At Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, 16-year-old volunteer Jessica Flory wants to call your attention to a growing problem for wildlife. She’s wearing a dress she made from 87 balloons that refuge staff collected from a coastal island, where turtles mistake the mylar scraps for food and choke on them, and seabirds get strangled by balloon strings.
Balloons are just part of the mounting piles of manmade junk that now wash up on even the remotest world beaches, including those in the far Pacific and Alaska.
In photos and reports, wildlife biologists have documented harm to wildlife from the floating plastic, rubber and metal discards they call, collectively, “marine debris.”
Increasingly, staff at coastal wildlife refuges are spotlighting the problem and suggesting ways the public can help. Recent refuge actions include:
Both Eastern Shore of Virginia Refuge and nearby Chincoteague Refuge, 65 miles up the coast, display life-size sea turtle replicas, filled with sea debris, to show the harm done by ocean trash. The “trashtalkingturtles” were donated by the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team, which collects beached marine mammals and sea turtles, often full of balloons and plastic bags.
Says Lou Hinds, manager of Chincoteague Refuge, “There are many people who would never discard paper out a car window, yet have no problem releasing hundreds of balloons into the air. Unfortunately, Mother Earth pushes these things back to ground, and it’s a mess.”
Two recent natural disasters − Hurricane Sandy and the March 2011 tsunami in Japan – have increased public awareness of marine debris.
Last October, Superstorm Sandy blew boats, docks and trees onto shore in Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. News accounts have cited refuges’ efforts to recover damaged wildlife habitat.
The 2011 tsunami sent an estimated 1.5 million tons of debris adrift toward Washington, Oregon and California. Sections of barnacle-covered docks have floated into Olympic National Park and Oregon waters, fueling worries that marine pests aboard could disrupt coastal ecosystems. Scientists scraped and blowtorched the docks, then trucked them away for breakup and disposal.
But drift litter is more than a storm phenomenon. A 2012 study submitted to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources by the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography found sea trash all along the Georgia coast. The study cited more than 170 pounds per month of plastic trash on the beaches of Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge.
There are small signs that awareness-raising efforts are having an impact.
“It feels satisfying to pick up as much trash as we did, but it’s also eye-opening and somewhat sad that this is what our world is becoming,” says Kodiak High School senior HiIris Blakeslee on a video she made about her Youth Conservation Corps team’s cleaning of Halibut Bay at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
J.N. “Ding Darling” Refuge in Florida stopped the sale of single-use plastic bottles in September 2012. “It’s our way to take a stand on the marine debris issue,” said supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland. Some visitors have congratulated the refuge on the move.
Jessica Flory, the balloon-dress girl, recalls a woman telling her that she’d never again send messages in balloons. “I never thought about the ones that don’t make it” to their destination, the woman told Flory.
Photos of marine debris on refuges: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/sets/72157631753678584/
Some Things You Can Do to Reduce Marine Debris
- · Use less disposable plastic and Styrofoam.
- · Don’t release balloons into the atmosphere.
- · Use re-usable cloth shopping bags instead of plastic bags.
- · Volunteer to help clean debris from a refuge beach or shoreline. To find a refuge near you, use the “find your refuge” feature on the Refuge System homepageat http://www.fws.gov/refuges/.
- · Use the marine debris tracker app to alert others to trash you find on coasts and waterways. The mobile app is a joint project of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Marine Debris Division and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative.
For more stories like this, visit: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/