The Cocos (Keeling) Islands lie in a tiny and remote zone in the Indian Ocean, with 27 small islands comprising a mere 6 miles of land with a population of only 600.
Despite its size, however, the island chain has become a massive waste dump thanks to the vast amount of garbage in our oceans, with marine scientists finding about 373,000 toothbrushes and 977,000 shoes littering the surface of the beaches.
And now, a comprehensive study published in the journal Nature has concluded that the islands, which lie about 1,300 miles off the coast of Australia, are home to 414 million pieces of plastic weighing a total of 328 tons, all of which floated in from other parts of the world.
The sad discovery is just the latest sign of the drastic increase of plastic polluting the ocean and “highlights a worrying trend in the production and discharge of single-use products.”
Lead author Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies said that given the tiny population of the islands, the massive presence of plastic debris offers a stark warning of the scope of the problem we face.
“Islands such as these are like canaries in a coal mine and it’s increasingly urgent that we act on the warnings they are giving us. Plastic pollution is now ubiquitous in our oceans, and remote islands are an ideal place to get an objective view of the volume of plastic debris now circling the globe.”
And while a huge portion of the debris found was related to fishing, much of the remaining trash was common single-use items as bottles, plastic bags, cutlery, and straws.
The discovery was especially shocking because the level of trash at the Cocos (Keeling) Islands far exceeded previous surveys of garbage in remote South Pacific islands, which largely relied on trash that was visible from the surface.
In the most recent study, researchers looked at 7 of the 27 islands comprising the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, many of which are only a few acres in size, and marked off transects along the beaches before counting the plastic inside each transect. They then multiplied that number by the total beach area of the islands before coming to their shocking conclusion.
Lavers explained to NPR:
“You get to the point where you’re feeling that not much is going to surprise you anymore and then something does … and that something [on the islands] was actually the amount of debris that was buried.
What was really quite amazing was that the deeper we went, the more plastic we were actually finding.”
And as the sun breaks down the plastic that lies on the surface of the beaches, the waves then smash it into smaller and smaller pieces that are driven into the sand.
“It’s the little stuff that’s perfectly bite-sized, the stuff that fish and squid and birds and even turtles can eat,” Lavers added.
In recent years, experts and conservationists have sounded the alarm on the fact that plastics and microplastics are inundating the world’s oceans and water supplies, leaching carcinogenic toxins and chemicals into the marine environment, with plastic drink containers trapping and confining—and ultimately killing—marine wildlife.
The pollution has reached such massive proportions that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic can now be found in the oceans, according to the UN. Between 80 and 90 percent of it comes from land-based sources. And according to a report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by 2050 it is estimated that plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all fish.
In their study, Lavers and her team explained:
“Our excessive and unrelenting demand for plastics, coupled with ineffective policy and waste management, has resulted in myriad negative effects on marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments, including entanglement and ingestion of debris, and subsequent exposure to plastic-associated chemicals.”
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands [are] touted as ‘Australia’s last unspoilt paradise’, with tourism a primary source of income for the local community. However, the impact of debris on tourism and [their] beaches is increasingly difficult to avoid.
Sadly, the situation on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is not unique, with significant quantities of debris documented on islands and coastal areas from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Together, these islands and coastal areas reflect the acute symptoms of an otherwise rapidly increasing environmental hazard.”
Ecologist Chelsea Rochman at the University of Toronto told NPR that the research simply underscores the inescapable nature of the plastic crisis affecting the global ecosystem.
“Contaminants are transported via air currents in addition to ocean currents. And there [in the Arctic], we see high concentrations of small microfibers and small particles, and so, absolutely, you expect different things in different places. And what you find tells you something about where it’s coming from.”
In the case of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Rochman is sadly unsurprised.
“It’s just kind of sad to kind of read about it and think, ‘Yep, OK, this is becoming, I guess, normal.’ And we never wanted something like this to become normal.”
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.
Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.
The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.
Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.
While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.
“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”
“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.
It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.
The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.
“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.
The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.
Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.
However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.
Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.
The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.
To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.
The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.
“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.