This is crunch point for our oceans: let’s do the right thing

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By Gillian Anderson

A new ocean treaty hangs in the balance. Our leaders must act boldly, and grasp the opportunity to protect these wild spaces

Ocean sanctuaries would provide protection for wildlife populations and ecosystems, allowing them to recover and thrive.’ The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise in Charlotte Bay, Antarctica. Photograph: Christian Åslund/Greenpeace

Ocean sanctuaries would provide protection for wildlife populations and ecosystems, allowing them to recover and thrive.’ The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise in Charlotte Bay, Antarctica. Photograph: Christian Åslund/Greenpeace

There are whales alive in the Arctic today that were born before Moby-Dick was published in 1851. Despite this extraordinary fact, humans kill about 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises every year – most die indiscriminately when they get caught up in fishing gear.

Our oceans and the life they sustain are under mounting pressure from multiple threats, including overfishing, climate breakdown, oil drilling and plastic pollution. Quite simply, they are in crisis.

As a passionate advocate for marine conservation, last year I was one of almost three million people who backed Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign, calling for the creation of a 1.8m sq km (695,000 sq mile) ocean sanctuary. The proposed sanctuary in the Weddell Sea would have been the largest protected area on Earth, offering a safe haven for penguins, seals, whales and other marine life. It would have made these pristine waters off-limits to oil exploration and the fishing industry.

Sadly, this historic opportunity was lost when members of the Antarctic Ocean commission from China, Norway and Russia derailed the process and blocked the proposal.

But the fight did not end there. Today, governments will begin negotiating the first draft text of a global ocean treaty at the UN in New York that would cover waters that lie beyond national borders. This vast expanse of sea covers almost 50% of the Earth’s surface. If they get it wrong the treaty could entrench many of the worst practices that are impacting our oceans. But if they get it right the treaty could pave the way for the creation of a network of ocean sanctuaries, making 30% of our marine world off-limits to human activity.

The science is clear. Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, which is killing coral reefs and other fragile ecosystems. Plastic pollution is choking marine life and 90% of large fish such as sharks, swordfish and tuna have been hunted from our seas. The lack of effective governance in international waters has left them open to exploitation from fisheries and extractive industries such as oil and gas. Now a new threat is emerging. Leading scientists have warned that our oceans face severe and irreversible harm from deep-sea mining, with companies queuing up to extract metals and minerals from the seabed.

Paradoxically, while the UK government has championed marine protection, it is also leading the rush to exploit the deep seas. The UK holds licences to explore larger areas of the seabed than any other nation with the exception of China. It seems that the environmental havoc caused by the oil and gas industry has taught us little. Barely 0.01% of these international waters have been explored or studied and yet the pursuit of profit is being placed before environmental protection and scientific research.

Leading scientists have warned that our oceans face severe and irreversible harm from deep-sea mining, with companies queuing up to extract metals and minerals from the seabed.’ Photograph: Nautilus minerals

Leading scientists have warned that our oceans face severe and irreversible harm from deep-sea mining, with companies queuing up to extract metals and minerals from the seabed.’ Photograph: Nautilus minerals

What we do know is that life on Earth depends on healthy oceans. Our fate and the fate of our seas are intimately and inextricably connected. Ocean sanctuaries would provide protection for wildlife populations and ecosystems, allowing them to recover and thrive. The wider benefits would be felt in other ocean areas that would continue to provide food security and livelihoods for millions of people. Healthy oceans also play a crucial role in slowing climate breakdown. The myriad creatures and plants in our seas capture and store carbon from the atmosphere, locking it away underwater. Damaged and depleted oceans will only worsen the climate emergency we are facing.

We need a strong global ocean treaty because right now there is no single regulatory body that bears overall responsibility for effectively managing and safeguarding our oceans. Only 0.8% of international waters are effectively protected. Ocean governance is fragmented across various bodies, leaving marine life vulnerable to ever-expanding human activities.

We have the solutions. We must tackle the root causes of the climate emergency, stop burning fossil fuels and transition to 100% renewable energy. And we must also look after our oceans to mitigate the impacts of a warming climate. Greenpeace and other environmental organisations, together with scientists and a growing number of governments, are calling for a network of ocean sanctuaries covering at least a third of the world’s oceans by 2030. A global ocean treaty is the first step towards ensuring that our blue planet will continue to sustain the lives of billions of people.

Governments must seize this opportunity and write a new chapter for ocean governance that places conservation and sustainability at its centre. Now is the time to match ambition with action, to set aside geopolitical differences and commercial gain and act in the interests of future generations. We have a historic opportunity to strengthen ocean protection for decades to come. What happens in New York this month will have profound consequences for the future of humanity. This is a defining moment for the UK government to step up and show global leadership. Millions of us are watching, and hopefully it will do just that.

• Gillian Anderson is an actor and activist

Trust for Sustainable Living Conference

What a tremendous pleasure it has been to be invited to Government House by Her Honour Jane Austin to join in with the Trust For Sustainable Living Conference that was held in Victoria last week and to meet the dozens of young contributors from all over the world. It was a great honour to be asked to be one of the judges for the Secondary School Debate between nearly fifty participants from all as far afield as Serbia, South Africa, the Lebanon and Iran who had submitted essays to TSL to compete for a place at the table.

It was unbelievably uplifting to see these amazingly energetic and courageous youngsters come together in teams so effortlessly to argue the case for and against the motion that ‘Youth empowerment is the most important way to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SFG) #15 targets by 2030.’

The judges really had to concentrate very hard to choose the top team and individuals! When you are confronted with a room full of Greta Thunbergs I can tell you that its a pretty daunting challenge!!!

We’d like to thank all the people who helped to organize this amazing conference and to wish all the participants all the very best in the future. We owe it to the youth of today to start acting against climate change before it is too late and there’s no better time than right now! As one amazing youngster said in his closing statement - ‘If you agree stand up now!!’

It's official: The Honourable Janet Austin, OBC Lieutenant Governor of BC has become our new Patron!

The Lagoon Society is delighted to announce that The Honourable Janet Austin, OBC Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia has kindly agreed to become our new Patron. We are so fortunate to have a second Lieutenant Governor agree to be our Patron and it is our great privilege to welcome Her Honour to the Lagoon Society. We would like to thank Judith Guichon, who stepped down last year, from the bottom of our hearts for all she did to help us and we wish her all the very best in her retirement.

Our new Patron already has a soft-spot for the Sunshine Coast and we hope that she will become a frequent visitor to these shores where she can happily walk her Vice-Regal Canine Consort a lovely West Highland Terrier named 'MacDuff'. We can't wait for Freddie to meet MacDuff!

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RLLS AGM

REMINDER: EVERYONE IS WELCOME TO ATTEND OUR AGM AT THE IRIS GRIFFITH CENTRE TOMORROW, SUNDAY JUNE 23rd!

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THE MEETING STARTS AT 2pm AND WILL BE FOLLOWED BY A POT LUCK DINNER AND LIVE MUSIC!

It is that time of year again to gather together for our AGM and celebrate the achievements of the past year. This has probably been the busiest year we have ever had in nearly twenty years and we certainly have lots to be thankful for. 

As usual the business meeting will be held from 2-4 pm at the Iris Griffith Centre and will be followed by a potluck and live music from our new Youth Coordinator, Makayla Koslof!

This occasion also happens to be the final day for our wonderful volunteer students from the UK - Leila, Matt and Simon. We cannot thank them enough for all they have done to help us with PODS and The Lagoon Society and we shall miss them all very much.

For some reason they don’t seem too happy about going home - I can’t think why? 

 Please do come along on Sunday, June 23rd, and help give them a traditional Sunshine Coast send off! 

A simple online system that could end plastic pollution

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By Justin Calderon

13 June 2019

It was once a shoreline buried by enough trash to render it invisible, warranting the unfortunate nickname “toilet bowl”. Now the Philippines' Manila Bay beach is unrecognisably clean compared with a few months ago, a transformation so sudden and extreme that it brought tears to the eyes of residents.

The clean up started on 27 January, when 5,000 volunteers descended on Manila Bay to remove over 45 tonnes of garbage, marking the beginning of a nation-wide environmental rehabilitation campaign. But some two months before this massive movement began, a quiet revolution was already underway.

During the first week of December 2018, Brooklyn-based Bounties Network collected three tonnes of trash from Manila Bay over two days through a pilot project that paid a small network of people, mostly fishermen, for each cache of trash with a digital currency based on the Ethereum system.

For the mostly non-bank-using Filipino fishermen, this was a first-ever experience with a cryptocurrency. It’s one that could prove decisive in enabling poor communities around the world to take up arms in the fight against humanity’s waste, starting at the source of the bulk of global ocean pollution.

There are signs that this recycling-for-digital-payment industry may be just about to take off. Earlier in September 2018, Plastic Bank, a Vancouver-based blockchain company powered by IBM technology, also launched a similar inaugural project. They set up a scheme in Naga, a town in southern Luzon, the country's largest island, establishing a permanent collection point to let people trade plastic and recyclable materials for digital payouts through a reward system. Shaun Frankson, co-founder of Plastic Bank, says three more similar locations will open near Manila Bay over the next six months.

Many of the poorest communities are the most affected by plastic waste (Credit: Getty Images)

Many of the poorest communities are the most affected by plastic waste (Credit: Getty Images)

That both these pioneers have chosen the Philippines as their first location is not surprising considering the country’s contribution to ocean waste. A Wall Street Journal study in 2015 revealed that the Philippines is the third-largest emitter of plastic waste into global oceans, sending out almost two million metric tonnes of waste a year. Only China and Indonesia produce more plastic waste.

About 80% of ocean plastic in developing countries comes from areas of high poverty, IBM researchers have discovered. That insight could now inspire a revolution in plastic waste recycling to empower poverty-stricken people in these regions. Other projects are already being organised by Bounties Network in Thailand and Indonesia, and by Plastic Bank in Indonesia and Haiti, with plans for global expansion in the coming year.

The Philippines, a country with a knack for adopting new technologies, offers the perfect backdrop to test the new recycling business model.

“Bounties Network got a partnership with a local digital payment provider, Coins.ph, to make sure people could exchange the Ethereum into fiat [currency],” says Simona Pop, co-founder of Bounties Network.

Employing digital payouts to combat ocean pollution may be one of the most striking examples of how this new world of money can be put to the best of uses. In the world’s most disenfranchised communities, people often lack formal bank accounts but are often the source and victims of seemingly unsurmountable plastic waste challenges.

Manila Bay has a huge problem with plastic pollution (Credit: Getty Images)

Manila Bay has a huge problem with plastic pollution (Credit: Getty Images)

The fishermen that participated in Bounties Network’s December clean-up collected a mountain of unholy detritus – ranging from plastics, sodden mattresses, nappies, school supplies, shoes, children’s dolls and slippers. The waste has turned the bay’s water toxic, which indeed remains a major challenge for the government’s rehabilitation programme.

Yet, it’s the recycling habits that digital payout programmes teach these communities that will be more valuable in the long run than any superficial trash removal.

“It’s like we are killing two birds with one stone,” says Christina Gallano, a technical project manager who oversaw the Bounties Network project. “We are educating people and making them realise the benefit of having a clean environment, as well as the effect it will have in the long run, such as a greater amount of fish.”

While Bounties Network has taken a grassroots approach, the Plastic Bank method also tries to get commercial players involved. “Businesses of all kinds can use our free application on their basic smartphone to run their businesses and accept Plastic Bank’s digital rewards as an alternative to cash payments,” says Frankson. Local grocery stores or banks can manage a point-of-sale system, real-time inventory tracking, automatic reporting, secured access for staff members, and instant digital receipts.

Then there is the huge cost-saving potential brought about by this disruption, which benefits both funders and fulfillers and avoids traditional banks and their fees.

“In some cases, this means saving as much of 50% of the original funds that would otherwise be spent on third-party fees, which is why we’ve been receiving a lot of inbound interest from major non-profits to continue this pilot in other locations with different use cases,” says Pop.

Bounties Network’s two-day Manila Bay project employed fishermen for approximately $2.50 (£1.97) an hour, which is almost double a whole day’s pay for someone on minimum wage in the Philippines. The final bill for the clean-up came to $700 (£550) for about three metric tonnes of waste removal; the same results using the official government programme would have cost $10,500 (£8,280).

That kind of bang for buck is impressive, no matter how you measure it. The real-world transformations created by these pilot projects are testaments that blockchain technology can have tangible benefits over cash. A cleaner Manila Bay may only be the start.

Whales, dolphins can no longer be bred or kept in captivity after House of Commons bill passes

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Whales and dolphins can no longer be bred or kept in captivity under new legislation that was passed in the House of Commons Monday.

The legislation, dubbed the “Free Willy” bill by its proponents, marks a new era in animal-rights law. For the first time, Canadians can be found guilty for possession of marine mammals – not just for poor treatment.

Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of Humane Canada, an animal-welfare group, said the bill is a watershed moment for Canadians, who she said are visiting institutions that host captive whales and dolphins far less than in the past.

“This legislation heralds a change in how Canadians are thinking,” Ms. Cartwright said.

The bill began its journey through the legislative process in 2015, when then-Liberal senator Wilfred Moore, the original sponsor, presented it as a private member’s bill in the Senate.

Mr. Moore said the bill was a result of encouragement from his son after the two watched Blackfish, a documentary about captive killer whales.

“[My son] said, ‘Dad, can you do something about that?’ And I thought ‘Well, I can try,’ ” Mr. Moore said.

The bill includes a grandfather clause that will allow marine institutions to keep mammals that were born or conceived before the legislation was passed. Currently, Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., and the Vancouver Aquarium are the only institutions in Canada that host cetaceans, the scientific term for whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The bill also prohibits the import and export of marine mammals in Canada, except for scientific research or for the “best interest” of the mammal.

Marineland said in a statement Monday that the bill affirms that having cetaceans living at Marineland doesn’t amount to cruelty.

Marineland also said the legislation amends the Criminal Code to include exemptions, which clarifies its role as a caretaker for the cetaceans currently residing at the facility.

The Vancouver Aquarium last year announced its commitment to divesting itself of its marine mammals.

At a press conference after the bill’s passing, Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, an advocacy organization for animal protection, said there needs to be a discussion about what “best interest” means. Ms. Labchuk also said that Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium must seek additional permits for any mammals that haven’t been shipped already, despite pre-existing permits.

Ms. Cartwright said she hopes any cetaceans that remain in captivity under the grandfather clause are eventually sent to sanctuaries.

The bill has already passed the Senate and is awaiting royal assent before it becomes law.

Three other pieces of legislation currently before Parliament deal with the treatment of animals; they deal with banning shark fin imports; sexual assault and all forms of animal fighting; and cosmetic testing on animals.

“It’s certainly an exciting time and these bills have important measures that are going to put Canada into a leadership position when it comes to animal-welfare legislation,” Ms. Cartwright said.

Canada to ban single-use plastics as early as 2021

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Canada will ban "harmful" single-use plastics as early as 2021 in a bid to reduce ocean waste, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced.

This initiative is modelled on similar legislation passed last year by the European Union and other nations.

Canada will also establish "targets" for companies that manufacture or sell plastics to be responsible for their plastic waste.

Currently less than 10% of plastic used in Canada gets recycled.

Mr Trudeau called the issue of plastic pollution a "global challenge".

In May, the United Nations said 180 countries reached a deal to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the world's oceans, where it can harm fish, sea turtles, whales and other wildlife.

Marine animals can become entangled in larger plastics - particularly cord, nets and ropes from fishing.

While European and North American countries tend to produce a lot of plastic waste per capita, their management of that waste limits the impact of that product on the ocean compared to other regions, according to research out of the UK.

The Canadian government has yet to decide which single-use plastic products will be included on the list but it could target plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates and stir sticks.

About 3m tonnes of plastic waste is thrown away each year in the country.

"As parents we're at a point when we take our kids to the beach and we have to search out a patch of sand that isn't littered with straws, Styrofoam or bottles," Mr Trudeau said.

"That's a problem, one that we have to do something about."

In October 2018, the EU voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans.

The EU hopes it will go into effect across the bloc by 2021.

That included a ban on plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks and a reduction in single-use plastic for food and drink containers like plastic cups.

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The prime minister made the announcement a few months before the next general election, which is scheduled for this coming autumn.

Issues like climate change and pollution are widely expected to be among the top concerns on the campaign trail.

Across Canada, a number of municipalities and some provinces have recently moved ahead with various single-use plastics bans, mainly targeting plastic bags.

Mr Trudeau acknowledged those efforts and said "a real solution needs to be nation-wide".

Ending dolphin and whale captivity

Canadian legislators also passed a bill on Monday that will ban the wild capture, captivity, and breeding of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the country.

There will be a provision in place to allow organisations that keep cetaceans in captivity for rehabilitation or in the best interests of their welfare to continue to do their work.

All cetaceans currently in captivity will be exempt.

The legislation, first tabled in 2015, has been closely watched by animal rights groups, which say keeping cetaceans in captivity for public display is unethical.

"No tank is large enough or deep enough" for whales or dolphins to be able to live naturally in captivity, said Melissa Matlow with World Animal Protection Canada.

Canada is joining a handful of other countries in banning keeping such creatures in captivity solely for commercial purposes.