The Week This Friday

Own the conversation this weekend with The WTF, a top-6 collection of the current and topical environmental news briefs, delivered with a side of humour.

This is the Week This Friday! 6 quick-and-smart briefs about happenings in the environmental space!

 

Amazing discovery: soft coral garden found in Greenlandic sea

Source:  Design Zoom citing ZSL/GINR 

Source: Design Boom Citing Stephen Long

A deep-sea soft coral garden habitat was discovered in Greenlandic waters using an innovative low-cost deep-sea video camera built and deployed by the research team. Deep sea coral discovery using an innovative video camera?! Let's dive deeper. The soft coral garden is the first habitat of its kind to have been found and assessed in Greenlandic waters. As opposed to coral reefs (the ones you’re picturing in your head) that sit in sunny, shallow water, this coral garden exists in near total darkness, 500m below the surface at a pressure 50 times greater than sea-level. Like all coral habitats the garden’s survival and flourish depends on the maintenance of an intricate balance. It supports a diverse range of marine life: feather stars, sponges, anemones, cauliflower corals etc. This discovery is hugely significant to the limited knowledge scientists have of the deep-sea which remains largely unexplored. As PhD researcher Stephen Long, first author of the study, put it “we have better maps of the surface of Mars, than we do of the deep-sea”. Additionally, this discovery is especially important because so little is known about the workings and relationships of Greenland’s deep sea habitats. The results raise serious concerns about the management of the deep-sea trawl fisheries (pulling a fishing net through the water behind a boat) that lie adjacent to the coral garden, which are vital to the economy of the region. The authors said they hope their findings will urge policymakers to establish the area as protected under United Nations guidelines. Stephen Long, PhD researcher, said that the team will be working with the Greenland government and fishing industry to ensure that this habitat is protected. 

Now onto the super cool innovative low-cost video camera without which this discovery wouldn’t have been possible.  Most technology used to survey ecosystems such as this one is expensive and difficult to come by mainly because of the immense ocean pressure which increases every 10 meters down. This makes deep-sea surveys only possible with costly remote operated vehicles or submarines that can withstand the pressure. The research team built this device with a Go-Pro video camera in a pressure resistant container, lights, and lasers built around a steel frame. The finished device was about the size of a small car and was placed on the seafloor for 15-minute surveys across 18 different locations. Stills were taken from the video footage to be analysed further. Finding/designing low-budget research tools for deep-sea exploration is vital to keeping research going. Ultimately, the authors hope that this study

 

Where does recycling really go?

Source: The Irish Times citing Bloomberg News 

Recycling is, and continues to be, the best waste management treatment, environmentally speaking. However, once your (hopefully) appropriately curated plastics are picked up where do they go? New research from NUI Galway and the University of Limerick has, for the first time, quantified the amount of plastic waste that European countries contribute to exported recycling and the ocean littering crisis. To provide some context, although European countries have developed world-leading waste management infrastructure there’s still a ways to go. 46% of European plastic waste is exported outside its country of origin to countries with poor waste management infrastructure largely in South-East Asia. Once there, a large portion of waste is rejected from more effective recycling streams and instead placed into overexerted local waste management systems which contribute heavily to ocean littering. 

The research estimated different best, medium and worst-case scenarios of ocean debris pathways from exported recycling back in 2017. Essentially, the study modelled the fate of all polyethylene exported for recycling from Europe. Polyethylene is one of the most common type of plastic in Europe, it is the polymer that makes grocery bags, shampoo bottles, children’s toys, you name it. Several different fates for polyethylene were accounted for ranging from successful conversion into recycling plants, to ending up in landfills, to ending up in the ocean. The results estimated a rage between approximately 32,100 - 180,500 tonnes (or 1 - 7%) of all exported polyethylene ended up in the ocean. George Bishop, lead author of the study, recently spoke out about the findings, “the results indicate an important and previously undocumented pathway of plastic debris entering the oceans”. 

The goal here isn’t to stop recycling. Possible solutions to this problem include 'on-shoring' of recycling activities as part of regulations around plastic waste and extended audit trails in an effort to improve plastic recycling chains in order to reduce cracks in these systems. 

 

Ice River Springs has the power to change the future of bottled water in Canada

Source: Ice River Springs

Nestle Canada Inc. announced an agreement to sell its Nestle Pure Life bottled water business to Ice River Springs - a local Canadian company with a focus on sustainability. Although we're talking about bottled water aka single-use plastic, aka enemy number one, Ice River Springs has taken steps to be environmentally friendly(er). The company runs a plastic recycling operation, BMP Recycling, that takes bottles and plastic food packaging collected through municipal blue boxes and produces food grade recycled PET (BPA free) plastic as well as 100 percent recycled bottles for their Ice River Green brand of bottled water. Regarding the Nestle deal, Ice River Springs is committed to offering consumers a high quality, environmentally responsible option for a bottled water beverage.

 Regarding sustainable practices, the company is committed to reducing energy consumption, recycling plastics, and ultimately minimizing its carbon footprint. Their labels are made of sustainable forestry initiative certified paper, and they’ve planed 70,000 trees to capture CO2 and reduce their environmental impact. In short - they’re trying. Acquiring a giant like Nestle gives Ice River Springs an opportunity to transition one of the most popular bottled water brands in Canada to their 100 percent recycled bottles initiative, which will bring bottled water into the circular economy. 

 

A Heaping Teaspoon of Fungi

Soil often goes unnoticed and its global impact is underrated. Soil from the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is teeming with life. Over 1,800 microscopic organisms can exist in but just one teaspoon of soil – of which 400 types are fungi!

Source: Microbiometer

 

Due to the unfortunate loss of the Amazonian rainforest at an increasingly rapid rate, the importance of the role of an organism as small as fungi must be highlighted as they are mostly hidden underground and are inconspicuous. Shining the light on fungi was the goal of a study done by Dr. Camila Ritter of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany whose team noticed that there was a knowledge gap of the role of fungi, especially in tropical environments. Genetic analysis of Amazonian soil showed that rare or unknown species of hundreds of different fungi, fungal pathogens and fungi living on plant roots were found.

Fungi play a large role in biotic interactions and nutrient cycling. They also help regulate the level of carbon dioxide and are a medicinal and food sources. That’s a big impact for such small organisms. For this reason it is important to help protect them including the areas in which they thrive such as the Amazonian rainforest.

 

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Rhesus Macaque Monkey// SOURCE: Monkey Haven

We have all heard the common phrases “I’m going bananas” or “Quit monkeying around!”

It turns out, we might relate to our primate friends not only because we are close relatives on the tree of life, we think like each other too.

This week, researchers at UC Berkeley, Harvard University and Carnegie Mellon University, have discovered that monkeys and humans have much more similar thinking patterns than we had previously thought possible.

According to the ScienceDaily, “American adults and preschoolers and macaque monkeys all show, to varying degrees, a knack for ‘recursion,’ a cognitive process of arranging words, phrases or symbols in a way that helps convey complex commands, sentiments and ideas.” Recursion, in simple terms, is “the ability to place one component inside another component of the same kind.”

Research participants were trained to memorize different sequences of symbols, which were analogous to human linguistic structures, such as { ( ) } or { [ ] }. Researchers commented the macaque monkeys did remarkably well, considering they had no formal reading or mathematical training.

Scientists are convinced that with some more training, macaque monkeys could finesse recursion and eventually learn other kinds of linguistic and grammatical structures found in the human language.

Planet of the Apes reboot, anyone?

 

Stinky Seaweed Solutions

Source: The Atlantic

When you think of the Caribbean, I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind are pristine white sand beaches and not a care in the world. Thanks to sargassum seaweed however, this is not always the case (trust me, I’m from Barbados). Millions of tonnes of this seaweed have been washing up on shores around the Caribbean and Mexico due to increased ocean temperatures and fertiliser runoff creating favourable conditions for the seaweed to bloom. When in the open ocean, this seaweed is actually not too terrible, and can provide breeding habitat for fish and other marine life. Once it gets near to shore however, it can smother fragile habitats, suffocate coral reefs and harm fisheries. And worst of all, it stinks! Seriously, I cannot stress enough how bad this seaweed smells as it decomposes (imagine the smell of thousands of rotting eggs) which as I just learned, is due to the hydrogen sulphide and other toxic gases it releases while decomposing.

Thankfully, solutions are currently being worked on to turn this problem into a solution. For instance, professor Mike Allen of University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory is working on a cheap solution which pre-processes this seaweed (as normally it must be washed and dried to remove salt). This process is known as “fractionation” which uses alkaline and acidic catalysts to break down the seaweed, which is then subject to a process known as hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL). This is a process that puts the seaweed under extremely high pressure and temperature to break it down. This is even more groundbreaking as it can even break down plastics which tend to be found entangled into the seaweed, removing the need to sort them out prior to processing. From here, products such as bio-oils and fertlisers may be produced, allowing for the seaweed to provide useful and meaningful products, and not just make our beautiful beaches stink.

 

 

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