Juneau nonprofit fights for health of ocean
By HILDEGARD SELLNER
Originally appeared in the Juneau Empire on September 16, 2007.
Turning the Tides is a Juneau-based non-profit organization. Our focus is the ocean and its health.
What is the problem with the ocean? Every day, people around the world pour tons of hazardous garbage into the ocean, causing mass death of plants and animals. Our group focuses on one kind of hazardous garbage: plastics.
Plastics pose a threat in two ways. First, mechanically: Plastic bags, bottle caps, etc. are a choking hazard and block sea animals’ digestion. Second, as a toxin: Plastics contain and accumulate PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which are manmade poisonous molecules that are now in the air, water, and food. Humans can sustain one to three parts per million (ppm) of PCBs. Dolphins, whales, and sea lions often have thousands of ppm and can be legally classified as toxic dumps. There are six times more plastic bits than plankton in huge areas of the ocean. Fish, birds, and sea mammals mistake these particles for food. Millions are dying! The bodies of thousands of dolphins, sea lions, whales, and birds are washing up on shores around the world.
Now you might ask: Why is that important to me? Consider this: The ocean covers 70 percent of the planet. It produces a significant amount of the world’s oxygen. It sustains plants, animals, and humans with air, water, and food. Ubiquitous, highly poisonous plastic particles are assumed to be one reason why cancer incidents in the U.S. have increased significantly. We need healthy oceans to stay healthy. Nothing can live without the oceans’ support – not even you!
What does Turning the Tides do? First of all, we are working to decrease the use of disposable plastics. We are doing this through consciousness raising, e.g., using educational videos, presentations, and showcasing the “Plastic Poison”, a 17-foot long Viking ship made out of 4,000 plastic bottles, 3,000 plastic bags and various other scrap materials. The “Plastic Poison” won first prize in this year’s Juneau Independence Day parade for “Most Alaskan”. Apparently, the judges thought that caring for the environment is or should be an Alaskan trait.
TTT was also instrumental in suggesting and drafting Senate Bill 118 – concerning a fee for non-biodegradable plastic bags distributed in retail stores. Such a fee is nothing outrageous or new – several countries and communities around the globe have either banned plastic bags (such as South Africa, Bangladesh, Paris, Mumbai and, as of recently, San Francisco), or they have introduced a fee or tax. Wherever plastic bags have been taxed, their use has sharply declined. Now, TTT is gearing up for a lobbying campaign to win support for the bill throughout the state.
We also initiated an environmental student club at the University of Alaska Southeast, TTT@UAS, and we are currently working on connections to University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks. Beyond Alaska, we are working with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Los Angeles, which conducts groundbreaking research on plastics in the ocean, and we are partnering with ORCAM (OrganizaciÃ³n CientÃfica para la ConservaciÃ³n de Animales MamÃferos Marinos – Scientific Organization for the Conservation of Marine Mammals), based in Lima, Peru. ORCAM is devoted to the rescue of stranded sea mammals and promotes awareness of ocean issues in Peruvian cities, villages and schools.
TTT and ORCAM are organizing joint projects that promote student and scientific exchange, and we are working on a joint musical and cultural event to raise awareness about the importance of the ocean that connects us.
Last but not least, TTT is sponsoring speakers, workshops, concerts, and conventions.
There is a lot to be done, and the ocean needs your support. Do you want to help reverse the decline of the ocean? Contact us and come to our meetings. Be creative! Be responsible! Be an inspiration! Let us know what you are willing to do! Everyone interested in turning the tides is welcome!
Hildegard Sellner, Ph.D., is a council member of Turning the Tides. She can be reached at 789-0449.