Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Garbage Patch Meets its Match

Thus far, cleanup of the ocean’s garbage patch has been deemed impossible due to the vast size and amount of the debris. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program has estimated that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, as the patch lies in the middle of the ocean far from the coastline of any particular country, no one is willing to provide funding and initiate clean up of the garbage. 

However, a solution has presented itself, proposed by 19 year old Boyan Slat. His concept involves natural ocean currents and winds to transport plastic to collection platforms, where the debris will then be removed using solid floating barriers. This will prevent marine animals from being entangled in the more traditional and widespread use of nets and vessels. It has been postulated that almost half of the debris can be cleared in 10 years time. 
Boyan Slat has also founded The Ocean Cleanup foundation, which has dedicated itself to cleaning the world’s oceans. Research by the organization is being conducted in order to bring about the plan’s execution, and research and studies will also be outsourced to other institutes and companies. In order to gain funds, The Ocean Cleanup is looking to collect 2 million dollars through crowdfunding campaigns. Increasing public awareness is hence one of the ways the problem of the garbage patch can be solved and should more advertising and campaigns be carried out, what was once a simple hope to clean the ocean will become a reality. 


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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Patch's Impacts

After knowing more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one can only imagine the devastating effects it could have on the ocean’s marine life. The trash, having originated from different continents and crossed intangible borders to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is likely to have affected marine species on its journey. According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic is killing a million sea birds a year and a 100 000 marine mammals and turtles. Often, larger animals get stuck or entangled in the trash, and die of suffocation or starvation. Sea turtles often mistake floating plastic bags as jellyfish, which is their main diet. Sea gulls, mistaking the tiny flecks of plastics to be fish eggs, feed them to their chicks which then die of starvation or ruptured organs. 
Plastic bits, bottle caps and batteries found in the stomach of a bird's carcass
Furthermore, not all trash remains floating at the surface. Denser ones sink to the bottom of the ocean while smaller flecks, also known as microplastics, swirl around in the water. This has the potential to obstruct sunlight that filters through the water. As a result, photosynthetic plankton that rely on sunlight to survive, will die out. Plankton makes up a large portion of many marine fishes and whales’ diet, and this impact on plankton populations will have vast consequences on the rest of the ecosystem. 
A turtle caught in a plastic six pack ring. The turtle has probably been caught in it at a young age and its shell has thus warped as it grew
Nurdles have also been found in zooplankton, mussels and barnacles and there is increasing worry that the pellets and the chemical toxins they contain may be transferred to us through the dinner plate. Due to the vastness and the intensity of this issue, coupled with the immense size of the garbage patch, we can only hope that solutions are found and implemented quickly. 


Literature cited:



Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The World's Marine Landfill

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Sounds daunting doesnt it? And the name is exactly what it says it is. A gigantic area of trash supposedly twice the size of France, in the Pacific Ocean. Or rather, to be more specific, in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. It is an area rarely ventured where there exists a slow moving spiral of currents due to the high pressure zone of the place. This has thus caused the large pile of flotsam, which orginate from the Pacific coasts of Southeast Asia, North America, Mexico and Canada, to accumulate there. The problem lies in that most of the garbage is made up of plastic trash. 

Now as most know, plastic is non biodegradable and already this would well pose risks to marine life. Environmentalist Charles Moore who has dedicated his time and money to exploring the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, stated that the problem lies not only on the surface, but beneath as well. Literally. To a depth of 10m in the water, small plastic flecks known as nurdles, or the newly dubbed term of mermaid’s tears, are swirling in the water. Moore has concluded that 80% of these trash was initially discarded on land. Wind then blows the trash out to sea, or trash is discarded in rivers which then flow all the way into the ocean. 

As of yet, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is relatively unexplored and unresearched, and much resources, finances and effort would have to go into cleaning up the world’s ocean. Moore’s NGO, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, cannot shoulder the burden of the world’s trash on their shoulders, and I believe that governments and political leaders internationally have to come together in order to resolve this issue. 


Literature cited:



Friday, 10 October 2014

Hand in Hand

A recent piece of news, “The Blooming Green Earth is on Fire - literally!” [1], has talked about an upcoming conference that is set to tackle the problem of deforestation. On the list of those attending is Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), Indonesia’s biggest pulp and paper producer. As of 14 October this year, APP released a statement [2] declaring that it would be addressing the issue of Indonesia’s forest fires. As shown on its website, APP has resolved to “engag[e] with our suppliers to help them develop their action plans to further improve systems for addressing wildfires”. While their decisive reports and attendance of the conference may raise hopes for Indonesia’s haze conundrum, any piece of news has come to light that forest fires have been spotted on the land of one of APP’s biggest pulpwood suppliers. 

Screengrab of fire hotspots on the land of PT BMH
PT BMH (Bumi Mekar Hijau) has had 214 fire hotspots located in its industrial timber plantation between 7-14 October, and hence arises the main question of why forest fires are still taking place even after APP has supposedly made reforms. Ironically however, PT BMH is supposed to be working closely with district and provincial governments. Herein lies the issue that as of yet, policy ≠ implementation. All facets of the Indonesian community have to work together in order to solve this problem. Government enforcement of policies and laws is crucial, and to do this, corruption within the government has to be reduced. The ties between the pulp and paper companies, and the community and government hence have to be bridged, as laws without enforcement accomplish nothing. Hopefully, APP would become more stringent with its suppliers, and work with PT BMH to solve this problem. 


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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Haze Cloud Disallowed

With the haze situation seemingly unabated, the Singapore government has been scrambling for solutions for a problem that has plagued the country since the 70s. The government has recently established a law that fines companies that cause fires overseas. While this movement in itself is one to praised, several problems exist. Identifying fires caused by small individual farmers would be tough as they would be harder to catch and prosecute. Satellite images would be used to find out where the fires are located but comprehensive maps of the area are needed as well, and as stated in a Straits Times news article, “non-government maps are rare, and even those currently available are patchy”. Foreign governments are unlikely to share official maps and our local government will thus have to rely on whatever maps they can find in order to carry out punishment. 

Article from The Straits Times, Sep 18 2014
Indonesia however has finally agreed to ratify ASEAN’s haze agreement, which will defuse the growing tension between it and other haze affected countries. The agreement calls on countries to moderate, monitor and manage haze by controlling the fires created in the country, and sharing information and technology. Indonesia’s decision for ratification clearly shows its agreement to commitment, but whether any future action on its part plays out will have yet to be seen. As of yet, not much details on its exact plan of action have been revealed, but Indonesia has said that it plans on utilizing cloud seeding as a method to extinguish fires. While this seems promising, I believe that the root of the problem should be addressed, which is preventing the fires from being created in the first place. The issue of poverty should thus be tackled as most of these farmers do not have the resources to remove crops in more sustainable ways, and thus resort to the cheapest option of slash and burning. This is hence an matter that will take a long time to resolve as the economic and social empowerment of these people is not something that can be rectified immediately. 

Till next time!

Ashley 


Literature Cited:

  1. Feng, Zeng Kun. "Singapore 'has learnt 5 key lessons from haze crisis': Ng Eng Hen." The Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. , 7 July 2013. Web. 2 Oct. 2014. <http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/the-haze-singapore/story/singapore-has-learnt-5-key-lessons-haze-crisis-ng-eng-hen-201>.
  2. Soeriaatmadja, Wahyudi. "Indonesia planning cloud seeding to tackle haze that is also affecting Singapore." The Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. , 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2014. <http://www.straitstimes.com/news/asia/south-east-asia/story/indonesia-planning-cloud-seeding-tackle-haze-also-affecting-singapor>.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Other End of the Smoking Pipe

Continuing on from my previous post, its time to discuss the causes behind the dreadful haze in Singapore. The transboundary smog actually originates from one of Singapore’s neighboring countries, Indonesia. Forest fires that occur there create unhealthy amounts of smoke, which are then blown by wind and into surrounding countries such as Malaysia , Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore. Some of the forest fires are unintentional and naturally occurring due to the high temperatures and dry seasons, but most are deliberate. Often, in order to remove the remaining crops or plantations, oil palm in particular, to make way for a new harvest, farmers opt for the cheapest way to get rid of the crops, which is to burn them. Furthermore, the ash remaining after the slash and burn technique creates organic matter that increases the fertility of the land. 

Indonesia is as of yet a developing country and primary industries such as the planting of crops for commercial trade and export make up the bulk of its economy. Small scale farmers specifically, exempt from the amounts of money large scale corporations are in possession of, do not have the resources to purchase or own machines and other technology such as bulldozers or excavators which help to clear the land. Most big corporations prefer the cheaper method as well and often escape the government’s detection due to chaotic management and corruption within the cabinet. The government often closes one eye as well due to the amount of revenue that the companies bring in. Slash and burn is actually illegal in Indonesia but the haze problem is exacerbated by the lack of political will and commitment to properly enforce laws. There is also a lack of resources, such as a shortage of field officers to regulate actions [1]

An Indonesian woman walking through a cleared plantation
Considering that the haze is already so harmful in Singapore, those in Indonesia would be experiencing much worse as they are right smack in the middle of the problem. Right now, all we can do is cover our noses and pray that this blazing craze is just a phase. Hopefully the Indonesian government will pull up its socks and control the haze situation, not only for the sake of neighboring countries, but for that of its own people as well.


Literature cited:

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            <http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/07/04/slash-and-burn-way-life-on- indonesia-        
            sumatra/>.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Gray Haze Dog Days

The good ol’ days of the haze are back (Look! Rhymes!). Just yesterday Monday morning, the 3hr PSI (Pollutant Standard Index) reached 111 [1], increasing beyond what is defined as the unhealthy range, which is a PSI of 101 and above. Fellow Singaporeans will remember the dreadful incident which occurred in the later half of 2013 last year, where the country was shrouded in thick foggy haze and PSI reached a record high of 401 on June 21 [2]. This actually climbed into the ‘hazardous’ range, which is a PSI of above 300. 
Haze seen cloaking Marina Bay Sands
Burnt odours invaded nostrils and obscured eyesight, making even basic outdoor activities such as grocery shopping a chore of pain and suffering. Many were reluctant to venture out unless absolutely necessary, while the government along with the National Environment Agency (NEA), urged those with respiratory and other health problems such as heart or lung disease, to stay indoors. The transboundary crossing of the pollutants into Singapore undoubtedly have consequences on human health, and this would then indirectly affect the economy. More people are likely to fall sick and there would hence be a decrease in productivity, leading to a temporary dip in economic output. 

While these are all short term effects, long term ramifications do exist. Studies have shown that those with prolonged exposure over several years to small pollutant particles may develop a higher risk to cardiovascular disease, reduced lung development and asthma, especially in children [3]

After discussing all these impacts, I’m sure the one thing on your minds is, where does the haze originate from?? I’ll leave that to the next blog post, where I will be discussing the main causes of the haze, and the drivers behind this transboundary phenomenon *coughindonesiacough*. 

Till next time!

Ashley


References:
  1. "Haze Hit Unhealthy Range on Monday Morning; PSI 111 at 7am" Straitstimes.com. The                     Straits Times, 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.                               
  2. Yong, Charissa. "Haze Update: PSI 401 at Noon; Many Pharmacies Still out of Masks." The               Straits Times, 21 June 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2014. 
  3. "Impact of Haze on Health." Health Promotion Board. Singapore Government, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.