In Ancient Oceans That Resembled Our Own, Mass Extinction Was Triggered By Oxygen Loss

by Zachary Boehm, Florida State University

Roughly 430 million years ago, during the Earth's Silurian Period, global oceans were experiencing changes that would seem eerily familiar today. Melting polar ice sheets meant sea levels were steadily rising, and ocean oxygen was falling fast around the world.

At around the same time, a global die-off known among scientists as the Ireviken extinction event devastated scores of ancient species. Eighty percent of conodonts, which resembled small eels, were wiped out, along with half of all trilobites, which scuttled along the seafloor like their distant, modern-day relative the horseshoe crab.

Now, for the first time, a Florida State University team of researchers has uncovered conclusive evidence linking the period's sea level rise and ocean oxygen depletion to the widespread decimation of marine species. Their work highlights a dramatic story about the urgent threat posed by reduced oxygen conditions to the rich tapestry of ocean life.

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A Troubling Discovery in the Deepest Ocean Trenches In the Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any ocean, every tiny animal tested had plastic pollution hiding in its gut.


Alan Jamieson remembers seeing it for the first time: a small, black fiber floating in a tube of liquid. It resembled a hair, but when Jamieson examined it under a microscope, he realized that the fiber was clearly synthetic—a piece of plastic. And worryingly, his student Lauren Brooks had pulled it from the gut of a small crustacean living in one of the deepest parts of the ocean.

For the past decade, Jamieson, a marine biologist at Newcastle University, has been sending vehicles to the bottom of marine trenches, which can be as deep as the Himalayas are tall. Once there, these landers have collected amphipods—scavenger relatives of crabs and shrimp that thrive in the abyss. Jamieson originally wanted to know how these animals differ from one distant trench to another. But a few years ago, almost on a whim, he decided to analyze their body for toxic, human-made pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which have been banned for decades but which persist in nature for much longer.

The team found PCBs galore. Some amphipods were carrying levels 50 times higher than those seen in crabs from one of China’s most polluted rivers. When the news broke, Jamieson was inundated with calls from journalists and concerned citizens. And in every discussion, one question kept coming up: What about plastics?

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The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn Widespread and sometimes drastic marine oxygen declines are stressing sensitive species—a trend that will continue with climate change

By Laura Poppick on February 25, 2019

Escaping predators, digestion and other animal activities—including those of humans—require oxygen. But that essential ingredient is no longer so easy for marine life to obtain, several new studies reveal.

In the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change, says Andreas Oschlies, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, whose team tracks ocean oxygen levels worldwide. “We were surprised by the intensity of the changes we saw, how rapidly oxygen is going down in the ocean and how large the effects on marine ecosystems are,” he says.

It is no surprise to scientists that warming oceans are losing oxygen, but the scale of the dip calls for urgent attention, Oschlies says. Oxygen levels in some tropical regions have dropped by a startling 40 percent in the last 50 years, some recent studies reveal. Levels have dropped more subtly elsewhere, with an average loss of 2 percent globally.

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The major source of ocean plastic pollution you’ve probably never heard of

“Nurdles” may sound cute but they pose a huge risk to the marine environment. Also known as “mermaid tears”, these small plastic pellets are a feedstock in the plastic industry. Instead of being converted into household items, many end up in the ocean, collecting toxins on their surfaces and being eaten by marine wildlife. Not so cute now, are they?

Nurdles are the building blocks for most plastic goods, from single-use water bottles to televison sets. These small pellets – normally between 1mm and 5mm – are classed as a primary microplastic alongside the microbeads used in cosmetic products – they’re small on purpose, as opposed to other microplastics that break off from larger plastic waste in the ocean.

The small size of nurdles makes them easy to transport as the raw material which can be melted down and moulded into all kinds of plastic products by manufacturers. Unfortunately, mismanagement of these little pellets during transport and processing leads to billions being unintentionally released into rivers and oceans through effluent pipes, blown from land or via industrial spillage.

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The World’s Biggest Brands Want You to Refill Your Orange Juice and Deodorant. P&G, Nestlé and others try to curb plastic waste; Tropicana in glass bottles, Tide in metal cans

By Saabira Chaudhuri

Jan. 24, 2019 3:00 a.m. ET

The world’s biggest makers of shampoo, detergent and packaged food will test selling their products in reusable containers, adopting a milkman-style model to address mounting concerns about plastic waste.

Procter & Gamble Co. PG -1.20% Nestlé SA, NSRGY +0.50% PepsiCo Inc. PEP -1.00% andUnilever UL -0.90% PLC are among 25 companies that, this summer, will start selling some products in glass, steel and other containers designed to be returned, cleaned and refilled.

Critics question whether the project will achieve scale in the face of high costs and entrenched consumer behavior. But, if successful, the companies say the efforts will reduce waste from single-use packaging. It could also be a way to woo eco-conscious consumers, glean data and foster brand loyalty.

“I sometimes wonder if it’s a fair accusation that we’re in the branded litter business,” Unilever Chief Executive Alan Jope said at a conference Tuesday, adding that the company must do more on plastic waste. “That’s what people care about right now.”

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Industry group seeks to maintain single-use plastic status quo

By Perry Wheeler

January 14, 2019

Washington, DC – In an effort to preserve their ability to produce cheap single-use plastics, several fossil fuel companies and a fast moving consumer goods company united to launch the Alliance to End Plastic Waste today. The group, which includes Exxon, Dow, Total, Shell, Chevron Phillips, and Procter & Gamble, will look to commit $1.5 billion toward keeping plastics out of the environment, rather than prioritizing the reduction of single-use plastic production.

In response to the group’s announcement, Greenpeace Global Plastics Project Leader Graham Forbes said:

“This is a desperate attempt from corporate polluters to maintain the status quo on plastics. In 2018, people all over the world spoke up and rejected the single-use plastics that companies like Procter & Gamble churn out on a daily basis, urging the industry to invest in refill and reuse systems and innovation. Instead of answering that call, P&G preferred to double down on a failed approach with fossil fuel giants like Exxon, Shell, Dow and Total that fuel destructive climate change. Make no mistake about it: plastics are a lifeline for the dying fossil fuel industry, and today’s announcement goes to show how far companies will go to preserve it.

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“These corporations are scared of our momentum and know we will continue to fight for real systemic change, because that’s what is needed to protect our oceans and people worldwide. The same companies that rely on cheap plastics to profit off of countries in the Global South are now looking to build up some infrastructure so they can claim they tried to tackle the plastics problem, while ensuring their profits keep rolling in. The truth is we will never escape this plastic pollution crisis through better recycling and waste management efforts — only 9 percent of the plastics ever made have actually been recycled. But corporations love to use recycling as a crutch to continue production of cheap plastics.

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Plastic in the ocean: Plastic producers team up and pledge $1bn to combat the plastic problem

Plastic-producing companies around the world have teamed up and committed to investing more than $1 billion to cut our plastic waste.

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), made up of almost 30 companies, will build solutions that will reduce the amount of plastic created and help deal with single-use plastic that has been disposed of.

The AEPW also announced plans to build better infrastructures for waste management in large urban areas and potential partnerships with organisations such as the United Nations to train government officials in solving the plastic problem.

David Taylor, chairman of AEPW and CEO of Procter & Gamble, said: “Everyone agrees that plastic waste does not belong in our oceans or anywhere in the environment. 

“This is a complex and serious global challenge that calls for swift action and strong leadership. This new alliance is the most comprehensive effort to date to end plastic waste in the environment.”

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Taylor urged other companies to join the partnership to help in the fight against plastic.

The AEPW, made up of companies from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, will also be supporting the Renew Oceans project, which is running an ocean cleanup project with a particular focus on the River Ganges. 

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Recycling is not enough. Zero-packaging stores show we can kick our plastic addiction

Wrapped, sealed, boxed, cling-filmed and vacuum packed. We have become used to consumables being packaged in every way imaginable.

The history of “packaging” goes back to the first human settlements. First leaves, gourds and animals skins were used. Then ceramics, glass and tin. Then paper and cardboard. But with the invention of plastic and the celebration of “throwaway living” since the 1950s, the environmental costs of an overpackaged world have become manifest.

Plastic now litters the planet, contaminating ecosystems and posing a significant threat to wildlife and human health. Food and beverage packaging accounts for almost two-thirds of total packaging waste. Recycling, though important, has proven an incapable primary strategy to cope with the scale of plastic rubbish. In Australia, for example, just 11.8% of the 3.5 million tonnes of plastics consumed in 2016-2017 were recycled.

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To get to a circular economy we have to change not just the cup, but the culture

Lloyd Alter 

January 8, 2019

Single use plastics drive the linear economy, and it is really hard to bend that into a circle.

TreeHugger has followed Triple Pundit since it started. (Its founder, Nick Aster, helped build TreeHugger and managed our technical side for the first three years.) Mary Mazzoni of 3P recently wrote 8 Things That Moved the Circular Economy Forward in 2018 and illustrated the post with an image of the new Starbucks cup and sippy lid that they are rolling out and that Katherine covered earlier this year.

The circular economy, as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, "entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system." It is based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution

  • Keep products and materials in use

  • Regenerate natural systems

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The answer to plastic pollution is to not create waste in the first place

By Monica Wilson

With China refusing foreign waste under its new policy, countries are forced to handle their own plastic pollution

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As holiday shopping ramps up, so do the dizzying varieties of plastic packaging tossed in recycling bins. And while we wish a Christmas miracle would transform this old garbage into something new, the reality is the waste left over from the holiday shopping frenzy is more likely than ever to end up in a landfill or incinerator. Until January of this year, the United States and other Western countries were foisting their low-value plastic waste on to China, with little concern for the environmental degradation this caused. To protect its citizens from the burden of foreign pollution, in the beginning of this year, China refused to be the world’s dumping ground and effectively closed its doors to plastic waste imports.

China’s new National Sword policy of refusing foreign waste has brought a long-overdue moment of reckoning for the recycling industry, and by proxy, for manufacturers. It’s clear recycling alone cannot come close to addressing the ballooning amounts of plastic waste piling up all over the country. Even before China’s waste ban took effect,only 9% of plastic in the US was actually recycled. No matter how diligently Americans sort their plastic waste, there is just too much of it for the US, or any other country, to handle.

On the bright side, the ban sparked a much needed conversation about improving domestic recycling infrastructure and recycling markets, and has forced both companies and the public to re-evaluate the products and packaging that were previously assumed to be recyclable. 

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Microplastics found to permeate the ocean’s deepest points

One liter of water from the Mariana Trench contains thousands of tiny plastic pieces, according to new research.



LIKE THE FOOD particles that clump together in the middle of a kitchen sink, plastic debris is gathering in the deepest reaches of the ocean.

A new study published in Geochemical Perspectives found evidence of microplastic (plastic smaller than five millimeters) gathering in large quantities in the deepest parts of the oceans, and that could account for “missing” plastic that has stumped scientists to date.

A team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Science analyzed thirteen regions by looking at previous studies and collecting their own samples. Earlier this year, a plastic bag was found in the deepest reaches of the Mariana Trench, 36,000 feet below the surface. Researchers spotted it while using video to survey the region for plastic debris.

To better understand plastic that can't as easily be spotted, the Chinese researchers analyzed water samples and broke out the amount of microplastic they found in a single liter, about four cups.

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Initiative launches to unite superyacht industry against single-use plastics

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21 NOVEMBER 2018


A new environmental initiative targeting the superyacht industry's plastic consumption has been launched.

Founded in 2017, the Clear Ocean Pact launched at the Superyacht Forum last week and aims to motivate the sector to reduce its dependency on plastics.

The foundation presented its five point plan, which aims to raise the awareness of the sector's plastic footprint and “change its mindset” towards single use plastics.

It encourages them to seek out "viable alternatives, innovations and ideas" instead.

The foundation estimates that every 10,000 crew consumes 3.2 million plastic water bottles a year, equalling 100 tonnes of single use waste.

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Oceans Have Absorbed 60% More Heat Than Scientists Thought

By Olivia Rosane

Nov. 01, 2018 07:00AM EST

The landmark report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published last month warned that humans needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 for us to have a shot at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Now, another study published in Nature Wednesday found we might have even less time than that. This is because the oceans have been absorbing much more heat than previously calculated, meaning the earth is more sensitive to carbon dioxide emissions than scientists thought.

"We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted," research leader and Princeton University geoscientist Laure Resplandy told The Washington Post. "But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn't sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already."

How Much More Warming Is This?

In the past 25 years, the oceans have warmed 60 percent more than previously thought.

What Does This Mean?

It means that policy makers now have even less leeway when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions if they want to keep warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The findings reduce the total amount of carbon dioxide humans can safely burn before crossing those thresholds by 25 percent.

They also have implications for the ocean-related impacts of climate change: the health of marine life and the pace of sea level rise.

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Isn’t What You Think it Is

It’s not all bottles and straws—the patch is mostly abandoned fishing gear.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the world’s largest collection of floating trash—and the most famous. It lies between Hawaii and California and is often described as “larger than Texas,” even though it contains not a square foot of surface on which to stand. It cannot be seen from space, as is often claimed.

The lack of terra firma did not deter a pair of advertising executives from declaring the patch to be an actual place. They named it the nation of Trash Isles, signed up former Vice President Al Gore as its first “citizen” and last fall, petitioned the United Nations for recognition. The publicity stunt perpetuated the myth.

The patch was discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, a yachtsman who had sailed through a mishmash of floating plastic bottles and other debris on his way home to Los Angeles. It was named by Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer known for his expertise in tracking ocean currents and the movement of cargo lost overboard, including rubber duck bath toys and Nike tennis shoes. The patch is now the target of a $32 million cleanup campaign launched by a Dutch teenager, Boyan Slat, now 23, and head of the Ocean Cleanup, the organization he founded to do the job.

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Microplastics found in 90 percent of table salt

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A new study looked at sea, rock, and lake salt sold around the world. Here’s what you need to know.


Microplastics were found in sea salt several years ago. But how extensively plastic bits are spread throughout the most commonly used seasoning remained unclear. Now, new research shows microplastics in 90 percent of the table salt brands sampled worldwide.

Of 39 salt brands tested, 36 had microplastics in them, according to a new analysis by researchers in South Korea and Greenpeace East Asia. Using prior salt studies, this new effort is the first of its scale to look at the geographical spread of microplastics in table salt and their correlation to where plastic pollution is found in the environment.

“The findings suggest that human ingestion of microplastics via marine products is strongly related to emissions in a given region,” said Seung-Kyu Kim, a marine science professor at Incheon National University in South Korea.

Salt samples from 21 countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia were analyzed. The three brands that did not contain microplastics are from Taiwan (refined sea salt), China (refined rock salt), and France (unrefined sea salt produced by solar evaporation). The study was published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Single-use plastics ban approved by European Parliament

The European Parliament has voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans.

MEPs backed a ban on plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks.

The proposal also calls for a reduction in single-use plastic for food and drink containers like plastic cups.

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One MEP said, if no action was taken, "by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans".

The European Commission proposed a ban in May, following a surge in public support attributed to documentaries such as David Attenborough's BBC Blue Planet series.

The measure still has to clear some procedural hurdles, but is expected to go through. The EU hopes it will go into effect across the bloc by 2021.

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Straw bans won't fix the plastic problem, but something else can

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Katherine Martinko 

September 24, 2018

What's really needed is a shift in American food culture.

Straw bans have gained impressive momentum over the past year. From Seattle pledging to ban straws in the city by 2020, Disney saying it would eliminate plastic straws and stirrers by next year, and San Francisco saying no even to bioplastic straws, to Starbucks remodelling its cups so as not to require a straw and Alaska Airlines removing them from food service, it's a big trend right now, aided by catchy hashtags like #stopsucking.

Lonely Whale is the group that pushed for Seattle's straw ban. Like many others in the environmental activism sphere, it views straws as a 'gateway plastic'. In other words, once people realize how easy it is to stop using straws, they will be motivated to eliminate other single-use plastics from their lives. Lonely Whale's executive director, Dune Ives, told Vox,

“Our straw campaign is not really about straws. It’s about pointing out how prevalent single-use plastics are in our lives, putting up a mirror to hold us accountable. We’ve all been asleep at the wheel.”

But how realistic is it that all the disposable plastics could be replaced with non-plastic alternatives? Think about it for a moment. Plastic-lined juice boxes and takeout coffee cups, sushi boxes and other take-home food containers, Styrofoam soup cups with lids, disposable cutlery, either loose or bundled with a paper napkin in a thin plastic bag, condiment sachets, bottled beverages, any packaged food you eat on the go, like hummus and crackers and pre-cut fruit or vegetables -- these are just a few of the plastic items people use on a regular basis. To get the plastic out of these things would be a monumental, and quite frankly, unrealistic, task.

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Ocean Plastic Cleanup Project Is Better News Than You Might Think

September 18th, 2018 by Michael Barnard 

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Five years ago, Boyan Slat of the Netherlands had a vision. He saw the oceans cleaned of the plastic that was fouling them. He saw the inklings of a solution. Time passed. He received the United Nation’s highest environmental accolade for his vision. He did a TEDx Talk on his vision. He was chosen European of the Year by Reader’s Digest, among other interesting awards. He assembled a 60-person team of engineers.

And on September 9, 2018, his team launched a 2,000 ft / 600 meter long floating plastic tube with a ten-foot / 3 meter curtain underneath to undergo full-scale sea trials.

How likely is this to make a difference?

It has a much larger opportunity to be successful than I had originally thought. The go-to-study on this was done by Julia Reisser et al. The vertical distribution of buoyant plastics at sea: an observational study in the North Atlantic Gyre was published in 2015 in the journal Biogeosciences, which has a respectable impact factor of 3.7.

The key part of the abstract is this bit:

plastic concentrations drop exponentially with water depth, and decay rates decrease with increasing Beaufort number. Furthermore, smaller pieces presented lower rise velocities and were more susceptible to vertical transport. This resulted in higher depth decays of plastic mass concentration (milligrams/m^3) than numerical concentration (pieces/m^3).

This is well visualized in this chart from the study. The misapprehension I had been under since first hearing about the challenge was that the plastic was more evenly distributed throughout the water column. However, it’s actually concentrated, especially by mass, in the first 50 centimeters or 20 inches of the water.

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Fleets Of Wasteshark 'Aquadrones' Could Be Cleaning Ocean Waste In The Future

A swarm of autonomous robots that can swim across bodies of water to collect garbage might be the key to saving the oceans.

A few years ago, RanMarine Technology, a company from the Netherlands, has introduced WasteShark, an aquadrone that works like a smart vacuum cleaner (essentially, a Roomba for the seas) to gather wastes that end up in waterways before they accumulate into a great big patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Wall-E On Water

Every year, about 1.4 billion pounds of trash end up in the ocean. Plastics, styrofoam, and other nonbiodegradable materials get dumped into the waters, eaten by fishes and birds or collect into what has become the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a gyre of debris between California and Hawaii bigger than Alaska.

Trash in seas and oceans have become a huge problem, but the WasteShark might be able to help.

RanMarine said that its aquadrones are inspired by whale sharks, "nature's most efficient harvesters of marine biomass." The company claims that the vessels can collect up to 200 liters of waste before it needs to be emptied and swim across the water for 16 hours.

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Can Norway help us solve the plastic crisis, one bottle at a time?

A bottle deposit hub on the outskirts of Oslo has had a stream of high-level international visitors. Can its success be replicated worldwide?

Tens of thousands of brightly coloured plastic drinks bottles tumble from the back of a truck on to a conveyor belt before disappearing slowly inside a warehouse on the outskirts of Oslo.

As a workman picks up a few Coke bottles that have escaped, Kjell Olav Maldum looks on. “It is a system that works,” he says as another truck rumbles past. “It could be used in the UK, I think lots of countries could learn from it.”

Maldum is the chief executive of Infinitum, the organisation which runs Norway’s deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans. Its success is unarguable – 97% of all plastic drinks bottles in Norway are recycled, 92% to such a high standard that they are turned back into drinks bottles. Maldum says some of the material has been recycled more than 50 times already. Less than 1% of plastic bottles end up in the environment.

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