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February 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Diving Industry Must Get Rid of Disposable Plastic

from the February, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As we reported last month, the diving industry, which we expect to protect our oceans, uses tons of disposable and unnecessary plastic packaging. In that article, we mentioned a small British Company, Fourth Element, which has now introduced a wetsuit for tropical diving made entirely from bottles and other plastic recovered from the ocean and is producing swimwear made from recovered ghost fishing nets.

Owners Jim Standing and Paul Strike have declared that the company plans to stop using disposable plastic entirely by 2020. We queried if they packed their new Thermocline wetsuit in a plastic bag. Standing told us, "No plastic at all. Bags are cassava starch, if there is a bag at all. Larger items are packed in cardboard sleeves."

The UK seems to be taking the problem more seriously than the U.S. Prime Minister Theresa May says her long-term strategy includes eradicating all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042, which would allow future generations to "enjoy a beautiful environment." (There is already a tax on disposable plastic bags, thanks to an EU directive.)

In addition, a UK businessman, Stuart Grimshaw, who got a first-hand look at the plastic problem while on a diving trip, is altering the ingredients of the cosmetics his company manufactures, eliminating microbeads and reducing plastic packaging by 90 percent in favor of recycled cardboard and paper.

"My company is responsible for shipping around 50,000 plastic bottles a week, with many previously ending up in the ocean," Grimshaw says. "This cannot happen anymore."

No, it can't, and the dive industry, which depends on healthy oceans, must step up and eliminate plastic packaging.

Ocean Plastics: The Story Only Gets Worse

For coral reefs, the threats of climate change and bleaching are bad enough. An international research group led by Cornell University has found that plastic trash intensifies disease for coral, adding to reef peril, according to a new study in the journal Science, Jan. 26.

"Plastic debris acts like a marine motorhome for microbes," said the study's lead author, Joleah Lamb. "Plastic items have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria. This is associated with the globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes."

When plastic debris meets coral, the authors say, the likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent. "Once the coral tissue loss occurs, it's not coming back," said Lamb. "It's like getting gangrene on your foot, and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your whole body."

Lamb and colleagues surveyed 159 coral reefs from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar, and Thailand. The number of plastic items varied widely, from 0.4 items per 100 square meters (about the size of a two-bedroom Manhattan flat) in Australia to 25.6 items per 100 square meters in Indonesia.

The scientists forecast that by 2025, plastic going into the marine environment will increase to roughly 15.7 billion plastic items on coral reefs, which could lead to skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes, and black band disease. "Our work shows that plastic pollution is killing corals," said senior author Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

- From an article by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell University Chronicles

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