Ocean Conservation During COVID-19

Friday, 25 September 2020

- (Virtual) Sharktoberfest
- Florida Fin Ban
- Plastic Image Crumbling
- Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act
- Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act
- Bad Bottled Water
- California Minimum Recycled Content
- New York Bag Ban Upheld
- New Jersey Trifecta

We're all in the midst of turbulent times. It might be challenging to think about conservation when the world is spinning sideways. It has become clear that social justice, economic recession, and climate change are inextricably linked.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our health care systems while climate change has added threats such as wildfires and storms – both challenging our capacity to protect and preserve our communities. It is crucial that we build resilient systems to manage and ultimately reduce times of crisis. We cannot extract one from the other and solve these problems in isolation.

Our planet is nothing without our people. Please know that whatever you are going through, we support you, and you are not alone.

The shared health of our population is dependent on the wellbeing of our planet. We're grateful for your partnership in protecting the precious resources our livelihood relies upon. More than ever, the planet and our people need our strength and our superpowers to stand up and fight for these preservation policies.

COARE is staying strong and keeping busy in a #2020 virtual kind of way.

Here are a few things we've been working on . . .

Join Us at (Virtual) Sharktoberfest

Each September for the last several years, we've been celebrating Sharktoberfest at the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in San Francisco with other local sharky friends. This year, the event will be a virtual one, taking place TOMORROW (26 September), from 10:00am – 1:30pm PDT. During the event, our own Executive Director will be featured on the expert panel. You can view the event and participate in the live chat using the following YouTube Live URL on Saturday:

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sharktoberfest poster

Florida Fin Ban

We're excited to report that on 18 September, Governor DeSantis of Florida signed the Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act into law. H401/SB680 was introduced by Florida State Representative Kristin Jacobs last October as a simple, clean, and straightforward bill to prohibit the import, export, sale, distribution, and possession of shark fins. The bill was renamed in her honor this past April, after Jacobs' brave battle against cancer.

Rep. Jacobs fought hard for this bill and others for our environment, but this bill took on a great number of amendments, and while Florida is an important place for the control of shark fins, what was signed into law was a faint shadow of the author's original intention.

While this bill still suffers from some gaping loopholes which enable fin trade to continue, the law does take a stance for the importance of sharks. Our hope is that the exceptions in this law are not used as an example to weaken discussions and negotiations around our efforts at federal legislation.

dried shark fins for sale

Plastic Image Crumbling

We've been talking about the industry's self-serving methods for some time, and that has been coming more to the forefront lately.

NPR and Frontline published an illuminating exposé about how the plastic industry knowingly deceived the public early on (and continues to deceive) with the idea of plastics being recyclable. In reality, we know that not all plastics are functionally or even practically recyclable, and even when it is, very little is actually recycled. However, the kick is that the plastic industry would rather produce new plastic than use recycled stock. It's simply more cost effective for them, and, if the average consumer believes that the single-use plastic thing that they just purchased is recyclable, they misguidedly feel better about it.

Similar to Big Tobacco exploiting markets in third world countries when demand in the United States began to wane, a recent article in the New York Times uncovered the industry plan to flood Africa with plastic. With plunging profits and a climate crisis that threatens fossil fuels, the industry is angling for a trade deal that undermines Kenya's strict regulations on plastics and on imports of American trash.

Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, introduced earlier this year by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) seeks to phase out many single-use plastics, enact extended producer responsibility, and reform our broken waste management system. It's been making some headway, gaining co-sponsors, and enjoying hearings in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

On 07 July, the House Environmental Subcommittee held a briefing on plastic production and health impacts of plastic lifecycle and on 21 July the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing to review U.S. Government efforts to address Ocean Plastic Pollution.

This second hearing showed surprising support for multilateral (multi-party international) agreements even by Senator Lindsay Graham. When Senator Udall asked the representative from the U.S. State Department if the U.S. was involved in any efforts to prevent other countries from adopting bans or regulations on single-use plastic products, the State Department spokesperson responded "I am not aware of any effort to block international consensus on this issue." Having butted heads with subversive delegations, we know this not to be true. Hopefully, this is a sign of a new beginning.

Our ED with Rep. Lowenthal (pre-COVID)
Our Executive Director with Rep. Lowenthal shortly before the introduction of BFFPA (pre-COVID)

Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act

Each year, an estimated 230,000 TONS of plastic "nurdles" (pre-production pellets) end up in the ocean. They fall from ships, blow away from from open containers, or spill during loading and off-loading. Each nurdle is about the size of a lentil and weighs only about 20 milligrams, so there are, conservatively, more than 45 Million nurdles in a ton.

Aside from the awfulness of the plastic itself, nurdles are magnets for insecticides and other human-made pollutants. Such Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs) readily attach to nurdles and other plastic fragments. As they're plankton sized, these particles are easily mistaken for food by anchovy, menhaden, and other small fish. The pollution attached to plastic gets released in the gut and absorbed into the fish. Thus, plastic and pollutants enter the food-chain.

The problem is only going to get worse as plastic production is expected to increase as big oil corporations ramp up investments in plastic along their path to future profit.

Yesterday, Senator Udall introduced the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, which would prohibit the discharge and pollution of pre-production plastic pellets by direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to, within 60 days, finalize rules to that extent.

Bad Bottled Water

As if we needed more reasons to avoid bottled water, a new study was just released by consumer reports detailing detectable levels of perflourinated compounds (PFAs) in 43 of the 47 bottled waters tested. PFAs (short for poly and perfluoroalkyl substances) are linked to cancer, birth defects, thyroid disease, liver damage, high cholesterol, and nerve disorders.

California Minimum Recycled Content

California Governor Newsom signed into law AB793 by Assemblymembers Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), making California the first State in the nation to establish minimum recycled content requirements for plastic beverage containers. It also makes California's standards the strongest in the world. This law will help develop domestic markets for recycled materials and take a critical step toward a circular economy, reducing dependence on virgin plastics, which rely on oil, thus helping us accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels.

New York Bag Ban Upheld

As our subscribers may recall, we've been working on plastic issues like bags and foam in New York for years. We celebrated the passage of a new law last year which would have helped New York City wean itself from the 23 Million single-use plastic bags it discards each year. That law, which was to go into effect in this past March was pre-empted by a State-level law, which was, in turn, challenged by industry.

The good news is that the New York State Supreme Court heard the issue and on 20 August issued a ruling upholding the law. Implementation and enforcement may be slow and gradual, but will officially begin on 19 October 2020. Plastic carryout bags are no longer welcome in New York!

NYC bag litter
NYC pedestrian walks past a discarded single-use plastic bag

New Jersey Trifecta

More than 55 local governments throughout New Jersey have adopted local plastic reduction laws.

Yesterday, with an impressive 72-37 margin, both houses of the New Jersey State Legislature passed the Plastics Trifecta (A1978 / S864), a statewide bill which bans both single-use plastic and paper bags, bans polystyrene food containers, and allows plastic straws only upon request. The bill, which would be the nation's strongest ban on single-use plastics, now heads to Governor Phil Murphy for approval.

New Jersey is poised to join Maine, Vermont, and Maryland in banning plastic foam containers. The New York City foam ban we helped pass way back in 2013 has finally emerged from all its legal challenges and will be implemented by January 2022.


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Wishing you healthy oceans,
Your friends at COARE

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