Category Archives: Litter and debris

Ghost-net busters are entering a new era of hunting and removal

My mind is unable to grasp, in any meaningful way, how much death and destruction was caused by fishing nets that were lost and abandoned through the years.

Filmed in 2007, this KCTS-9 video describes the problem of ghost nets and a project that would eventually remove nearly 6,000 nets.

Nearly 6,000 of these so-called “ghost nets” have been pulled from the waters of Puget Sound over the past 17 years. Until removed, they keep on catching fish, crabs and many more animals to one degree or another.

We can support responsible fishing, but those of us who care about Puget Sound must never again allow lost nets to be forgotten, as if “out of sight, out of mind” ever worked for anyone.

The latest concern, as I reported last month in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, is that 200 or more ghost nets are still lurking at depths below 100 feet, which is the level considered safe to operate by divers with normal scuba gear. Remotely operated vehicles (unmanned submarines) are being developed to go after nets remaining in deep water, where they are killing crabs and many other deep-water species — including rockfish, some of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Another concern is that some commercial fishermen, for unknown reasons, are still failing to report the nets they are losing during the course of fishing, despite state and tribal requirements to do so. We know this because newly lost nets, with little accumulation of marine growth, are still being found.

The Northwest Straits Foundation operates an outreach program to inform fishers about the importance of reporting lost nets and the legal requirements to do so, as I describe in my story. This is a no-fault program, and if a fisher reports a lost net, it will be removed free of cost. If the net is usable, the owner will likely get it back.

Why a fisher would not report a lost net is hard to imagine, unless the person is fishing illegally. If the person losing a net cares at all about natural resources or the future of fishing, one would think that reporting would be swift — even if that person had to swallow some pride for taking inadvisable actions that lost the net.

If this matter of nonreporting does not turn around, fishers may face additional regulations — such as a requirement to place tags on the bottom of every net to identify the owner. That way, the owner could be identified and charged with a violation when an unreported net is found. Currently, identification is placed at the top of the net on floats, which often get removed when fishers pull up as much net as possible.

Maybe all commercial fishers should be required to look at pictures of dead fish, birds and porpoises entangled in lost nets and sign an agreement to report lost nets.

The numbers only begin to tell the story. In the 5,809 nets removed at last count, more than 485,000 organisms were found. That includes 1,116 birds, 5,716 fish, 81 marine mammals and 478,000 invertebrates, including crabs.

But that’s only the intact animals that were found. For every animal found during net removal, many more probably were killed and decomposed each month that the net kept on fishing — and for some nets that could be up to 30 years.

According to a study led by Kirsten Gilardi of the University of California, Davis, the 5,809 nets could have been killing nearly 12 million animals each year — including 163,000 fish, 29,000 birds and 2,000 marine mammals. Those numbers, based on a series of assumptions, are mind-boggling. But even if the numbers are not entirely accurate, they tell us clearly that every net is important.

I’ve been reporting on this issue of ghost nets since about 2000, when Ray Frederick of the Kitsap Poggie Club first alerted me to the problem and went about convincing state legislators that they ought to do something. See my story in the Kitsap Sun, May 4, 2000, which began:

“In the murky, undersea twilight of Puget Sound, scuba divers occasionally come face to face with the tangled remains of rotting fish.

“Nearly invisible in the dim light, long-lost fishing nets continue to ensnare fish, birds, seals, crabs and other creatures that happen along. Divers call these hidden traps ‘ghost nets.’

“‘It’s a little eerie, seeing fish like that,’ said Steve Fisher, an underwater photographer from Bremerton. ‘You can see that something has been eating on them, and the fish are a pretty good size — bigger than you would normally see.’”

One of the early state-funded projects was the removal of a 300-foot net near Potlatch, led by the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group. See Kitsap Sun, June 29, 2002.

Today, most of the ongoing effort in Puget Sound is coordinated by the Northwest Straits Foundation and Natural Resources Consultants, which have gained considerable knowledge about how to find and remove ghost nets at any depth.

Amusing Monday: Young artists describe dangers of trash in the ocean

Student artists are helping people understand how ocean creatures are affected by human trash. At least that’s the goal of the annual Marine Debris Art Contest, now in its sixth year. The contest is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program.

Aaron K, Grade 5, Michigan

Hundreds of entries from all over the country were submitted by students, from kindergarteners to eighth graders. I’ve selected a few of my favorites for this page, but you can see all 13 winning entries on the contest website. The 13 winners will have their drawings featured in an upcoming calendar, with one picture on the cover and one for each month. After posting, the calendar can be downloaded from NOAA’s website. To enlarge the pictures on this page, click directly on the image.

Cindy P, Grade 7, Mississippi

The express goal of the art contest is for students to learn about the worldwide problem of marine debris and to use their power of artistic expression to raise awareness. Winners were chosen for their creativity, artistic presentation, relevance to theme, and how thoroughly the students explained how marine debris affects the ocean and what people can do to help.

“The resulting calendar, featuring the winning artwork, will help to remind us every day how important it is for us to be responsible stewards of the ocean,” states the homepage for the contest.

Anastasia K, Grade 4, Pennsylvania

I’ve been promoting the contest and showing off the student artwork in this blog since the beginning, when the top winner was Araminta “Minty” Little, a seventh grader at Fairview Junior High School in Central Kitsap. See Minty’s picture of an octopus clutching lost junk in Water Ways, March 18, 2013.

I do wish that contest organizers would take the time to obtain whatever permissions are necessary so that the student artists can be recognized with their full names, schools and hometowns. As it is, we get to see only their first names and last initials — unless the students or their teachers contact the local newspaper for publicity, which is how I found out about Minty six years ago.

Luke G, Grade 3, Ohio

To download calendars from previous years, use the pull-down menu on the webpage of NOAA’s Marine Debris Art Contest.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s mission is to investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris. The program includes regional marine debris efforts, research and outreach to local communities. The main webpage includes links to public information, scientific reports and a blog about marine debris.

Jennie C, Grade 8, Massachusetts

Amusing Monday: A new Earth Day anthem from a comedic rapper?

Loving the Earth is the theme of a new music video by comic rapper Lil Dicky, who enlisted the voices of two dozen famous singers to play the roles of animals in the video.

Just released Thursday, the video is one of the hottest-trending items on YouTube, where it reached 25 million views just before I posted this. With its catchy tune, the song is being promoted as a new anthem for Earth Day. Happy Earth Day!, by the way.

It feels almost redundant to share this video, considering all the anticipation and attention surrounding it, but it is a far more fun and amusing than the dull and somewhat ironic Earth Day message posted by Andrew Wheeler, the current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It was clever of Dave Burd, Lil Dicky’s real name, to put the voices of some famous singers into the bodies of animals, including Justin Bieber as a baboon, Ariana Grande as a zebra, Halsey as a lion cub, Zac Brown as a cow, Adam Levine as a vulture, Shawn Mendes as a rhino, Charlie Puth as a giraffe, Miley Cyrus as an elephant, Katy Perry as a pony, Ed Sheeran as a koala, Leonardo DiCaprio as himself, and several others.

Proceeds from the video will go to help out the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which strives to educate the public about the environment and climate change while working on environmental projects.

“Dicky frolics with penguins, analyzes chatty microbes under a microscope, and talks to a marijuana plant voiced by Snoop Dogg (duh),” writes Zoya Teirstein for Grist magazine. “The video might look like a Disney channel special, but isn’t too concerned with being wholesome (Justin Bieber’s line: ‘I’m a baboon. I’m like a man just less advanced and my anus is huge).’

“If you don’t want to watch an animated Lil Dicky sing about the planet in a loincloth g-string for seven minutes, I don’t blame you,” she continues. “But think of it this way: what if this whole video is a critique of the tired and worn-out tropes used by old-school Earth Day advocates? Hmm??”

Ellen DeGeneres was able to preview the video on her show last week, but she didn’t seem to have much time or know what to ask Lil Dicky — or Dave Burd, who turned 31 last month.

Burd, who grew up in a middle-class, Jewish family, launched his career by emphasizing feelings of self-consciousness in his characters. Lil Dicky’s first rap video in 2013 was “Ex Boyfriend,” which contains sexually explicit lyrics about feelings of inadequacy around a hot girlfriend. Ellen said she liked “Freaky Friday,” in which Lil Dicky suddenly finds himself in the body of Chris Brown with all of the implications that brings.

Dave Burd clearly has a knack for rap, and that may be where he continues to grow his comedic fame and fortune, but there is another side to this man who graduated from the University of Richmond in Virginia, and began working in account management for the advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (Bio, Wikipedia).

In a 2014 interview with Michael Trampe of HipHop magazine, Burd said: “I started rapping simply to get attention comedically, so I could write movies, write TV shows and act. I had very little interest in being a rapper. I fell in love with rapping though, so I’m not leaving that game until I’ve proved my point. However, I plan on having two concurrent careers going on at the same time, as a rapper, and as a comedian/actor/writer. I value the non-musical career just as much as the rap career, and can’t wait to begin acting on that.”

Plastic bags and straws reined in with two bills passed by state Senate

Washington State Senate has tackled the problem of marine debris by approving one bill to ban the use of plastic grocery bags and a separate bill to discourage the use of plastic straws. Both bills have now moved over to the House of Representatives for possible concurrence.

Issues of waste, recycling and compostable materials have been the subject of much debate in the Legislature this year, with at least a dozen bills attempting to address these multiple problems.

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Amusing Monday: Inspiration from underwater photos

More than 5,000 underwater photographs, taken by photographers from 65 countries, were submitted for judging in the annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

“Gentle Giants” ©François Baelen/UPY2019

The contest, based in Great Britain, was started in 1965 and celebrates the art and technology of capturing images under water — from the depths of the ocean to “split shots” at the surface, from open waters to enclosed estuaries, from lakes to even swimming pools.

I first reported on this contest in Watching Our Water Ways last year and received such a positive response from readers that I decided to make it an annual feature of this blog. The 125 winning entries are shown in an online Gallery of the 2019 winners. A series of videos provides insight from the photographers telling the stories that surround their winning entries.

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Amusing Monday: Taking on plastic pollution with a lighthearted approach

Last June, 10 days after the European Union announced major legislation to ban or otherwise control single-use plastic products, the European Commission launched a public-relations campaign to raise awareness and promote individual actions to reduce the problem of plastics.

The campaign, which asks “Are you ready to change?,” includes a lighthearted video designed to encourage people to question their choices of single-use plastics, such as cutlery, water bottles, plates and straws. Check out the first video on this page.

“The campaign is aimed at young, dynamic adults who are always on-the-go,” according to a statement by the European Commission. “The vast majority of this group is well aware of, and concerned by, the environmental impact of single-use plastics and the health-related risks caused by plastic waste and marine litter. But despite the level of awareness among the target audience, this does not translate into their daily choices: They continue to enjoy their take-away coffees and use straws in their drinks.”

A series of short videos cleverly emphasizes “the seductive power of single-use items,” such as the plastic bag. The script for the plastic-bag video, the second one on this page, goes like this:

“Its seduction technique is hard to resist. Always there when you need it, it waits for you at the end of shop counters, ready to help out and leave with you, hand in hand. But the morality of this fake friend is disturbingly flimsy. It will leave you in the first gust of wind, preferring to hang out with its friends on the beach, pollute the ocean and threaten marine life.

“Help protect our beaches and oceans. Don’t fall for the single-use plastic bag. Start a long-term relationship with a smarter alternative. Why not use reusable carry bags, totes or baskets? A solid alternative!”

Click on the following to see other videos featuring “seductive” plastics:

The United Nations has its own public-relations effort to battle single-use plastics. Called the Clean Seas Campaign, the project has enlisted the support of more than 50 countries throughout the world, many with specific commitments to reduce plastic pollution, according to a news release and webpage called “Tide-turners” about nations and private companies tackling the plastic problem. The United States is not listed among them.

In a UN video, a woman declares, “This relationship isn’t working; I’m breaking up with you.” But there’s a psychological problem looming over her conviction. In a new video, released last week in time for the holidays, the same woman confronts the problem of running into her “ex.” She learns that even with the best intentions it is not easy to get away from plastics in our modern world.

For more information about the European Union’s efforts to confront plastic pollution, take a look at my Water Ways post from yesterday.

European Union charges forward to reduce dangerous plastic litter

By 2021, the 28 countries in the European Union are expected to ban single-use plastics — including straws, plates, cutlery and drink stirrers, as well as plastic sticks for cotton swabs, balloons and candy.

The latest development, announced this past week, involves the approval of a provisional agreement by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union. Formal approval is expected next. The ban carries through on an initiative launched in May that also seeks to limit the use of plastic drink cups, food containers, grocery bags and candy wrappers. Review Water Ways, May 31,2018, or take a look at this EU brochure.

World production of plastic materials by region (2013). Click to enlarge // Source: European Union

Most plastic in Europe is landfilled or incinerated, rather than being recycled, which is a loss to the economy, according to EU documents contained in the European Strategy for Plastics. In the environment, many plastics take hundreds of years to break down, and the amount of plastic getting into the ocean has raised alarm bells throughout the world.

“When we have a situation where one year you can bring your fish home in a plastic bag, and the next year you are bringing that bag home in a fish, we have to work hard and work fast,” Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said in a statement released Wednesday. “So I am happy that with the agreement of today between Parliament and Council. We have taken a big stride towards reducing the amount of single-use plastic items in our economy, our ocean and ultimately our bodies.”

“This agreement truly helps protect our people and our planet,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development. “Europeans are conscious that plastic waste is an enormous problem and the EU as a whole has shown true courage in addressing it, making us the global leader in tackling plastic marine litter.”

The measures are expected to reduce litter by more than half for the top-10 plastic litter items, saving 22 billion Euros (about $25 billion) by 2030 and avoiding 3.4 million metric tons (3.75 million U.S. tons) of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, according to a fact sheet.

The United Nations has launched a campaign to reduce plastic pollution.
Source: UN

Peter Harris, a graduate of North Kitsap High School who is working on an environmental assessment for the United Nations, told me in June that plastics pollution is one of the three greatest problems facing the world’s oceans. The others are the bleaching of coral reefs caused by global warming and overfishing, which is driving some species to extinction. See Water Ways, June 6, 2018.

The European Union has carefully examined how plastics affect the ocean. EU countries should be recognized for their courage in tackling the problem in Europe, not waiting for a worldwide agreement before taking action. Non-European countries would be wise to consider their own plastic impacts on the environment.

So far, actions in the United States have been limited to a relatively small number of cities and counties, along with a few states. Because plastics wash downstream in stormwater and into rivers before reaching the ocean, every American has a role to play in the problem. Whether we address the challenges internationally, nationally or locally, everyone should take time to understand this serious issue, consider practical solutions and support actions that can save marine life before it’s too late.

McNeil Island becoming known for fish and wildlife, not just prison

If you’ve heard of McNeil Island, you are probably thinking of a former federal or state prison in South Puget Sound — not the rare and exclusive habitat that has won high praise from fish and wildlife biologists.

A derelict boat, estimated at 100 years old, is removed from the McNeil Island shoreline.
Photo: Monica Shoemaker, DNR

I never realized that McNeil Island was such a gem until I learned about state restoration plans that could lead to near-pristine conditions for the island, located about seven miles southwest of Tacoma.

To be sure, more than 90 percent of the island’s 12-mile-long shoreline remains in a natural state, including large trees bending over the water . The restoration — the result of a longtime planning effort — will focus on discrete areas that have been highly degraded by human activities, some for more than a century.

The first project, completed this week, was the removal of shoreline armoring, creosote pilings and debris in six locations. Close to 1,000 tons of concrete was hauled away by barge along with 55 tons of scrap metal and more than 51 tons of pilings. A 557-foot bulkhead was pulled out along with a derelict boat.

“You can already see how much better the habitat appears with all that armoring and debris gone,” said Monica Shoemaker, restoration manager for the Department of Natural Resources’ Aquatic Restoration Program.

“I’m super excited about it,” she added, as she wrapped up the site work. “It takes a lot of planning and permitting, and when you work on something awhile, it is great to see it completed.”

Metal anti-submarine nets, added years ago to McNeil Island’s shoreline, were hauled away during the removal project.
Photo: Monica Shoemaker, DNR

The concrete debris included what looked like an old building, demolished and tossed down the bank, Monica told me. What appeared to be ceramic tiles from a bathroom were scattered among the pieces of concrete. Metal debris included multiple layers of twisted and tangled anti-submarine netting, apparently brought to the site following World War II.

The accomplishment goes well beyond appearances. The shoreline is important rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, including threatened Chinook. Portions of the beach will provide excellent spawning habitat for forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance, according to Doris Small of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Much of the island contains moderate to low-bank waterfront, with about 25 percent identified as “feeder bluffs,” which provide sand and gravel to keep the beaches suitable for forage-fish spawning. Wetlands across the island provide habitat for a multitude of species.

Doris said the ongoing restoration effort has been the result of exceptional collaboration between DNR, WDFW and the state Department of Corrections.

McNeil Island served as the site a federal penitentiary from 1875 to 1979. It was the first federal prison in Washington Territory. In 1981, after the federal government decided it was too expensive to operate, the facility was leased by the state of Washington.

In 1984, the state Department of Corrections took ownership of the prison site with 1,324 acres used for buildings and infrastructure. The remainder of the island’s 4,413 acres was dedicated as a permanent wildlife sanctuary under control of WDFW. The deed also transferred ownership of Gertrude and Pitt islands to the state for conservation purposes.

The prison was upgraded during the 1990s with new buildings to serve up to 1,300 inmates. But in 2011 the prison was closed as a cost-cutting measure. Today, the facility houses about 300 inmates in a Special Commitment Center for sexually violent offenders who have been civilly committed.

McNeil, Gertrude and Pitt Islands remain closed to public access to protect breeding populations of wildlife. A 100-yard safety zone goes out into the water with warning signs for boaters.

In 2011, DNR established the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve, which edges up against Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and includes Anderson Island, McNeil Island and surrounding waters. The idea is to protect shoreline ecosystems in the reserve.

A feasibility report (PDF, 6.3 mb), developed by WDFW and DNR, includes a shoreline survey that identified 10 sites where debris removal would improve the nearshore habitat. Although contractors removed more material than originally estimated for the first six sites, bidding was favorable and costs were held to about $450,000, Monica said. Funding is from DNR’s aquatic restoration account.

The next project, to get underway in January, involves removal of a concrete boat launch, concrete debris and log pilings from the so-called Barge Landing Site at the southern tip of McNeil Island. Funding will come from an account that provides money from a pollution settlement with Asarco, a company that operated a Tacoma smelter that released toxic chemicals over a wide area.

Other projects on McNeil Island involve removing road embankments constructed across three estuaries along with work to restore natural functions. Estuaries provide rearing habitat for salmon and other aquatic species. State or federal restoration grants are needed to proceed with those projects. For ongoing information, check out DNR’s website about McNeil Island.

Environmental volunteers needed in Kitsap County

I thought I would offer a quick note on some volunteer opportunities in Kitsap County, based on an email from WSU Kitsap County Extension. By the way, Kitsap and King county governments are among the best in connecting people with opportunities where they can spent quality time together while helping their community. Check out Kitsap County Volunteer Services and King County volunteer calendar and opportunities.

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Amusing Monday: Value of water featured in art contest for students

More than 1,300 students entered this year’s Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest, sponsored by New York City’s water utility, known as the Department of Environmental Protection. Some 60 winners were named as “Water Champions” by a panel of judges.

Art by Lily H., grades 6–7.
Photo: New York City DEQ Art and Poetry Contest

“For more than three decades, DEP’s annual Art and Poetry Contest has given young New Yorkers a wonderful opportunity to use their artistic abilities to learn about and express the importance of protecting our environment and water resources,” DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said in a press release announcing the contest winners. “Nearly half the State of New York relies on the city’s water supply system, so this is a terrific way for students in both New York City and beyond to celebrate our shared natural resources.”

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