Reuse or Refuse Drinking Straws

Plastic straws are one of the top 10 marine debris items collected during beach clean-ups worldwide. They are polluting the oceans and injuring, even killing, marine wildlife. Many plastic products we use only once, and then throw away. These single-use plastics and causing a massive pollution problem around the world, and we are advocating for people to refuse all single-use plastics, starting with drinking straws.

In the United States alone, we use and throw away 500 million plastic straws each day. That is enough straws to fill over 120 school buses or to circle the Earth two and a half times! Since plastic straws are so lightweight and tend to blow away easily, they rarely make it to landfills or recycling facilities. Other single-use plastics include beverage containers, food wrappers, and packaging, which currently comprise nearly a quarter of all waste in the United States. Since plastics are such a durable material, they never truly ‘go away’ – meaning all plastics that have ever been produced, including items that are only used once, are still around today in some form or another.

Of the single-use plastics out there, plastic straws are a relatively easy item to eliminate by refusing them at bars and restaurants. Additionally, for those who still prefer or require a straw, there are several reusable options, and Pacific Whale Foundation has some options for purchase at our Ocean Stores. Although our efforts are aimed toward plastic straws, we hope that making one small change will inspire people to refuse other single-use plastic items.

We all contribute to the problem, but we can all take action to turn the tide on plastic pollution. Did you know that Pacific Whale Foundation stopped serving straws on our PacWhale ecotour vessels in 2015? Join us in this movement! You can join us in our campaign to #ReuseorRefuse your straw by signing our pledge and telling your favorite bar/restaurant to go straw free!

Updates from the 6th International Marine Debris Conference

The 6th International Marine Debris Conference, held in March 2018, was co-hosted by the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the United Nations Environment Programme. Over 700 participants representing more than 50 countries all came together for five days, for one reason: to address global marine debris issues.  The conference was held in San Diego, California; a leading city in addressing marine debris through zero waste initiatives, sustainability, and education. It’s been seven years since the last international marine debris conference in Honolulu, so the goal of this conference was to assess how far we have come in managing marine debris over the past couple of years, and to look toward the future for innovative ways to minimize the impacts of marine debris.

Senior Pacific Whale Foundation researchers, Stephanie Stack and Jens Currie, attended and participated in the conference. Pacific Whale Foundation’s marine debris program is the only program in the Maui 4-island region that conducts on-water research on marine debris distribution and accumulation; although other programs exist, they mostly focus on land-based removal events. While removal of marine debris is an effective method to reduce direct threats, researching debris can help us further understand the source of the debris and how we can best mitigate it from the point of origin, where the greatest impact will occur. At the conference Jens presented PWF’s work on examining debris type and looking at trends in the location and timing of marine debris in the 4-island region of Maui, while Stephanie presented on the risk marine debris poses to whale and dolphin species by considering the overlap between the two in Maui waters.

Our representatives highlighted that keynote speaker, Afroz Shah from Mumbai, India, is a perfect example of how just a few people can make a large impact! Shah shared the story of him and his 84-year neighbor’s frustration with the decomposing state of their beaches.  They took it upon themselves to clean up the beach, one piece of trash at a time. Their efforts inspired others to join them every weekend, which quickly became one of the largest citizen initiatives the world has ever witnessed, collecting over 4,000 tons of trash. Shah was recognized for his work by the United Nations and awarded the 2016 Champion of the Earth award. Similarly, Youth Plenary Speaker, Melati Wijsen, a senior in high school on the island of Bali co-founded the initiative “Bye Bye Plastic Bags.” At 12 and 10-years old, Melati and her sister initiated this social movement, driven by the youth of Bali to get people to say no to plastic bags. These inspirational women were recently featured in a TED talk, check it out here!

Pacific Whale Foundation was proud to attend the conference and be surrounded by a wide range of people and organizations from around the world. Representatives from NGO’s, governments,  the plastic manufacturing industry, and even students from NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology all gathered to learn from each other and work together to develop creative ways to reduce the impacts of marine debris. The 6th International Marine Debris Conference was a great success, and PWF looks forward to applying the lessons learned to our organization and into our individual daily lives!

No butts on the beach!

Pacific Whale Foundation received an outreach and education grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Marine Debris Program in the summer of 2016. As a recipient of this grant, it’s our goal to:

  • Educate the public about marine debris and its effects on the environment.
  • Remove marine debris and cigarette butts from Maui’s coastline.
  • Inform people on Maui’s tobacco free beaches and parks bill; it is illegal to smoke on any of Maui County’s parks, beaches and recreational areas.

Since awarded this grant, our Research and Conservation staff have provided outreach and education about this important topic to 310,920 members of the public and 17,603 keiki. We have also hosted several educational events such as Ocean Camp, where Maui keiki get hands-on experience with a certified Marine Naturalist, and hosting the Maui screening of the documentary A Plastic Ocean at the historic Iao Theatre to raise awareness about single-use plastics.

We also have an outreach station located at popular Ulua Beach, where beachgoers can talk to our onsite Naturalist about marine debris, tobacco use, or general ocean health. By personally bringing the information to the public, we hope to raise awareness and encourage a change in behavior when it comes to marine debris.

Through various clean-up events and ongoing research projects, the Research Team has collected 53,392 pieces of debris since 2013, of which 21,468 were cigarette butts! At the Get the Drift and Bag it! harbor clean up on International Coastal Clean-Up day, volunteers picked up 15,356 cigarette butts. With a recently announced extension to this grant, Pacific Whale Foundation will continue educating the public on marine debris and cleaning our coastlines through January 2018.

 

A Dynamic Disequilibrium

When we go on whalewatches, we are entering the world of humpback whales to encounter them in their natural environment. Passengers and crew are often astounded by the diverse behaviors and characteristics of these animals, but occasionally we are also presented with sobering reminders that threats to whales and other marine life are still very real. On one of our recent whalewatches out of Hervey Bay, Australia, all those aboard Ocean Defender were given a glimpse into humpback whale entanglement.

Whale 1 Resize

As we entered Platypus Bay we saw our first whale sighting of the day, and the level of excitement was rising. There was a whale swimming by itself, which is not unusual for a humpback whale, but after a few minutes it seemed there may be something wrong. This particular whale was acting stressed and swimming erratically. Then we noticed something odd; as the whale surfaced we could see a laceration on its dorsal fin from dragging several lines.

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Naturalist Spotlight: Maddie Buresh

“So what brought you out here? And … how? How did you do it?”

We get this question a lot. Many folks are fascinated by the steps it takes to become a Pacific Whale Foundation certified Marine Naturalist. Our naturalists are college grads from all over the country – Minnesota, Kansas, California, Idaho, Florida, you name the state – we’ve most likely had a naturalist from there. The majority of us applied online and had numerous phone and Skype interviews, where we were able to show our enthusiasm and demonstrate our knowledge of marine conservation. Plenty of us had other experiences outside of college before we started here, including marine mammal research, internships, and other field work. Our hiring managers must have an incredibly difficult time making their selections from all the interested and skilled applicants – who doesn’t want to move to Maui?

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The Last Straw

What’s the big deal about having a straw in my drink?

Fact: 500 million plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the U.S. alone. Shocking, right? That’s why, as of July 2016, PacWhale Eco-Adventures no longer serves plastic drinking straws on our vessels.

Increased air pollution. Plastic production needs electricity, one of the leading sources of air pollution in the U.S., according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report. Oil and gas are also needed which means drilling, a harmful process known for destroying habitats. Then, gas is needed to transport the plastic materials from producers to straw makers, electricity is used to power straw-making machines, and even more gas is needed to deliver straws to customers. Besides banning straws, PacWhale Eco-Adventures has implemented a number of other green features, including using high efficiency engines on our vessels, locally sourced catering for our cruises, and LED lighting for our offices.

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