By: Katie Wood
It’s almost a guarantee that when you head towards the sea, you will also see a less sightly presence. Trash in our oceans has become a major issue, with anecdotes surfacing with straws found in turtle’s noses, and packaging found in the stomach of whales. Throughout our reefs, organisms may not be experiencing major trauma events, however this does not mean that our reefs are exempt from the threats that trash poses. Micro-plastics make their way into the systems of organisms, charismatic Megafauna (your friendly neighborhood turtles, whales, and dolphins) die off due to plastic chemicals accumulating up the food chain, result in the unnatural abundance of others, and the presence of larger trash pieces can wage physical assaults to biogenic structure like our coral reefs.
A major project titled, The Ocean Cleanup however, is making strides in this issue on a large scale. Using ocean currents to corral trash in the water column and floating along the surface using ‘Passive Cleanup Units’, their setup collects trash to be deposited in an on site container where the trash will be disposed of in a sustainable fashion. The organization uses aerial surveys to determine the positions of and the quantity of harmful plastics, among the most dangerous being “ghost nets” or discarded fishing lines. The first implementation of the company’s device is set for sometime in late 2017, targeting the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is anticipated to remove almost half in a decade.
At this point you may be saying to yourself “what does this have to do with corals?” and you’re right, there’s a lot of trash talk, however to fully restore our reefs it must be addressed. It is not uncommon to see nets, plastic bags, balloons or fishing line tangled in fused corals, killing coral tissue, and despite these direct affects, there are many other indirect effects that lead to the break down of coral reefs as an ecosystem. The elimination of sharks, turtles, and fish due to entanglements or gastric blockage plays a role in how our reefs function as an ecosystem. If successful, the Cleanup Units could be implemented to target other areas suffering from the plethora of invasive waste, like our local waters.
This technology, while still developing, is increasingly important as it could mean big things for our reefs; removing waste as a factor could result in higher success rates for restoration and eliminates one of the biggest long-term threats to them.