Monday, June 20, 2016

Are biodegradable six-pack rings truly safe for our waters?


It is widely understood that plastic pollution poses a major threat to marine life. One of the most dangerous and talked about forms of plastic pollution is six-pack rings. Marine organisms slowly die from the suffocation/strangulation as a result of being caught in the plastic rings. It is suggested to cut up the six-pack rings before disposal. While this may help with entanglement, it does not address the issue of the plastic photodegrading over time into plastic pieces smaller than five millimeters (microplastics), which are, in turn, ingested.

Recently, a Florida craft beer brewery introduced “edible and biodegradable six-pack rings.” The brewery created this new packaging by using the barley and wheat byproducts from their beer. The mainstream media is devouring their claims that marine life will be able to safely consume these new rings. However, the science community isn’t so sure.

Scientists are now questioning the overall safety of these rings for marine life. Are these plastic-less rings safe for consumption? What are the long-term effects and implications for marine life? Ramani Narayan, an expert on degradable plastics and professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at Michigan State University, expressed concerns over the inorganic compounds that would result as the barley and wheat byproducts are broken down, including phosphorus and silicon. These compounds could travel up the food web and biomagnify to potentially dangerous levels by the time it reaches your plate (Loepp 2016).

While it is great to see large companies voicing their concern and taking a positive interest in protecting the marine environment, it is always necessary to question the validity and safety of their product(s). These biodegradable rings offer hope and promise but additional research is required to truly understand the long-term impacts.
Chelsea Soriano
Marine Debris Intern

Source:
Loepp, D. (2016, June 3). Edible six-pack rings? Not so fast! Retrieved June 17, 2016, from http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20160602/BLOG01/160609914/edible-six-pack-rings-not-so-fast

Thursday, June 9, 2016

COA Celebrates Microplastics Awareness Week


Plastic has consistently comprised a majority of the litter found on the beaches of New Jersey. In 2015, Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweep data quantified the amount of plastic present on beaches as approximately 71.6% of the total litter collected. Why are plastics such an issue for our waterways? The main issue is that plastics do not biodegrade, instead they photodegrade into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastics are plastic pieces smaller than 5 mm and are of particular concern because of the threat they pose to marine life, who often mistakes these plastic particles for food. The primary source of microplastics originates from personal care products such as facial scrubs and toothpastes. Other sources include larger plastics that have photodegraded and microfibers that are the result of washing clothing made of synthetic materials. Due to their small size, microplastic pieces bypass wastewater treatment plant filters and are discharged into our waterways.

Microplastic pollution is currently at the forefront of international concern because of the threat it poses to marine life and, consequently, human life. Marine organisms that comprise the base of the marine food web (zooplankton and phytoplankton) ingest these particles. Since these plastics cannot be digested they travel up the food chain. This is where the danger for humans arises. Microplastics are hotbeds for the accumulation of toxins. What may start out as a small concentration biomagnifies as it travels up the food chain because larger organisms need to consume larger amounts of food. The seafood lover’s menu has the potential to be laden with toxins as a result of microplastic pollution.

A major victory for our ocean occurred in 2015 when President Obama signed the “Microbead-Free Waters Act,” which bans the manufacture of microbeads in July 2017. Until then, it is important to be an informed consumer and avoid products that still contain microbeads. When purchasing products, look for and avoid the ingredients polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl, methacrylate, nylon and polylactic acid. Try using exfoliants with natural ingredients such as coffee, cocoa, apricot seeds, sugar and salt.

As the Marine Debris intern at Clean Ocean Action I am working alongside staff members to help better understand and promote the issues of microplastic pollution in our waterways. Clean Ocean Action is working with students from the Marine Academy of Science and Technology as well as scientists from NOAA on a microplastics research project that will quantify the amount of microplastics present in the New York-New Jersey area. Sand and water samples taken along the coast are being analyzed using pre-tested research methods. Another essential component of the microplastics program is public outreach. Part of my job is assisting with Corporate Beach Sweeps, where we highlight the issues of microplastic pollution to volunteers. A social media campaign in conjunction with the US EPA’s Trash Free Waters initiative was launched the week of World Oceans’ Day (6/6/2016-6/12/16). Throughout Microplastics Awareness Week, Clean Ocean Action is educating the public on these issues via social media. Join us and promote a clean ocean! Share our infographics and posts with your friends and family. Together we can create trash free waters!
By
Chelsea Soriano
Marine Debris Intern

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Exceeding Safe Swimming Standards

Summer is here, which means that our region’s water quality testing programs are in full effect.  

Already we see that when it rains, pollution pours off the land, and water quality suffers. To date, results from water testing exceeds safe standards for swimming.

Results from water samples taken Monday morning have been released, and 13 beaches in Ocean and Monmouth County exceeded safe swimming standards. Due to these results the NJDEP issued a swimming advisory for 8 beaches in Ocean and Monmouth Counties. An additional 5 beaches exceeded the standard, but were not issued an advisory by NJDEP. The reason for this may be that, at this time of the year, these beaches are “technically closed” due to no lifeguards on duty. COA has criticized this situation in the past…

The 8 beaches issued a swimming advisory are:

Beach_Name
Municipality
County_Name
5th Ave Bay Front
Seaside Park Borough
Ocean
Hancock
Seaside Heights Borough
Ocean
West Beach Avon Rd
Pine Beach Borough
Ocean
East Beach Station Ave
Pine Beach Borough
Ocean
Windward Beach
Brick Township
Ocean
Imperial House
Long Branch City
Monmouth
Elberon Bch Clb
Long Branch City
Monmouth
25th St Bay Front
Barnegat Light Borough
Ocean

These beaches have been re-sampled today, with results returning tomorrow. Depending on the results, the advisory may be lifted, or an official beach closure may be issued.

The 5 beaches that have exceeded safe swimming standards but not issued an advisory are:

Beach_Name
Municipality
County_Name
River
Point Pleasant Borough
Ocean
Reese Ave
Lavallette Borough
Ocean
Anglesea
Ocean Gate Borough
Ocean
Miller Beach
Highlands Borough
Monmouth
Wildwood
Ocean Gate Borough
Ocean


This has been the second week in a row of testing returning with several exceedances of safe standards for swimming. What this makes clear, and what COA has been stating for many years, is that water quality in our coastal waters is heavily dependent on the weather; when we have a rainy summer, with rain events occurring the day before or day of water sampling, we are likely to see more exceedances than if sampling occurred during a dry weather window. Both last week, and this week we saw rain events on Sunday and Monday.

For many years now, COA has been a leading voice working to make swimming in coastal waters an “any weather” activity, and advocating for more protective structuring, methods, funding and oversight for these beach monitoring programs. We believe that public awareness is the first and most important step both in ensuring safe swimming conditions for millions of beach goers each summer, and for getting at the underlying reasons for these exceedances. To learn more, and to stay up to date on weekly beach sampling results, visit our website and social media, and be sure to check NJBeaches.org or our social media before any beach day.

A Short Intro to Water Quality Testing in New Jersey

In New Jersey, water quality sampling occurs at bathing beaches (lifeguarded beaches) every Monday morning (unless there is a holiday that closes State offices). The results take 24 hours to get back from the lab, and are released and posted to the NJDEP website NJbeaches.org around noon the day after the sample was taken (normally Tuesday). If a result comes back that exceeds the standard for safe swimming, a “swimming advisory” is issued. This exceedance also requires authorities to conduct additional sampling on a daily basis until water quality results meet the standard.

To make this clear, we can look at the way this program has unfolded this week: Samples were taken at bathing beaches from Highlands to Cape May on Monday Morning, the results came back Tuesday and were posted to the website and made public around noon, some of these beaches exceeded the safe swimming standard, these beaches were issued a swimming advisory, and resampling began on Tuesday. Resampling will continue until results come back below the standard. Remember, it takes 24 hours to get results back; this is a blind spot in the monitoring program.

If two consecutive samples collected at a bathing beach exceed the standard, the beach is officially closed until subsequent sampling indicates that bacteria levels are again at a safe number. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Beach is NOT an Ashtray!

Summer fun -- feet on the beach and splashing in the waves -- is near. However, a seaside fun time often become a disappointment when, after finding just the right spot on the beach, it's actually littered with cigarette filters. The good news is that NJ Legislators are working on reducing cigarette litter with a bill to ban cigarette smoking on beaches and in public parks.

On Tuesday, May 24 on 6th Avenue at the Belmar Boardwalk, Clean Ocean Action Executive Director, Cindy Zipf joined Senate President Steve Sweeney, Mayor of Belmar Matt Doherty, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society Tim Dillingham, Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager John Weber of the Surfrider Foundation and Lobbyist Lynn Nowak of the American Cancer Society. Senator Sweeney announced he will prioritize the passage of legislation, which was sponsored by NJ Senators Turner and Vitale.

For more information and to stay current on this issue please follow COA’s blog and social media sites.