Liquefied Natural Gas Port in the Atlantic Ocean? No Fracking Way!

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Growing up in New Jersey, it didn’t quite feel like summertime until I was eating Kohr’s ice cream on Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach or riding a bike on the promenade in Cape May.  My family and I have gone down the shore every summer since I was born.

I have spent a lot of time with my feet in the ocean in awe of its systems, trying unsuccessfully to grasp the power and enormity of it all.  I think that every child should get to experience the great moments of finding a conch shell fully intact, seeing a pod of dolphins swim across the current, and watching sandpipers scurry across the sand.

In order for future generations to even have a fighting chance at one of these shore moments, a recent project proposed off the coasts of New York and New Jersey by Liberty Natural Gas called “Port Ambrose” must be stopped.

Photo Credit: Clean Ocean Action

Photo Credit: Clean Ocean Action

On June 14, 2013, the Maritime Administration (part of the US Department of Transportation) announced Liberty Natural Gas’ Port Ambrose application. Port Ambrose is a proposed deepwater port to be used for the import or export of natural gas which has been liquefied. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is dirty; the carbon footprint of LNG is almost as bad as coal.  In liquid form, this dirty energy source can be shipped across the world and sold for the largest profit overseas.

The Port Ambrose facility would be located off the coast of Long Branch, NJ and Jones Beach, NY.  This location also happens to be near the entrance to the New York Harbor, in two active Coast Guard training areas, in the middle of a proposed offshore wind area, and within several important fishing areas and wildlife migration routes.

With fishing areas and wildlife migration routes in the area proposed, it is important to note that the installation of new pipeline facilities for Port Ambrose would disrupt hundreds of acres of seafloor and cause re-suspension of sediments in the ocean, which increases the turbidity of the water and negatively impacts water quality.  Establishing new pipelines in the ocean would also generate serious underwater noise pollution.

In the ocean, hearing and sound are vital for the survival of marine life. Sound is used for everything from migration to reproduction to feeding. Over 700 fish species produce low frequency sounds — sea turtles, Squid, octopus, shrimp, crab — and even coral and fish larvae have been found to respond to sound. All of these species would be affected by the noise pollution caused by Port Ambrose.

Port Ambrose would bring not only noise, but water pollution to the Atlantic Ocean.  If approved, Liberty would be required to test the pipeline from the Port for any safety and control issues.  For these pipe tests alone, the port would discharge 3.5 million gallons of chemically-treated seawater.  Water pollution would also increase in inland regions, as LNG exports drive up the costs of manufacturing and electricity and increase the intensity of hydraulic fracturing, a major source of water pollution, for shale gas expansion.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a water-intensive process where a mix of millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals (including ones known to cause cancer) are injected underground at high pressure to fracture shale to release the natural gas found in the rock formation into a nearby well.  Oftentimes, this chemical stew is released into the surrounding groundwater through faulty pipes.

Beyond the well, fracking brings industrial activity into communities through the clearing of land to build new access roads and new well sites, drilling and encasing the well, fracking the well and generating the waste, trucking in heavy equipment and materials and trucking out the toxic waste — all contributing to air and water pollution risks and devaluation of land.

The synergy of the environmental impacts from fracking AND a deepwater port is the last thing New Jersey and New York need, especially now, as the region is recovering and rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy.

It is time to wean ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuel, stand up to Big Energy, and develop more renewable energy sources.  Port Ambrose would simply feed our addiction.  Let’s preserve Jersey Shore moments for generations to come, encourage Governor Christie to reaffirm his veto and for Governor Cuomo to veto Ambrose.

Take Action:

To learn more about Port Ambrose and how to get involved in the fight to Block the Port, contact Lindsay McNamara, Program and Communications Associate at Clean Ocean Action via e-mail at communications@cleanoceanaction.org.

Clean Ocean Action (COA) is a 501(c)3 working to “improve the water quality of the marine waters off the New Jersey/New York coast.”

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A Seventh Grader’s Perspective on Plastic Pollution

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In mid-April, I spoke with a seventh grade about her thoughts on plastic pollution (See: In Case You Missed It: Disposable Plastic Still Sucks).  Sophie, from Silicon Valley, CA, believes that “we waste way too much plastic and it is really harming our environment.”

She has researched the effects of plastic on the environment as a whole, but is most concerned with the ocean.

Photo Credit: MNN

Photo Credit: MNN

Sophie said, “The ocean is an amazing place.  It brings together all of your senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing.  You can feel the water that creeps over your toes, hear the rippling waves, taste the salt water, smell the fish, and see the beach everyone loves.  But it breaks my heart that this wonderful place might not be around for my grand kids to fully enjoy.  And we are slowly ruining our earth starting with the amount of plastic we use.”

Here are some excerpts from her school project on plastic pollution:

“The world has gotten bigger.  People are getting married, having kids, and then later, their kids are having kids.  But with each additional person, 4.6 pounds more of plastic are being wasted every day.  Plastic is an amazing material.  We use it for all aspects of life: whether it be for sandwich bags, bottled water, school supplies or even credit cards.  The problem is, it is a harmful material.  Plastic fills landfills when it isn’t recycled and emits toxic chemicals just in everyday use.  I walked into my parents’ office one day and saw plastic bottles lying everywhere.  Some of them still had water in them, but they had gone to waste because no one bothered to remember which bottle was theirs.  That’s when it hit me.  That’s when I knew plastic was a problem. Plastic can be used in moderation, but too much of it can cause serious problems.”

“Recycling Infographic says that worldwide we use one trillion plastic materials every year.  That’s almost three billion plastics every day.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Photo Credit: Flickr: Steven Wilson

“Plastic exists in more ways than one.  Plastic is everywhere. Pollution started in the ocean and now it is expanding rapidly. There is plastic in the desert, every neighborhood, and every home.  A recent study claimed that 90% of the ocean floor is plastic.  At least 267 marine animals are getting caught in our garbage each year.  Landfills are made simply for waste disposal. They have liner systems (a thin layer block that keeps trash from seeping into the earth) and other blocks that try to prevent waste from polluting the water.  The amount of plastic we use has overpowered the liners, however.  An article from National Geographic claimed that in the ocean alone, plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by 6:1.  This just goes to show how much we use. It seems that the ocean has turned into our own personal plastic dumpster.  Around 30,000 gallons of waste end up in the ocean each day and don’t even go through the landfill.  Yet 25% of that number is plastic.”

What does Sophie think we can do about it?

“Each of us can do little actions everyday that make a huge impact on plastic waste.   People have gotten wasteful and taken the environment as their own personal garbage bins lately.   We don’t have to take on the plastic problem by ourselves.  I, personally, can hand out fliers making people aware of the plastic problem, or even start a pledge asking people to reduce their plastic waste. However, reducing plastic isn’t as hard as one might think.  When we go to the store we can bring canvas bags, reuse bottles and use a BRITA pitcher to reduce the use of plastic cups.  But plastic isn’t the only material that can fill your “everyday household needs”.  Aluminum can be reused and reused and reused for decades over again.  Each one of us can make an effort to use more aluminum in our households.  Not using as much plastic isn’t difficult – we just have to put in the effort to reduce our waste.”

A 20-something Environmentalist at Blue Vision Summit 4

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By now, you have all been bombarded by the phrases “go green” and “be sustainable” in the media, in advertising and from peers, but have you heard of the phrase “go blue?”

Not to give you all horrible SAT flashbacks, but “blue” is to the ocean as “green” is to the environment. So, when I attended the Blue Vision Summit in Washington, D.C. last week, I expected to learn more about ocean policies and helping to protect the marine environment, but I never expected to find myself submerged so deeply into ocean issues with such an interesting group of people from all over America and abroad.

Blue Vision Summit (BVS) is held every other year in Washington, D.C. and serves as one of the nation’s largest ocean movement strategy conference. BVS brings hundreds of individuals concerned about the ocean and marine conservation together to take unified action on key issues and policies impacting the ocean. Each Summit reserves one day for advocates to meet and educate members of Congress on Capital Hall.

BVS is organized by Blue Frontier Campaign, a group, founded in 2003, that “highlights the economic, environmental, recreational and spiritual benefits of healthy and abundant seas…through outreach and service to hundreds of marine grassroots organizations.” Blue Frontier works to unite grassroots groups together with “private, civil and governmental organizations for the purpose of creating a visible and effective blue movement to advance sound policies and practices from coastal watersheds to deep ocean waters.”

Blue Vision Summit 2013 focused on three areas: responding to coastal disasters like Superstorm Sandy in ways that will protect ecosystems, making climate change a blue issue, and highlighting youth leadership for ocean conservation.

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Claudio Garzon’s shark sculpture made out of plastic debris found on the beach.

BVS carried out these themes in a variety of different ways. The first night of the conference, we all learned about marine debris from “artivists” (artist + activist = artivist) or “creative conservationists” who showed us their work. Many of the artivists used plastic debris collected on their local beaches to make beautiful art with a message.

We also watched a number of interesting documentaries about ocean conservation issues. My favorite was a short animated film called the “Song of the Spindle,” about a conversation between a man and a whale. I also liked a documentary about the Nightingale Island Disaster, put together by Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit founded in 2004.

I enjoyed every day of Blue Vision Summit, especially Healthy Ocean Hill Day on Capital Hill, and came home with what I think are two very important take aways:

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Ocean advocates and Congressman Rush Holt during Healthy Ocean Hill Day

One: Every state is a coastal state

BVS had representatives from 24 states, Borneo, Canada and Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa northeast of Guinea, southeast of Liberia and southwest of the Atlantic Ocean. One of the states that brought a number of ocean advocates was Colorado. Well, yes, there is no ocean in Colorado, but these passionate individuals realize that every action we take ultimately has an impact on the ocean. Fertilizer and pesticides are carried from stream to stream, river to river, and eventually the ocean. This reason, as well as many more, is why the Colorado Ocean Coalition was formed to protect the ocean “from a mile high.”

Another interesting partnership that was showcased at BVS was that of Iowa farmers and conservationists in the Gulf of Mexico. Watch the segment of the video Ocean Frontiers below to see how the farmers came to realize that the Mississippi River carried their actions all the way to the Gulf of Mexico:

Two: Kids are Kicking Ass for the Ocean

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9 year old Mackenzie asked the panelists “how can I get money to start a group near me for the ocean?”

Towards the end of the conference, Blue Frontier organized a panel of youth advocates to speak about their work to save the ocean. Now, the environmental community is awesome for so many reasons, but my favorite has to be how we all inspire and motivate each other. I was so inspired by the 7th grader I spoke with a month or so ago about plastic pollution and by the young ocean advocates at Blue Vision Summit last week. These kids are not waiting until they grow up to save the ocean, they are working hard at marine conservation now. They were also tired of people saying they are the advocates of the future; they are working for change right now. The panelists from Teens for Oceans, The Harbor School, and 5 Gyres believe that youth make excellent advocates because of their curiosity, fresh perspective and inspiration from the world around them. One panelist spoke about how adults feel jaded and frustrated by marine issues, while kids feel empowered and see problems as an opportunity to make a positive change.

After three days at Blue Vision Summit, I felt empowered by the advocates around me, young and old, and all of the different types of people: artists, film makers, policy makers, government employees, nonprofit volunteers, to do the best I can do to “go blue.”

Keeping an Eye on Plastic Pollution

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Plastic art by Mary Ellen Croteau

Plastic art by Mary Ellen Croteau

After posting about plastic pollution earlier this week (In Case You Missed It: Disposable Plastic Still Sucks), I realized that it is important to clarify where plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean comes from.  It seems that most people assume plastic pollution comes from beach goers who litter, but that is often not the case.

Plastic pollution, like cigarette filters, tampon applicators and condoms, are signs of a different problem: nonpoint source pollution.  Nonpoint source cannot be traced back to one point (like air pollution from a smoke stack or water pollution from a chemical company can), it instead comes from a combination of sources.

When rain or melted snow travels over the ground through a watershed, the runoff picks up and moves pollution, flowing through waterways and ultimately into the ocean.  Bringing cigarette filters and other pieces of litter that were tossed out the windows of cars upstream, downstream.

When condoms and tampon applicators are found on a beach, they become indicators for a different type of problem: combined sewage overflows (CSOs).  CSOs occur when sewage and stormwater systems are combined.

Stormwater systems are the network of piping, systems and facilities that manage runoff from paved surfaces and roofs.  These systems were designed to move water as fast as possible, but as paved surface area (and development) continues to increase, and the infrastructure is not updated, not as much water can be held in the pipes.  This water flows directly into waterways.

When stormwater systems are combined with sewer systems, and a heavy rain occurs, the water and sewage releases directly into waterways and into the ocean.  When a CSO event happens, whatever people have flushed down their toilets (like tampon applicators, condoms, etc.) show up on our shores.

It is therefore important to remember that even those of us who do not live close to the ocean have an impact on it and the marine ecosystems it supports.  We must all be mindful of our daily habits and encourage others to realize that we are all downstream and we should all keep an eye on plastic pollution.

For information about the artist who created the plastic eye pictured above, click here.

In Case You Missed It: Disposable Plastic Still Sucks

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“I am in 7th grade and my school is doing a project where each student has to research and try and solve one problem in the world.  I have chosen plastic pollution.  We waste way too much plastic and it is really harming our environment.”

I received the e-mail above earlier this week.  At first, I was overjoyed to receive such an e-mail.  A strange thing to say, since it speaks on the harmful effects of plastic in our environment, but it is from a 7th grader.  Children showing an interest in the environment gives me hope for the future.  It is so important that we teach our children well (cue CSNY) and teach them the value of the ecosystems around them.

Once I got past my initial excitement over being able to speak with a middle schooler about  plastic pollution, I got to thinking about why plastic is “really harming our environment.”

Over and over again throughout college my classmates and I tried to convince our peers to stop drinking bottled water.  I have written a number of posts about my bottled water crusade (click here to read more), if you are curious.  I have written on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and about how plastic ends up in huge concentrations in the ocean, but I hadn’t seen the ocean pollution problem first hand…until I started working for Clean Ocean Action.

Clean Ocean Action is an environmental nonprofit based in Sandy Hook, NJ.  Our goal is to “improve the degraded water quality of the marine waters off the New Jersey/New York coast.”  COA has a number of different pollution prevention programs, one of which being our Beach Sweeps program.

Beach Sweeps has been around for 28 years and has grown each and every year.  It is a New Jersey statewide beach clean up, where volunteers head out to over 60 different beaches (rivers and bays, too) with a bag for trash and a bag for recyclables and pick up trash for a few hours. The volunteers also collect data on what they find.

Beach Sweeps happens twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The data that we collect comes from a few thousand volunteers over the course of 7 hours.

In only 7 hours (during 2012), Beach Sweep volunteers  removed over 350,000 pieces of debris from NJ’s shoreline.  The majority of the debris removed was disposable plastics – representing 82.7% of the total waste found.  To see what else volunteers found, check out COA’s 2012 Beach Sweeps Report.

The majority of the debris removed was disposable plastics including:

  • 49,362 cigarette filters
  • 22,308 straws and stirrers
  • 38,349 caps and lids

In just SEVEN HOURS.  Imagine how much goes in and out with the tide EACH DAY.  The number of plastic in the ocean must be incredible. To see what else ended up in the ocean, click here.

But why worry?

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Photo Credit: Joe Sapia

Plastics do not biodegrade – they photodegrade, meaning they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never truly go away.  As they break down, they release toxic chemicals into the ocean.  These toxic chemicals are absorbed by the marine life that accidentally eat the plastic pieces.  The animals often mistake plastic bags or pieces of bags as prey.

For example, sea turtles feed on jellyfish, and often mistake floating plastic bags in the ocean for them.  Other pieces of plastic, like 6-pack rings, can entangle marine life and hurt them or even kill them.

So what can we do?

  • Stop using single-use plastic bags.  I often see people bringing reusable canvas bags to the grocery store, but not as much in retail stores.  Bring reusable bags for ALL shopping!
  • Use a Brita pitcher – or better yet, drink tap water – to avoid buying plastic bottles.
  • Avoid buying items in individual wrapped packages, which generate more waste, try to buy in bulk.
  • Educate others on the dangers of plastic in the ocean.
  • Participate in beach clean ups like the Beach Sweeps on Saturday, April 27!

Together, we can try like the 7th grader who e-mailed me and solve one problem in the world; plastic pollution.

Scientific Ocean Studies a Load of Garbage?

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The Pacific Ocean is home to copious marine flora and fauna, vital fisheries for human consumption, and…a vast pool of litter? The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is in the gyre (large system of rotating ocean currents involved with large wind movements) of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone in the central North Pacific Ocean. The rotational pattern of the gyre brings in waste material from coastal waters off North American and Japan. The waste gets trapped in the Garbage Patch by the wind-driven surface currents that slowly move floating material toward its center.

Photo Credit: iesgoyaenglishblog.blogspot.com

Photo Credit: iesgoyaenglishblog.blogspot.com

An enormous portion of the waste is plastic material, some of which becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic life as it disintegrates. Nueston (organisms that float on top of water or live right under the surface) eat the plastic and then the waste enters the aquatic food chain. Longer lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of sea turtles and Black-Footed Albatross, along with many other marine birds and animals.

Not only do the plastics have a toxic effect on wildlife, some are mistaken by their endocrine systems as estradiol, leading to hormone disruption. Many of the fish that eat the plastics are then consumed by humans, causing adverse human health effects. Interestingly enough, plastics in the ocean also assist the spread of invasive species that attach to floating debris and drift to new regions to colonize other ecosystems.

A paper published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1988 predicted the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but the magnitude of the patch has been heavily disputed within the scientific community.

The estimates of the area of the patch have varied widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to identify the affected area. There is no specific standard for determining the difference between “normal” and “elevated” levels of pollutants or a standard for what constitutes being part of the patch. Who’s to decide what constitutes a “higher than normal” degree of concentration of debris in the ocean?

I may be a bit of an idealist, but I believe there should be trace amounts of waste in the ocean. We as humans have a responsibility to our planet to take care of it; there is no excuse for poor (or no) recycling of plastics and improper waste disposal. Therefore, my personal “higher than normal” degree would be very different from others who are not as concerned for the planet. It is easy to see how scientists may not reach a uniform conclusion on the difference between “normal” and “elevated” levels of marine pollution.

Conducting studies to determine the amount of pollution in the ocean alone is extremely thorny. Most of the debris is small plastic particles that are suspended at or just below the surface,undetectable by aircraft or satellite. Because of this, samples are taken to try to determine the degree of waste concentration and later used to calculate the area of the patch. Samples are verified by mesh net size, making similar net sizes essential among scientists for making meaningful comparisons across various studies.

After analyzing sample data, some scientists have claimed the Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas (half a million square miles) or the equivalent of 20 times the size of England. Greenpeace cites studies that have concluded the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one. Greenpeace also publicized the following claim: Of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean.

Angelicque White, an assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State, participated in a few expeditions examining the effects of plastic on microbial communities, research that was funded in part by the National Science Foundation through C-MORE, Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education. White disagrees that parts of the ocean are filled with more plastic than plankton and the claim that the patch has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950’s. Her recent research has shown that, when looking at the actual area of the plastic itself, rather than the entire North Pacific subtropical gyre, the hypothetically “cohesive” plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas. White also dismissed a recent claim that the garbage patch is as deep as the Golden Gate Bridge is tall, calling it “completely unfounded.”

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch raises an important question in the environmental community: How far is too far? Do scientists have some sort of obligation to their field of study; therefore exaggerate their findings to increase public awareness? Maybe the incentive of more research grants finding their way to high profile problems is enough to stretch the truth or conduct an agenda-setting study? Or do these bogus studies just create controversy among scientists and journalists, instead of shedding light on an issue? Professor White believes genuine scientific concerns are undermined by scare tactics of groups like Greenpeace, asserting that the garbage patch is so large there is now more plastic than plankton in the Pacific. White said, “There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists.” Science should reveal the truth about the processes and problems of both naturally-occurring and anthropogenic phenomena — not produce a load of garbage.