When the topic turns to sharks, ocean plastic is not far behind, and there are some interesting developments on that score. Before we get to that, let’s take a look at World’s Largest Hammerhead?, which is part of Disney’s annual Sharkfest series unspooling now on Disney+ and National Geographic channels. CleanTechnica had a chance to speak with scientist Candace Fields, who is featured in the Hammerhead film, and she spilled the beans about the world’s largest hammerhead…or did she?
The World’s Largest Hammerhead?!
You’ll have to watch The World’s Largest Hammerhead? on July 18 to catch the future Dr. Fields in action. Fields is currently nearing the end of her Ph.D. journey at Florida International University, where she studies shark populations and other large predators.
CleanTechnica had an opportunity to sit down with Fields on the phone earlier this week. She brings a wealth of experience to the film, partly through her background as a native of the Bahamas, which happens to be home to a massive shark refuge that has become an important source of tourist income and other activity for the country’s economy.
So far, 40 species of shark have been spotted in the refuge, established in 2011 with The Nature Conservancy, the organization WildAid Marine and other partners (following interview edited for length and clarity):
CleanTechnica: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Fields: I’m from Bahamas, so I come into the topic with local knowledge about sharks. The shark sanctuary was established in 2011, as the first one in the Atlantic. It followed a commercial ban on long-line fishing in 1993.
The Bahamas is unique because the shark sanctuary covers almost the entire jurisdictional waters of the country. It is a good model partly because so many species are present, and it is very accessible. Another factor is cultural, since eating shark meat is not part of the culture in the Bahamas.
CleanTechnica: Tell us a bit about The World’s Largest Hammerhead?
Fields: Not too much is known about great hammerheads. It is fascinating how elusive they are. Everyone thinks sharks are everywhere, but really it’s very challenging to capture a great hammerhead. The most interesting part is understanding the challenge of how hard it is to find them.
CleanTechnica: What would you like audiences to know?
Fields: It’s easy to think that sharks are a threat to us, but we are much more of a threat to them.
CleanTechnica: You’re involved with the organization Minorities in Shark Sciences, tell us a bit about that.
Fields: National Geographic is doing a good job of increasing diversity on screen, and not just in a way that feels like somebody was just dropped in. They set the stage for future generations of scientists, that people who look like me can do this. It’s a great honor to be an ambassador for the future.
Ocean Plastic Recycling
So, did they find a big hammerhead? Watch the show and find out!
Meanwhile, sharks have played an important role in raising awareness about the ocean plastic crisis. Many folks got their first exposure to the pollution problem when graphic footage emerged of researchers cutting open the bellies of sharks, only to find a veritable plastic dumping ground inside.
The larger bits of ocean plastic are only part of the problem. Microplastic particles have also been identified in the marine food chain. To the extent that keeping the larger bits out of the ocean can help reduce microplastics, harvesting and recycling plastic from the ocean is a key part of the solution.
Harvesting Ocean Plastic Before It Gets To The Ocean
Actually, not introducing petrochemical plastics into the oceans in the first place is the ultimate solution, which is where biobased plastics and reusable items come in.
For the here and now, though, something needs to be done about the ocean plastic crisis but quick, and that means prevention, recovery, and recycling.
The wheels have been turning slowly, but it does appear that the ocean plastic business is moving past the niche stage.
One firm to cross the CleanTechnica radar is the Florida-based company Ocean Recovery Group. The company, which describes itself as a social enterprise business, is a joint venture that pairs the 112-year-old waste recovery firm 4G Recycling with AE Global, a player in the packaging innovation area.
Ocean Recovery Group has taken up the challenge of monetizing plastic waste recovery in the Dominican Republic by focusing on the nation’s ocean-bound plastic problem, which mainly refers to unchecked plastic pollution in rivers that lead to the ocean.
Last May, ORG became the first US company to achieve Ocean-Bound Plastic Certifications for collection, recycling, and neutralization through the organization Zero Plastic Oceans.
“Ocean Recovery Group’s La Vega, Dominican Republic, facility boasts state-of-the-art processing equipment including a 2-ram Max Pack Baler, 7 Vertical Balers and 2 complete plastics lines including a friction washer, shredders, sink tanks, steamers and pelletizers,” ORG explains.
The facility started operations earlier this year with the goal of collecting, recycling and neutralizing 12,000 tons of ocean-bound plastic as well as handling cardboard and other paper recyclables.
“OBP-certified organizations [also] guarantee the respect of social criteria, including a commitment to no child labor, safe working conditions and fair wages for recycling collectors,” ORG notes.
Next-Level Solutions For The Ocean Plastic Crisis
Previous studies downplayed the role of developed nations in fostering the ocean plastic crisis, placing much of the blame on Asia and other emerging plastic consumers. Now that everyone knows better it’s time for the US and other leading economies to right the wrong.
Following last month’s United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, the Biden-Harris administration announced two programs that should help step up the ocean plastic prevention and recovery business. One is the new Save Our Seas plastic pollution initiative under USAID, an outcome of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act of 2020.
“The initiative will include $62.5 million in initial funding and will launch 14 new country and regional programs in key countries and regions that represent 40 percent of total global mismanaged plastic waste,” the White House stated. “USAID is combating ocean plastic pollution by creating inclusive circular economies together with local and national governments, communities, and the private sector.”
Here in the US, the White House also underscored the new Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) grant program through the US EPA, which also came under the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. The $275 million grant program is funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“These funds will be used to provide grants to…improve post-consumer materials management and infrastructure; support improvements to local post-consumer materials management and recycling programs; and assist local waste management authorities in making improvements to local waste management systems,” the White House explained.
Well anyways, it’s a start.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo credit: Lydia Thompson (21st Century Fox) via Dropbox.
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