease of .1 pH) also poses a threat to these crucial life forms. Scientists believe current conditions are already shifting microorganism populations to favoring macroalgae (seaweed) and cyanobacteria mats. Although microorganisms themselves are adaptable with quick asexual reproduction times and sizable populations, their purpose in protecting and nurturing other organisms such as coral from bleaching, appear to be altered as the environment strays from optimal conditions. After altering the levels of CO2 in an environment alone researchers observed a wide array of side effects. Notable changes occurred in the microorganisms size, growth, and ability to carry out processes such as nitrogen fixation. While many changes were able to be undone by returning conditions to their normal state, others caused incorrigible genetic alterations within the microorganism populations. When other factors like temperature and acidification were introduced organisms overall displayed a decrease in growth as the cells would transition their focus from other cellular processes to simply maintaining homeostasis. These effects were seen using estimates from ocean acidic levels that researches predict to arrive within the next century, current human interactions lead us to believe this trend will likely continue beyond that period of time and future generations will see these effects amplified. Many researchers are scurrying to learn more about the effects of a changing climate on microorganisms so we can prepare against and derail approaching negative consequences. The heart of our ecosystems may be infinitesimal, but their prominence remains to be anything but.

The Macro Problem of Microplastics

While the growing epidemic of plastics in our ocean may be old news to most who are updated with current events involving the world’s health, scientists are continuing to discover even more unfortunate ways in which humans may be damaging marine ecosystems. Two hundred meters below the surface of the ocean off the coast of Monterey Bay, California, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are collecting water samples for data in one of their latest research endeavors. At this level the water is full of microorganisms, detritus, and apparently, micro-plastics. In their samples researchers are finding that even where sizable pieces of waste often can’t be seen micro-plastics, or plastic particles less than 5 millimeters long, still reside floating alongside the microorganisms. Deep sea creatures which often feed on minute organisms are now feeding on these similarly-sized micro-plastics introducing them into the food web. While the consequences related with marine organisms ingesting micro-plastics are still being studied, the increasing accumulation of these particles within food webs will likely elicit harmful side effects as observed with regular waste accumulation in organisms (whale-dies-88-pounds-plastic). Alarmingly, all samples taken by the MBARI team contained micro-plastics revealing that these particles permeate through the ocean even at depths of 600 meters. Among the various particles found, PET micro-plastics appeared to be the most common. This translucent plastic is widely used in single-use plastic products as exemplified by it being the material that makes up the great majority of water bottles found in the United States today. While previous measures have been taken to reduce the presence of micro-plastics in our ocean (only 4 years ago plastic micro beads were banned in the U.S.) the high amount of disposable products today relentlessly contributes to the problem. As we continue learning more about the effect of micro-plastics on marine ecosystems we hope to simultaneously reduce the amount we creating. Find ways to reduce your daily plastics and join us in making our oceans cleaner, and our planet healthier.

  • -Monterey Bay Aquarium, Conservation and Science blog.