Encouraging governments to save marine areas with special view on the increasing problem of micro plastic waste.
by Wera von der Osten
While we have flown to the moon, researched every part of the human body and ascended the highest mountains, the ocean remains an entity, chiefly unknown to mankind. The sheer size and depth of it makes it quiet difficult to examine. However, we have left our traces even in parts that remain untouched by the human hand. Our waste, of which billions of tons is dumped into the oceans annually, accumulates in zones, were currents and gyres converge and a constant strain is put on the ecosystems of these regions. Meanwhile, micro pollutants drift into the depths of the ocean and can affect entire food chains when regularly ingested by organisms.
70% of the industrial waste is dumped into water bodies, contaminating it. Domestic sewage is discharged into water, and underground storage leakage and oil pollution harm the marine environment. Especially the vast proliferation of plastic packaging and products has resulted in a littering of our oceans, endangering marine ecosystems which harbor the largest amount of the earth’s biodiversity. Despite the publicity given to this issue and the activities of a few organizations, a stereotypical image often arises when speaking of water pollution. It is not only plastic bottles and discarded plastic bags that pose a threat, it is the micro plastic particles consumed by small fish, and entering the food chain, that can greatly endanger the ecosystem of marine areas. There must be a clear understanding of the impact foreign materials have on the marine biota. The dumping practices of waste are causing massive environmental disasters and largely ignored in the public consciousness.
Definition of Key-Terms:
Marine debris is a term describing the accidental or deliberate disposal of waste or trash into a body of water.
Marine biota is commonly defined as the combined flora and fauna inhabiting a certain region within a saltwater body.
A convergence zone refers to the distinct area of the atmosphere in which two prevailing currents adjoin and converge, in effect causing extreme weather conditions. In the context of plastic pollution, this is the region in which plastic waste tends to accumulate and pose a threat to the marine biota of that zone.
A network of rotating ocean currents and streams, in direct correlation with the activity of the convergence zones, describes the ocean gyre.
The variety of flora and fauna in an underwater ecosystem is called marine biodiversity. A high level of biodiversity is of great significance since it indicates a dense food web that is stable, balanced and ensures adaptive responses to climate change.
Eutrophication is a process in which a plethora of nutrients is released or run-off into a body of water, resulting in an algae growth.
Flotsam refers to man-made waste that has become waterborne.
Micro Plastic Waste:
Waterborne plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter are labeled as micro plastic waste. Plastic is a non-biodegradable substance.
A non-biodegradable substance or material can’t be decomposed by organisms in a reasonable amount of time and are therefore major water pollutants (i.e. glass bottles take approximately 1 million years).
Marine debris cannot be traced back to a single origin. It is a multifaceted issue that requires solutions on various grounds. These grounds generally include domestic household and industrial waste discharge, run-offs of sediments and fertilizers in agriculture, oil leakage and plastic pollution.
Domestic household wastewater
A household without water is unimaginable in the 21st century. Water is a basic necessity, used for hygiene, drinking, laundry and many other aspects of life. In MEDCs sewage is transported and treated into water treatment plants, where it is filtered. Many water treatment plants, however, dump the left-over sewage into water streams, polluting these with waste.
Industrial Waste Pollution
Manufactories, especially in LEDCs, release chemicals and pollutants that are hazardous to aquatic wildlife. A strict regulation on pollutants entering the environment is neglected and companies dump byproducts into the water, acidify rain and spilling chemicals deliberately. Often asbestos fibers are released, which can be found in polluted drinking water, causing diseases such as lung and liver cancer. Non-biodegradable substances such as lead and mercury lead to eutrophication of nearby waterways.
When rainfall or melting snow exceeds the infiltration rate of the ground surface or drainage system, runoffs occur. Runoffs and erosion carry nutrients and sediments such as phosphorous or even endocrine disrupters into waterways. Through this sediment pollution, poisonous chemicals, entering the water, harm organisms and the process of eutrophication takes place.
Pollution through Fertilizers
Fertilizers are increasingly used in Agriculture. These fertilizers comprise nitrogen-containing compounds and phosphors which tend to wash off the soil and enter waterways. The nutrient level of surrounding waters is increased and phytoplankton populations grow causing more algae to bloom. These absorb the oxygen in the water, taking it from other aquatic wildlife. Entire dead zones emerge, where algae prosper exponentially and the zone grows continually expands.
When underground oil storage tanks leak or ships and cruises spill their oil supply, it enters the water. Oil does not dissolve in water and floats on the surface. The wings of marine birds, skimming over the water, become sticky and they are unable to fly. The gills of fish are clogged and they suffocate. When oil accumulates in one place through ocean gyres and currents or leakage in one specific region, it blocks the sunlight and hinders phytoplankton or water plants from conducting photosynthesis in the upper 200m, where sunlight normally permeates the water. The decimation of phytoplankton affects the entire ecosystem since they are of utmost significance to all marine life.
Macro and Micro Plastic Pollution
Plastic is an extremely versatile, convertible and practical material. However, it is also non-biodegradable and widely overused. With levity this product is trashed entering foreign ecosystem. Plastics are the most common man-made objects sighted at sea. When calculating all plastic waste found in oceans, approximately 18,000 pieces of plastic float on every square kilometer of the world's oceans. A common effect on aquatic wildlife is immobilization through entanglement or strangulation in plastics (i.e. plastic loops from beer cans). When larger pieces of plastic are ingested they can become firmly fixed in digestive areas, harming or starving the animal through blocking the food pipe. Plastic flotsam continually exposed to UV rays breaks the bonds holding molecular chains together. Large pieces of plastic are broken down into micro plastic pieces. This process is, however not comparable to decomposition. Micro plastics, also found in personal skin care products and cosmetics, have insidious environmental effects. Toxins are bound to the plastics which are then ingested by worms, fish and plankton, affecting the entire food chain. These toxins can have a fatal effect and often cause liver damage. Many studies have found that organisms show reduced activity and inflammatory immune responses. They are susceptible to diseases or become prey easily.
Major Organizations Involved:
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)
The UN’s Environmental Program has collaborated with countless other organizations, in order to develop and carry out their action plans with the goal of controlling marine debris effectively. A focus has been set on areas that are highly affected by marine litter and where the balance of the ecosystem is at stake. One example of such collaboration concerned the Baltic Sea, where the UNEP`s Regional Seas Program (RSP) and the Helsinki Commission (Helcom) have been working together since 2006 assessing from where the waste originates and what measures can be taken against this issue. Through these Programs, the UN remains actively seized on the matter
Green Peace investigates large corporations and their manufactories (especially in the fashion industry), on how poisonous chemicals, used in the production of their merchandise, are discharged. By publicizing the data they discover and creating public pressure, companies polluting water are forced to eliminate this discharge. Detox action plans are prepared and contracts proposing to keep water supplies free of hazardous chemicals or substances are signed. Green Peace has successfully declared H&M, Nike, Primark and many other Companies as members of the detox program.
The 5gyres organization has specialized in plastic marine pollution, carrying out large projects such as “beach transect research” and “plastic beach cleanup” at coastlines. The amount of waste that has accumulated on the beach is estimated and documented and then manually collected by volunteers. This process is continually applied in an attempt to keep beaches clean.
The Ocean Cleanup Foundation
This foundation was set up on the basis of an invention created by the 17-year old Boyan Slant. The action the foundation plans to take, is rid the ocean of currently existing litter by steering intricately designed ships through gyre currents, using them to the advantage of collecting the waste within the ship.
Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay is active on numerous grounds such as preventing oil drilling and building of oil refineries and setting up water testing facilities. It especially focuses on Environmental Education Programs designed to educate children about relevant and current environmental threats and feasible solutions.
Environmental protection Agency (EPA) in the United States
The EPA is a US-government agency responsible for worldwide water pollution regulation and highly influential and active regarding this issue. The agency oversees Science advisory organizations and laboratories, evaluating data that has been collected from all over the world.
Most flowing bodies of water are connected and eventually merge with the ocean, which contains roughly 97% of the earth’s water supply. Therefore, most of the water covering the surface is vastly connected and the contamination of one region has a ripple effect on other marine areas. Since ecosystems are incredibly complex structures and not sufficiently researched, interfering with them though pollution is detrimental and the results unpredictable.
Concerning plastic pollution, recent research reveals that a certain bacteria can degrade chemicals bound to micro plastics such as the harmful phthalates. These results are controversial, since the bacteria cannot merely be released into the ocean and it is uncertain how long the process takes. However, research in this field should be supported and financed. Also, although plastic is non degradable, it is recyclable and can be reused instead of becoming waste.
To avoid run-offs of fertilizers or other sediments and pollutants, porous asphalt has been created. Porous Asphalt is permeable to water and allows the earth underneath to absorb water containing nutrients, sediments or other pollutants. This innovation eliminates the harmful effect that contaminated run-offs have on waterways.
Universally, companies, whose manufactories discharge waste into the environment, should be penalized. Stricter policies must be put into place and manufactories regularly inspected to ensure that policies are abided.
Debris skimmer boats have been designed, that systematically gather flotsam waste. Through this invention, ocean gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may be cleaned again, and the ecosystems can regenerate. This solution is however time costly, sumptuous and would need to be sponsored to be effective on a large scale.
While solutions to various aspect of marine debris exist, it is questionable whether they are applicable when recognizing that 70% of the earth is covered by water and 18 million kilograms of waste are discarded daily. If the present rate of marine pollution continues, it is unlikely that any solution will solve the issue. The consciousness and wasteful lifestyle, especially in MEDCs, must change to prevent the oceans from being trashed with man-made waste.
Cites for further research:
UN policies concerning Water
"40 Facts About Water Pollution - Conserve Energy Future." ConserveEnergyFuture. Conserve-Energy-Future, 2014. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/various-water-pollution-facts.php>.
Derraik, Jose G. "The Pollution of the Marine Environment by Plastic Debris: A Review." Marine Pollution Bulletin. Pergamon, 2002. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.caseinlet.org/uploads/Moore--Derraik_1_.pdf>.
"EPA." Learn about Water. EPA, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/learn-issues/learn-about-water>.
"FEELING A BIT SPACEY TODAY?" Heal the Bay. Heal the Bay, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.healthebay.org/>.
"Global Issues at the United Nations." UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <https://www.un.org/en/globalissues/oceans/links.shtml>.
"Greenpeace Victories." Greenpeace International. Greenpeace, 2014. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/victories/>.
"Marine Debris." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Apr. 2014. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_debris#Activism>.
"Marine Litter." Welcome to the Regional Seas Website. Reagional Seas, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/>.
"Microplastic Pollution Confirmed to Be a Threat to Marine Biodiversity." Fauna & Flora International. N.p., 2014. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.fauna-flora.org/news/microplastic-pollution-confirmed-to-be-a-threat-to-marine-biodiversity/>.
"Müll Im Meer." Müll Im Meer. Project Blue Sea E.V., 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.projectbluesea.de/muell-im-meer.html>.
"Ocean Pollution." Greenpeace. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/oceans/threats/trashing-our-oceans/>.
"Plastic Oceans." Plastic Oceans. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.plasticoceans.net/>.
"Regional Seas Programme." Welcome to the Regional Seas Website. United Nations Environment Programme, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/>.
Savelli, Heidi. Marine Litter Focal Area. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.unep.org/gpwm/Portals/24123/images/Working%20group%20meeting/GPWM%20Marine%20Litter.pdf>.
"See Global Research." 5 Gyres Understanding Plastic Pollution Through Exploration Education and Action. N.p., 2014. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://5gyres.org/see_global_research/>.
Fighting the discrepancy between LEDCs abundance of natural resources and their poor economic growth.
by Moritz Baumgarten
In the 17th century the resource-poor Dutch dimmed Spain’s world power despite their abundance of natural resources on their colonies in the new world. In the late 19th and early 20th century countries such as Japan and Switzerland grew more rapidly than resource rich countries such as Russia. Resource-poor economies outperforming resource-rich economies has been a constant motif throughout history. Many LEDCs are the countries that produce most of the raw materials for the world market. These raw materials are then sold to MEDCs for cheap prices. Even though LEDCs often have plenty of natural resources, their economy tends to grow less rapidly compared to countries with natural resource scarcity. A study conducted by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner has shown that this negative paradoxical relationship stays true even after controlling variables found to be important to economic growth, such as initial per capita income, trade policy, government efficiency and investment rates. In the past decades the strongly economically growing countries have been NIEs (Newly Industrializing Economies). Meanwhile many resource and oil rich countries have gone bankrupt.
Definition of key terms
Natural resources are materials or substances that are found in nature which can be exploited for economic purposes. Examples of natural resources are air, water, wood, oil, iron, or coal.
Economic growth is a long-term expansion of a country’s productive potential. The growth of an economy is thought of not only as an increase in productive capacity, but also as an improvement to the quality of life for the people of that economy.
Infrastructure is the base on which economic growth is built upon. For example; roads, water systems and mass transportation facilities. These systems are considered essential for enabling productivity in the economy
A sweatshop is a factory or workshop, where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor inhumane work conditions.
LEDC is an abbreviation for Less Economically Developed Country it also commonly known as developing country.
MEDC is an abbreviation for More Economically Developed Country. These countries are highly developed and industrialized and therefore have high living standards compared to LEDCs
NIEs (Newly Industrializing Economies) are countries whose development ranks somewhere between developing and first-world classifications. These have abandoned their agricultural based economy and have developed an industrialized, urban economy.
Less Economically Developed Countries are relatively poor and have rather low living standards. Their birth rate is higher than MEDCs, meaning that approximately 20-45 people are born per 1000 people. Their death rate is a lot higher as well; this is due to the severe diseases in many countries and the poor or non-existent health care. Due to the lack of schools and the fact that many parents in theses countries cannot afford an education for their children since they have to work as well, literacy rates are substantially lower than in MEDCs. Due to the lacking infrastructure it has hard to access schools or even hospitals.
People living in LEDCs often only have limited access to essentials such as clean water and food. However these countries often have rich natural resources such as large forests and valuable metals and minerals. In theory these are then sold to MEDCs in order to fight poverty. The more of these resources they sell the more money they receive to improve their living standards. Nonetheless this dependency on selling resources has a heavy and negative impact on the environment. Due to the growing population, there is a growing demand for these goods. The result is that the world’s resources are exhausted more quickly. The problem of the LEDCs is that they're resources are exploited by big companies and organizations of MEDCs. The valuable raw materials are sold to MEDCs for cheap prices. This hardly benefits the people of the country since the paid amount is not sufficient and not adequate for what they exploit and gain afterwards. After the needed resources are sent to other LEDCs where the goods are produced from the material in sweatshops or factories at very low wages. These have no other choice but to accept the low payment, since they hardly have any other income alternative. After the products are created they are sent back to the countries of the companies. The products are then distributed globally at low yet profitable prices. This is only possible because the companies of MEDCs buy the raw materials for cheap prices and then make sweatshops assemble and create the product at a very low price.
Natural resources have also shown to be playing a crucial role in conflicts which have harmed numerous African countries, for example Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sierra Leone and Liberia over the past decade. The resources have fuelled several armed conflicts. Since the revenues are used to sustain these armies they are not willing to give up their control over the resources. This conflict is also an obstacle for keeping the peace in this region. Furthermore the revenues often only stay in the hands of the few elite and never reach the common people, who are in need of it the most. With 49% of the world’s cobalt production, 6% of all gemstone diamonds and 2/3 of the world deposit of copper and tin the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seems to be like a wealthy country. However it is the country with the worldwide worst growth rate and also with the 8th lowest GDP per capita over the past 40 years. These resources bring serious problems in terms of low economic growth, but they also fuel the increased inequality and corruption. Through the exploitation of the resources western nations make a lot of revenue, the majority goes to them instead of to Africa, this further increases the poverty.
In a resolution that the Security Council adopted in 2005, it has recognized a thread between the illegal exploitation of these natural resources, the illicit trade of them and the trafficking of arms being the major component of the conflicts in the Great Lakes Region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In January 2006, the Security Council urged the governments in that region to cooperate and interact. In specific they pushed them to promote lawful and transparent exploitation of the resources in that region. They also invited the international community and the United Nations System to guide the peace building development initiatives, which were required to sustain peace and stability. From 17 to 19 June 2006 the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa convened an Expert Group Meeting on “Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa: Transforming a Peace Liability into a Peace Asset” in Cairo, Egypt. Some of the objectives were:
-Promote responsible, just and economically productive resource management in post-conflict countries in Africa and equitable distribution of wealth to all stakeholders, in particular, local communities;
-Recommend certain measures for addressing the issues of illegal exploitation of natural resources in the context of conflict prevention, resolution and management by relevant bodies of the United Nations, African Union and African sub - regional organizations.
-Set up an independent Fund and initiative to advise, train, and help develop the management of natural resources in countries just emerging from civil conflicts as well as countries experiencing problems of illegal exploitation.