Pirates love the high seas and so do illegal fishers and poachers; heck cruise ship companies love the high seas as a place to dump sewage. All in, we don’t respect the ecosystems in the oceans because there’s only a few laws that can be broken and enforcement is weak. That’s about to change. 193 nations at the United Nations have agreed to a new way to protect the high seas, a big boon for aquatic species.
Covering almost two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside national boundaries, the treaty will provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out the genetic resources of the high seas. It will establish a conference of the parties (Cop) that will meet periodically and enable member states to be held to account on issues such as governance and biodiversity.
Ocean ecosystems produce half the oxygen we breathe, represent 95% of the planet’s biosphere and soak up carbon dioxide, as the world’s largest carbon sink. Yet until now, fragmented and loosely enforced rules governing the high seas have rendered this area more susceptible than coastal waters to exploitation.
The simple kelp plant could help us suck carbon out of the air in large quantities, and if so then we need more kelp – and fast! Kelp is a seaweed that naturally grows up to two feet per day, which puts it on a similar growth rate to algae which is similar and we’ve looked at before as a carbon sink. Kelp is so good at using carbon that a startup is currently creating a kelp factory that functions as an industrial carbon-removal service.
The company produces groupings of kelp that float on water and absorb carbon, when they get heavy enough the groupings fall to the ocean floor. It’s an imperfect idea and still being tested, but we must remember that climate change will be addressed by thousands of little solutions and not one grand gesture.
At its core, carbon removal is “a mass-transfer problem,” Marty Odlin, Running Tide’s CEO, told me. The key issue is how to move the hundreds of gigatons of carbon emitted by fossil fuels from the “fast cycle,” where carbon flits from fossil fuels to the air to plant matter, back to the “slow cycle,” where they remain locked away in geological storage for millennia. “How do youmovethat?” Odlin said. “What’s the most efficient way possible to accomplish that mass transfer?” The question is really, really important. The United Nations recently said that carbon removal is “essential” to remedying climate change, but so far, we don’t have the technology to do it cheaply and at scale.
Renewable energy comes in many forms with new innovative approaches being discovered very so often. A more recent approach to carbon neutral renewable energy can be found where two bodies of water meet. In an innovative approach, scientists have found a way to create electricity from locations where fresh water bodies (usually rivers) meet salty ocean water. The process has been proven to work; however, it requires a large quantity of water to make it profitable. The next phase will be to try out the process at scale and to ensure there are no negative impacts on the local ecosystem.
There are several ways to generate power from that mixing. And a couple of blue energy power plants have been built. But their high cost has prevented widespread adoption. All blue energy approaches rely on the fact that salts are composed of ions, or chemicals that harbor a positive or negative charge. In solids, the positive and negative charges attract one another, binding the ions together. (Table salt, for example, is a compound made from positively charged sodium ions bound to negatively charged chloride ions.) In water, these ions detach and can move independently.
By pumping the positive ionsâ€”like sodium or potassiumâ€”to the other side of a semipermeable membrane, researchers can create two pools of water: one with a positive charge, and one with a negative charge. If they then dunk electrodes in the pools and connect them with a wire, electrons will flow from the negatively charged to the positively charged side, generating electricity.
When animals are put under the protection of the United Statesâ€™ Endangered Species Act (ESA) the protected species tend to rebound. Recently a new study found that when sea turtle populations were put under protection that the population soared upwards by 980%. This follows the success of the Hawaiian humpback whales resurgence under the ESA from a low of 800 whales to roughly 10,000 today. This is further evidence that when we do act as a society to protect species (or the planet) that we can do so rather effectively. All that’s needed is political will.
A team of researchers looked at 31 marine populations and found that the populations of 78% of marine mammals and 75% of sea turtles rebounded after receiving protections under the law.
The median sea turtle population increased by 980% following the regulations established by the ESA, and the median increase for mammals was 115%.
Plastics last a long time before breaking down, which makes them a major problem for the natural environment. This year we’ve seen a big push to ban “single use” plastics due to the environmental damage they bring. Plastic bag bans have been implemented in reasonable places and now the European Union is doing even better: they’re banning the ridiculous use of plastics in consumer goods.
The directive targets some of the most common ocean-polluting plastics.
The list of banned items such as cutlery and cotton buds was chosen because there are readily available alternatives, such as paper straws and cardboard containers.
Other items, “where no alternative exists” will still have to be reduced by 25% in each country by 2025. Examples given include burger boxes and sandwich wrappers.
MEPs also tacked on amendments to the plans for cigarette filters, a plastic pollutant that is common litter on beaches. Cigarette makers will have to reduce the plastic by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.
Another ambitious target is to ensure 90% of all plastic drinks bottles are collected for recycling by 2025. Currently, bottles and their lids account for about 20% of all the sea plastic, the European Parliament report said.