Archive for April, 2018

Margaritaville resort to be built in Manhattan

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A Margaritaville resort based on the beachy lodging concept from the Jimmy Buffett song of the same name is slated to open near New York City’s Times Square in late 2020.

Margaritaville Holdings, the global lifestyle brand synonymous with fun and escapism, today announced it’s building a new Margaritaville Resort in New York City. Located in Times Square at 560 Seventh Avenue, blocks away from the bright lights of the entertainment district and New York’s most popular attractions, the 234-room, 29-story property is expected to open in late 2020. Once complete, the $300 million project will boast several Margaritaville food and beverage concepts, a rooftop LandShark Bar Grill and pool, retail space and more.

“From the beaches of Florida to the Great Smoky Mountains to the corner of Seventh Avenue and 40th Street, Margaritaville brings fun, relaxation and a much-needed escape from the every day to any set of coordinates,” said John Cohlan, chief executive officer of Margaritaville. “The Margaritaville Resort Hotel and the lifestyle experience it offers will be the perfect complement to the exciting, fast-paced energy of Times Square and we can’t wait to bring this destination to the travelers and residents of New York City.”

In partnership with International Meal Company (IMC), food and beverage venues include a Margaritaville Restaurant, LandShark Bar Grill, 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar, Floridays Airstream Café, and an all-new concept, Chill Bar. Retail space is planned for the lobby, allowing guests a way to extend their visit to paradise and bring the island life home.


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Reducing Vessel Pollution

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I’m back in Alaska after a journey to London for a meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations that regulates shipping. Now that the jetlag has finally worn off, I’m ready to share all that happened—both the newsworthy decisions and some of the other, lesser-known successes.

Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The most notable decision at MEPC pertains to greenhouse gas emissions. While the shipping sector accounts for 3% of global GHG emissions, it was not included in the 2015 Paris agreement to mitigate GHG emissions. After years of foundational work and two weeks of intense negotiations, the IMO adopted historic measures requiring the shipping sector to reduce its emissions by “at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008.” While this standard falls short of the more ambitious 70-100% reductions proposed by the European Union, various small island nations and others, it is nonetheless an enormous step forward. And, the term “at least” leaves the door open to continue to press for the more aggressive 70-100% reductions needed to align with Paris Agreement goals.

Progress on Banning Heavy Fuel Oil
The MEPC also agreed on plans to develop a ban on heavy fuel oil (HFO) use and carriage for use in Arctic waters. The plan will be based on an assessment of the impacts such a ban may have. While the timeline for the HFO ban has not yet been determined, this is a major step forward. Any type of oil spill is likely to have negative impacts, but an HFO spill would likely be especially damaging. HFO emulsifies in water, is extremely viscous, and breaks down very slowly in marine environments, particularly in colder regions like the Arctic. For these reasons, HFO use and carriage for use is already banned in Antarctica. And now, the IMO has signaled that it is getting serious about a ban on HFO use and carriage for use in the Arctic.

Preventing Marine Plastic Pollution
IMO also committed to developing an action plan to prevent and significantly reduce marine plastic pollution from the shipping sector. The commitment benefited from widespread member-state support to address this growing problem. Of particular concern is discarded or lost fishing gear, lost containers, mismanagement of marine garbage from ships and microplastics. Plastic pollution is a serious problem, and I’m encouraged that the IMO has committed to developing measures to address marine plastic and microplastics from sea-based sources.

Decreasing Noise Pollution
The MEPC meeting also featured presentations and discussions related to decreasing the amount of underwater noise generated by vessels. In most ocean areas, low-frequency noise from propellers and engines of commercial vessels is the major source of human-caused noise. Many marine species, particularly marine mammals, are adversely impacted by vessel traffic-related ship strikes and noise. Since many marine mammals use sound for communication and echolocation, noise from ships can disrupt feeding, breeding, resting and other behaviors; mask important sounds, like those that enable predator avoidance; and much more. I look forward to further work to address these impacts!

Advancement of many other issues
The IMO meeting addressed other important topics, too, including approval of a ban on the carriage of higher-sulphur fuels, additional work on the implementation of the international ballast water convention, and discussions of graywater discharges by vessels. This was a jam-packed agenda with a host of positive outcomes!

The next MEPC meeting will be held in London in October, where the Committee will continue to make progress on all the initiatives described above. In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated on our work toward keeping Arctic waters free of HFO and mitigating the impacts of litter, emissions, and noise on the Arctic environment.

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Studying the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster

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Todays’ guest blog is from Virginia Schutte. She is the Science Media Officer at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), where she experiments with new ways to make science accessible. She earned her PhD in Ecology from the University of Georgia before becoming a science communicator.

Mark Benfield was shocked to hear of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout on April 20, 2010, and worried about his friends out there. He’d worked on the rig enough to know that they’d be on a vulnerable part of the structure at that time of night. He later learned that they’d safely evacuated in the rig’s lifeboats. He never expected the rig to suffer such an accident given the culture of safety there.

“There were pictures of [workers’] families in the stairways with signs saying ‘this is why I work safely’,” Benfield recalls.

In addition to standard fire drills, employees regularly practiced how to respond to a gas leak and how to operate the lifeboats. It was a level of safety training he hadn’t seen on any other rig.

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While surveying the seafloor in August 2010, Mark’s ship couldn’t get closer than 500 meters (1/3 mile) from the BP well because of the traffic at the surface. © Mark Benfield

Mark has been a professor at Louisiana State University since 1998. He worked with the crew of the Deepwater Horizon before the blowout through an academic-industry partnership program called the SERPENT project. In August 2010, a little over a month after the well was sealed and the leak finally stopped, BP asked Mark to take a look at the deep-sea life around the wellhead. As far as he knows, his were the first post-spill biological surveys of the seafloor around where oil had been flowing out. His team couldn’t get any closer than 500 meters (1/3 mile) from the blowout site because there were so many ships working on cleaning up and controlling the well.

Mark says that the 500-meter site was basically dead. The Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV: an uncrewed underwater robot controlled from the surface) they used in their research passed carcasses of animals like crabs and pyrosomes lying on the ocean floor. Sites farther from the well seemed pretty normal, but it’s impossible to tell exactly what normal is for those sites since there are no data from before the spill.

Mark re-surveyed the sites farther from the wellhead in 2011, but he couldn’t get back to the 500-meter site.

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A view of the well on June 1, 2017 as seen from a lab on the R/V Pelican. Craig McClain’s 2017 cruise repeated Mark’s 2010 deep-sea biological surveys just 500 meters away from the blowout site. No one on board the Pelican during Craig’s cruise knew that in November 2010, BP had fitted the well head with a memorial cap. For me, the moment when the text became legible through the murky water was like a physical impact. © Virginia Schutte

And that was it for monitoring deep-sea life around where the Deepwater Horizon rig used to be. The Okeanos Explorer visited the wellhead in the years following the spill but gathered a different type of data than Mark’s team. Attention and resources shifted to the chemistry, physics, and geology of the spill. Biological research and restoration covered organisms that live in the water column or near the coast. This is Mark’s greatest frustration with the response to the spill.

After he repeated the surveys in 2011, “we just stopped looking to see what [the oil] did,” he notes. He sees echoes of this shift in how environmental restoration funds are being spent. It’s “not being put into things that relate to where the spill occurred.”

He advocates that more resources should be put toward understanding what happened in the deep sea and toward building capacity so that if there’s another spill, the Gulf community will have the resources and scientific infrastructure necessary to appropriately respond.

In May 2017, Craig McClain, the Executive Director of and an Associate Professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), returned to the wellhead and repeated Mark’s surveys.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers collect data on a redirected mission to study the impact on marine life of the massive oil spill caused by the oil leak from the Deepwater Horizon oil well that exploded 20 April.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers collect data on a redirected mission to study the impact on marine life of the massive oil spill caused by the oil leak from the Deepwater Horizon oil well that exploded 20 April.
The Louisiana Universities Research Consortium’s R/V (Research Vessel) Pelican was the first scientific vessel to arrive near the site of the blowout. The ship had been previously booked to work on April 22, 2010 just 10 nautical miles from where the rig was burning that morning before it sank later that day. Scientists onboard collected mud and water samples for about 24 hours before the Coast Guard had non-essential ships leave the area on April 23. The Pelican waited in Pensacola until the scientists were allowed back in the area on April 26 to complete their cruise. © Christopher Berkey

I was on the R/V Pelican during Craig’s return trip. I remember taking lots of breaks outside in the sunshine on the day that we visited the blowout site. The ship was too quiet and watching the live feeds of the ROV diving over wreckage made the air inside feel stale.

While Craig and Mark haven’t finished analyzing the data from those dives yet, one thing is clear: the 500-meter site has still not fully recovered from the impacts of the oil spill.

Today, Mark still thinks often about the Deepwater Horizon as he writes reports on the work he did around the rig. He still can’t bring himself to delete the phone numbers for the rig from his phone.

But reflecting on the oil spill includes a positive note for him too. Scientists from all over the world worked in the Gulf after the spill, collaborating with the Gulf of Mexico science community and sharing their resources.

“It was a great moment for American science to bring so much attention and expertise to bear on this problem that was so pressing”

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Uncharted Waters: Experimenting with Red Snapper Management

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Last year, we told you about how the rebuilding of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico was being jeopardized by a long recreational fishing season that would lead to overfishing. This year, managers are trying something new—experimental strategies that give states more say in how recreational fishing is managed. This has never been tried before—and the question will be, can anglers get the days on the water they want and still fish under sustainable limits?

For 2018 and 2019, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will divide the quota for recreational red snapper into five portions and allocate them to each of the five Gulf States. At that point, things are in the hands of the states—each one has an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) that gives them the responsibility of setting the season length, collecting landings data, and enforcing sustainable limits.

As a result of letting the states manage all the way out into federal waters (200 miles offshore), the season length for federal waters will be zeroed out—which sounds bad! But actually fishermen will have a lot more days on the water, as each state will set and manage access to those far-off fishing spots. Depending on what state you’re from, you may be able to fish way offshore for upwards of 80 days.

Private anglers and the states have been asking for this responsibility for years, and now they have a chance to test whether they can manage this part of the fishery sustainably, while still allowing this iconic species to rebuild to healthy levels.

What we can’t have is a repeat of 2017’s excesses. Private recreational fishermen greatly exceeded their quota last year after the Secretary of Commerce illegally extended the fishing season from 3 days to 42 days. Fishing rates from private anglers were so high that they drove the entire red snapper fishery—commercial, for-hire, and private recreational fishermen alike—over the overfishing limit for red snapper. This kind of excessive fishing pressure jeopardizes the rebuilding of the stock, as well as the stability of fishing-dependent businesses, access to the fish by fishermen, and the opportunity for future generations to also fish.

While the EFPs are, on paper, designed to prevent such a thing from occurring again, statements by the Secretary of Commerce have us concerned. In a press release announcing the new strategy, Wilbur Ross said that this approach “continues the work we started last year.” If we see more of the same, we’ll see fewer fish in the water.

Ocean Conservancy supports recreational fishing, and we support the effort to find management solutions that work for fishermen, states, and managers. At the same time, we’re working to protect the hard-earned progress in rebuilding vulnerable fish stocks in the Gulf. The fact is, if managers aren’t careful and the important rebuilding provisions of the MSA aren’t heeded, we run the risk of zero day seasons that can’t be saved by Exempted Fishing Permits—and nobody wants that.

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Jimmy Buffett and The Eagles perform in Miami

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Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band opened for The Eagles last night at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami FL.

The set list from the show is now available. Some of the highlights included “Everybody’s Got A Cousin In Miami” (last played 04/09/2015 in West Palm Beach, FL) and “Chanson Pour Les Petits Enfants” dedicated to Gina Rose, one of the victims of the Parkland shooting.

The Eagles performed 27 songs with band members Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, joined by Vince Gill and Deacon Frey filling in for his late father Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey. See the set list for the songs that were performed.


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Underwater Wonders of Our Ocean

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Have you been spending time in the deep sea this week? We have! Thanks to the amazing livestream from NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer, we’ve been exploring corals, shipwrecks and much more on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor.

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© NOAA Okeanos Explorer

They’ve done so much incredible work already in just the first week of their trip! Just a few sea-riously cool things about the Okeanos expedition include:

  • Exploring the unexplored deep sea (always very cool!)
  • Watching muse octopuses fighting over territory in a shipwreck (New Hope Tugboat shipwreck, which was also a very well preserved shipwreck)—and one attempting to bury in the sediment
  • Spotting a black coral and squat lobster. It is a mutualistic relationship where the coral provides habitat for the squat lobster and the lobster in turn helps to clean the coral.
  • On Dive 3 the first thing they saw on the deep sea floor was a plastic bag with sea anemones growing on it. “You can see the impact of humans even in the most remote places”—said by co-science lead Daniel Wagner live during the dive
  • Glass sponge
  • Finding beaked whale impressions on the deep sea floor (it’s how they feed) but it was hard to get a good image of the depression.
  • Dive 4 they observed very unusual behavior by a squid that temporarily stumped the scientists
  • Goose fish (not a frog, toad or bat fish, but a goose fish!)

One of the coolest things I’ve seen so far is deep-water corals.

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An orange brisingid basket star on the large Lophelia pertusa reef at 450 m depth in Viosca Knoll 826. © NOAA Okeanos Explorer

These ancient corals are home to amazing community of curious squat lobsters, mysterious-looking squids and many more species we have yet to identify. Few people ever see these ocean sights firsthand and I can’t be more thrilled to be able to do so thanks to NOAA’s commitment to ocean exploration—this is truly our planet’s final frontier.

The seafloor of the Gulf was ground zero for the BP oil disaster.

Eight years ago this week, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank 5,000 feet to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico where these ancient corals live. As 60,000 barrels of oil spewed out of the blown-out wellhead every day, it was clear what the impact to the coast was—oiled marshes, birds and beaches were in the headlines for months.

But what was happening underwater? A few months after the well was capped scientists were able to send a remote operated vehicle (ROV) down to the seafloor to discover the heartbreaking impacts the disaster had in the deep sea. In the years following the disaster, research teams estimated 10 million gallons of BP oil still coated the seafloor and reported dying corals covered in a layer of oil-tainted slime. The recovery time for these slow-growing corals, which can live for more than 500 years, is unknown.

The good news is that we are moving towards restoration.

The $20 billion settlement BP paid for its role in thesquat lobster and black coralsquat lobster and black coral disaster included more than $273 million to restore the damage they caused in the deep sea. Today, we’re still working to understand corals and the deep sea—what lives there, how it’s been affected by the oil and how we can help it recover.

Deep-sea exploration is expensive, and funding for research and exploration is limited. That’s where the Okeanos Explorer comes in. The ship is currently on an expedition to better understand the deep Gulf. In advance of the expedition, scientists from around the country proposed dive sites for areas they want to know more about, and the NOAA team coordinates the cruise to try and meet the requests. For three straight weeks, this dedicated team sends an ROV thousands of feet down to the seafloor to discover new parts of the ocean, while scientists and the public follow along on the livestream.

Recovery from the BP oil disaster is really only just getting started.

As I write this, state and federal agencies are drafting plans to restore the Gulf’s marine life. Information gathered by ships like the Okeanos Explorer will be part of that effort over the next 15 years and beyond. You can help make sure that these amazing corals are restored from the BP oil disaster—send a message today to the Deepwater Horizon Trustees, urging them to use the funds for the most pressing needs in the deep sea.

Follow the Okeanos Explorer with us now until May 3 as they explore parts of the Gulf of Mexico that few humans have ever seen before!

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© NOAA Okeanos Explorer

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Margaritaville: The Cookbook coming May 2018

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St. Martin’s Press and Margaritaville Holdings announced the publication of “MARGARITAVILLE: The Cookbook: Relaxed Recipes for a Taste of Paradise“, the first cookbook for the global lifestyle brand. Co-authored by Margaritaville concept chef Carlo Sernaglia and food writer Julia Turshen, the book features dishes that keep Margaritaville fans coming back for more – expertly translated into easy-to-prepare, do-it-yourself recipes. The book will be available in hardcover and e-book versions beginning May 1, 2018. Pre-order your copy now at Amazon.

The first official cookbook from the beloved world of Margaritaville features laid-back favorites like the explosively good Volcano Nachos and the heaven-on-earth-with-an-onion-slice Cheeseburger in Paradise, alongside more sophisticated options that will wow your guests (Coho Salmon in Lemongrass-Miso Broth, anyone?). With its combination of recipes, stories, and gorgeous full color food and lifestyle photographs throughout, it is sure to put you in a Margaritaville state of mind!

Margaritaville isn’t confined to single spot on the map — the recipes draw inspiration from around the world, from Jerk Chicken to Tuna Poke with Plantain Chips and Jimmy’s Jammin’ Jambalaya. And we’ve got you all covered, from family-friendly Aloha Hotdogs to drool-worthy Vegetarian Burgers.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere and no vacation is complete without a cocktail―preferably a margarita, of course! Margaritaville: The Cookbook is loaded with drink recipes to inspire your blissful island cocktail hour―from Jimmy’s Perfect Margarita and Paradise Palomas to Cajun Bloody Mary’s and the quintessential Key West Coconut and Lime Frozen Margarita.


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Shucking and Plucking

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Spring Cleanup hosted by the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA) on the South Puget Sound. As I pulled up (in torrential downpour) to the Arcadia Boat Ramp in Shelton, WA, I was heartened to see not only volunteers from eight shellfish farms, but a wide breadth of the community all geared up to support the health of the Sound. With about 120 in attendance, the cleanup brought together dozens of shellfish growers, members of the Squaxin Island Tribe and Nisqually Tribe, Northwest Farm Credit Services, and Washington State Department of Natural Resources on a common goal:  a trash free Puget Sound.

This wasn’t PCSGA’s first cleanup—many of their members depend on a healthy Puget Sound for their livelihood and sees tremendous value in keeping the Sound free of debris.  For this reason, PCSGA organized their first cleanup event in 2005, and has since hosted over 30 cleanups on and around the Puget Sound. PCSGA often partners with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Washington CoastSavers, both of which are local non-profit organizations that work year round to conserve and maintain the Sound, not to mention fantastic International Coastal Cleanup State Coordinators. Every spring and fall, Puget Sound’s shellfish growers and partners set out on dozens of boats to comb 120 miles of shoreline for debris. Each time, they (un)fortunately return to the docks with vessels packed full with items recovered from the remote stretches of beach and surface waters of the Sound.

About 20% of the debris they find in the South Puget Sound waters is related to shellfish aquaculture. This is precisely why the PCSGA and its members are so adamant about conducting these regular cleanups; they feel it is their duty to collect and sort the material to maximize the amount of gear that can be reused in their farms and to recycle or properly dispose of the rest to ensure it does not threaten the Sound’s flora, and fauna, or hinder the productivity of shellfish farms. We know all too well that when the massive Styrofoam floats and rigid plastics that the volunteers hauled from the water are left to their own devices, they break up into smaller and smaller fragments, called microplastics. These plastic particles are nearly impossible to remove from the water which means they can threaten the fish, shellfish, whales and other marine animals that inhabit the Puget Sound.

Trash in the Sound is not only unsightly, but a threat to the many Washington State residents who rely on Puget Sound for their livelihoods. The shellfish industry employs 3,000 people in Washington alone, and farmed shellfish bivalves produce nearly $150 million in annual revenue for the State. The small town of Shelton, WA, the location of last weeks’ cleanup, is a perfect example of this, where farming, logging, ranching, and oyster harvesting lie at the foundation of its economy. PCSGA recognizes the reliance of communities on Puget Sound, and enjoys giving back to the Sound regularly.

All around the world, it is hard-working groups like the PCSGA that make a difference for our ocean.  During the 2017 International Coastal Cleanup, PCSGA supported Washington CoastSavers in removing six tons of debris from Washington’s Pacific Coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In addition, the shellfish growers work with Ocean Conservancy to fight the impacts of carbon dioxide pollution as part of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification.

As we approach the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup this coming September, make sure to find a local group in your community to join for a beach or waterway cleanup. At its core, the Cleanup is about uniting community around a common purpose:  trash free seas. Plus, the ocean is always downstream. So whether you’re on the Sound, in the mountains or at the coast; find a stretch of shoreline near you and help make your community (and the ocean) a cleaner, safer place.


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Saving the Earth One Craft at a Time

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Earth Day is a special annual reminder of the how important it is to take care of the world we live in. This year, the Earth Day Network has dedicated its focus on Ending Plastic Pollution and how, as a community, we can work towards solutions.

From the tiniest plankton to the largest of whales, animals across ocean ecosystems have been contaminated by plastic. Plastic has been found in 59% of sea birds like albatross and pelicans, 100% of sea turtle species and more than 25% of fish sampled from seafood markets around the world. Did you know that 275 million metric tons of plastic waste is produced around the world? And, 8 million of that finds its way into the ocean where life, like this sperm whale, is abruptly shortened.

Marine debris isn’t an ocean problem—it’s a people problem. That means people are the solution. And, tackling the problem of plastic in the ocean begins on land. Although it may seem daunting, there are simple actions we can take to reduce waste and prevent debris.

If you’re feeling crafty this Earth Day, here are some DIY projects that will transform plastic into something you can use in your home or garden.


For Our Spring Time Gardeners

From simple planters to entire walls of self-watering plants, here are some of our 2018 gardening goals.

Plastic Planters

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© Home Dzine

Bottle Sprinkler

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© Clever, Crafty, Cookin’ Mama

Drip Irrigation System

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© Provident Living

Self-Watering Planters

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© Our Peaceful Planet

Vertical Garden 

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© Rosenbaum, via This Is Colossal


For Our Ocean Loving Parents

It’s critical that children learn about the Earth from a young age. If we don’t change the way we consume plastics, we could end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish. That’s why we compiled these crafts to make with children, in order to teach the value of taking care of our Earth.

Rainbow Bubble Snakes

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© Housing A Forest

Jellyfish in a Bottle

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© bhoomplay

Shark Cup Ball

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Plastic Bottle Wind Spirals

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© Happy Hooligans

Lava Bottle

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© Mashable

For Our Everyday Earth Savers

When we use plastic, it’s often through single-use products. The plastic is useful only for getting what we want from point A to point B. Once we are finished with the product, the plastic is finished with its job and usually thrown away. Here are a few ways to put that plastic back to work with these useful projects.

Plastic Bag Tote

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© Mark Burstyn

Bottle Cap Clock

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© Home Dzine

Honey Bear Lamp

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© The Pink Doormat

Phone Charging Holder

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© Make It Love It

Bottled Zipper Case

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© Make It Love It


For Our Veteran Crafters

Ending plastic pollution is a serious challenge, that’s why we’ve added these ventures for those serious crafters out there.

Plastic Bottle Flower Chandelier

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© Oh Happy Day

Milk Carton Butterflies

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© Angie Franke and Monique Day-Wilde, via Outside Art

Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

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© Jessica Perry

If you have any projects you’d like to share, connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. For more information on plastic pollution and how you can help, head over to our Trash Free Seas® Program and join a global movement with CleanSwell.

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Mutant Enzymes are Cool, But Not Likely to Solve Our Ocean Plastics Problem

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There’s a lot of awe-inspiring stuff that happens in our natural world, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about science over the years it’s this: never say never. That’s why I was optimistic when I read the headlines about the discovery of mutant enzymes that can solve our ocean plastic problem; with eight million metric tons of plastics entering the ocean annually, the oceans need all the help they can get and we need to consider all potential solutions that are brought forward.

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth, UK, accidentally created a new mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drink bottles (which are made of a specific plastic resin called PET). The research was prompted by a 2016 discovery in Japan that revealed a bacterium had evolved the ability to eat plastics at waste dumps. The newly discovered mutant enzyme takes this further; it can start breaking down plastics in just a few days, which is far faster than the decades or centuries it takes for PET to break down in the oceans.

This sounds awesome, but as an ocean scientist, neither complex enzymatic processes nor plastics chemical properties are my expertise. As I read through the findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), I quickly realized I needed to seek the counsel of a bona fide expert. At Ocean Conservancy, we work closely with a range of academic scientists with expertise on a variety of topics including plastics; and one of our most trusted is my friend and colleague, Dr. Ramani Narayan, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering Materials Science at Michigan State University. Could these mutant enzymes be a silver bullet to the ocean plastic crisis?

Dr. Narayan shared this perspective:

“The problem is not in the “technology” to reuse PET or dismantle into its constituents but recovery and economics of the processes used. Semi-crystalline PET bottles are already fully recyclable within our current systems. PET can also be readily depolymerized into the constituent building blocks using water in 30 min or less and very scalable.  They do not need further help from a new, genetically engineered enzyme.

It needs to be re-emphasized that the barrier to recycling PET and other plastic wastes is in recovery and reducing/eliminating “mismanaged wastes” through responsible waste management infrastructures that includes material design for recycling and composting – in line with the circular economy concepts.”

To summarize Dr. Narayan’s expert judgment: Though these findings are promising, they are far from being a solution and offer only minimal utility at present to address the waste PET problem, not to mention all the other plastic resins out there.  And the big problem is making sure these bottles make their way to a recovery facility, which enzymes cannot help overcome. Current processes exist to “break down” the PET but the big missing link that remains is the actual collection and recovery of PET (and other plastics) in the first place.

In short, plastic-eating enzymes are mostly scientifically intriguing, not commercially applicable. To truly get a handle on our global plastic pollution problem, we must address both the explosive production/consumption of single-use products as well as the lack of collection capacity in much of the world to reuse materials. We have the technology to do so already but, at present, only a very small percentage of plastics are actually recycled. We need to do much better.

The media attention to this week’s study on the mutant enzymes shows there is a growing global movement committed to solving this problem. Let’s harness that energy to keep plastics out of the ocean in the first place, invest in new materials that minimize or eliminate harm and scale up the solutions we already have that work.

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