The Problem with Plastic

 

By now you’ve probably heard a lot about the issues with plastic. The plastics problem has moved to the forefront of environmental issues in recent years, and many new laws have been created aiming to reduce plastic. While most of us are at least aware that a problem exists, many may not fully understand what the negative effects are, and how to mitigate them. Over the coming weeks we will be releasing short blogs explaining various plastic related issues, and what can be done for each.

 

This week I want to cover what exactly plastic is, why it’s so ubiquitous, and why we can’t just get rid of it.

So what is plastic? While the definition can vary a bit based on who you ask, generally all varieties of plastics are synthetic polymers, or long repeating chains of molecules that are most often made from petrochemicals. These long repeating chains are what give plastics their strength and prevent them from degrading. Different chemicals and treatments are then applied to give the plastic different qualities like hardness and colour. The new plastic is then turned into small pellets called nurdles, which is the raw form of plastic. The nurdles then get transported around the globe to be made into new products. To make plastic products the nurdles are melted down and molded into their new form. Though records show primitive versions of what we know as plastic today being invented as early as 1839, they didn’t actually come into everyday use until just after the second world war, in the early 1950s. Plastic consumption took off at that time and continues to be valued now because of three big reasons: it’s a substance that is cheap to produce,  it’s long lasting, and it can be made into just about anything you can think of. 

Though plastics often get a bad wrap because of their significant contribution to environmental degradation, they actually have many important benefits, including to the environment. While non-plastic alternatives are often touted as more sustainable that is not always the case. Plastics often have much lower carbon and water footprints than non-plastic alternatives. Plastic packaging can also save on carbon post-manufacturing, because its light weight reduces the amount of fuel needed in the transportation of goods. It can also preserve food better than older methods, leading to less food waste. And perhaps the most groundbreaking -  it can be made into inexpensive and sterile medical equipment, which leads to wider access to medicine and thus reduced disease transmission. Plastic can even be credited with the reduced market of 

certain animal products, like ivory, tortoiseshell, and fur; saving the lives of countless elephants and tortoises among many other endangered species. 

 

But of course, plastics have huge downfalls that have been getting more attention in recent decades. The things that make them so useful, like their long life and ease of manufacturing, mean that they are produced at a higher rate than required for consumption and then degrade  extremely slowly. They have completely taken over every aspect of our society, and a lot of us have never known a life without them. Plastic is so ubiquitous that geologists now believe that there will be a layer of it in the rock record to mark our current era, much as other time periods are marked by fossils. Plastic can take up to 1000 years to break down, so most of the plastic ever made is still around somewhere, whether it be at a landfill or directly in our surrounding environment. This overflow of plastic is very damaging, so much so that mitigation efforts to address the problem have yet to be widely successful. A large portion of plastic waste does not even make it into recycling or other waste management facilities and is instead released immediately into the environment, becoming inescapable. 

 

Strat188, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Because of this animals, both wild and domesticated, can easily be killed by ingesting it or getting tangled up within it. This has been proven to decimate wild populations and endanger the food supply and income of livestock owners. Plastics can also serve as a vector for invasive species that can destroy entire ecosystems. Additionally, plastic holds standing water, which creates breeding grounds for disease-spreading bugs like mosquitoes. They can even block drains and cause flooding and property damage. Worse still, pieces of plastic that break apart, commonly called microplastics, can be transported around the environment much more easily and at greater volume. They eventually find their way into the food chain, thus representing a threat to human health that has yet to be fully quantified, especially for communities near bodies of water. 

 

 

Here around the Bay of Fundy, we are fortunate enough to live in a stunning ecological landscape that has yet to be significantly altered like other parts of the world, but that does not mean that the problem doesn’t affect us every day. Obviously plastics are neither all good or all bad, but as a global community we have to understand that a virtually indestructible substance should not be used to create single-use items, and we need to be conscientious about all the plastic we use. 

 

Join us again next time as we investigate how plastic move throughout environment, based on how it was thrown away

SOI Expedition

 

This September the Students on Ice Foundation set off on their Ocean Conservation Expedition. The expedition brought together experts, researchers, artists and indigenous youth aboard the icebreaker the Polar Prince, to build awareness and education around ocean conservation and the amazing ecosystems around the Bay of Fundy. Fundy Biosphere conservation manager Clarissa Hoffman was lucky enough to join the expedition for 4 days to share the story of our biosphere and the work being done to protect our unique ecology. 

 

The first day began overcast and early at the Port of Saint John. After a quick tour and safety demonstration it was off to our first event. Port Saint John was showing a screening of the documentary “The Last of the Right Whales”, which documents the plight of the North Atlantic Right Whale, and what is being done to protect them. Danielle Dion, Senior naturalist and marine biologist with the Quoddy Link Marine Whale Watching Vessel, also joined to discuss the film, and offer updates on some of the featured whales. It was emotional to see and hear about the harm being done to these animals, but heartening to learn about the actions being taken by industry to reduce risks, right here in Canada. At the end of the evening we all convened in the hangar to discuss what we had learned that day, and discuss our plans for the next day. Each of us was also asked to share what the ocean means to us. Answers ranged from discovery and mystery to connection to relaxation; each person with a unique answer and their own unique region for being so passionate about ocean conservation.  

 

On day 2 we visited the Minas Basin. Early in the morning we passed through the stunning cliffs of Cape Split, and witnessed the power of the tides as the ship was slowed to a crawl as it fought the current out of the Minas channel. We hopped on the zodiacs for a short ride over to a pebble beach at Scots Bay. Here we got to observe some interesting geological formations, and do a small beach cleanup. After a quick lunch back on the ship it was back out on the zodiacs. This time we went to Cape Blomidon, where we got to view the stunning cliffs, help the researchers from the Huntsman aquarium to gather samples for their DNA barcode library project, and some of the braver among us took a swim in the bay.

 

For the 3rd day we were back in the Fundy Biosphere Region! We started off the morning bright and early with a wet and wavy ride in the zodiac up the Point Wolfe River. We were all so lucky to be able to enter Fundy National Park from this unique perspective. We all disembarked at Point Wolfe beach. At this Fundy Biosphere Amazing Place we were able to witness the famous Fundy tides, as the water receded almost a kilometer from where we first parked the zodiacs. Parks Canada representatives then took us on a short hike, and shared about the ecology of the region, and some of their projects to protect it. Next we hopped back on the zodiacs, and the developing storm made for a very exciting ride back! Unfortunately the rough weather prevented us from making our next stop in the biosphere, Amazing Place Martin Head. Luckily for us some of the participants were able to come up with last minute games and presentations to keep us entertained and educated during our rainy afternoon on the ship. It was the last night aboard for many of us, so we stayed up late singing, dancing and playing games, which was a perfect ending for a trip so focused on connection. 

 

 

Photos by Jenna Savoie-Joy

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What is a biosphere reserve?

Biosphere Reserves are United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated regions that form a World Network of Biosphere Reserves established by the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB). Biosphere Reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use, by bringing together research, education, tourism and human settlement. The programme began in 1970 and now there are over 700 designated Biosphere Reserves around the world in more than 124 countries and 21 trans-boundary sites, which are home to about 257 million people. Eighteen of these Biosphere Reserves are in Canada, however the CBRA has decided to change all sites in Canada to “biosphere regions” out of deference to indigenous peoples . These regions are significant to sustainable development initiatives for many reasons, including their unique governance structure, their ecological and cultural significance, and the presence of strong community leaders and participatory action that occurs within them. Biosphere Reserves are independently managed, and thus take many different forms and approaches to pursue the MAB goals. Despite the individual uniqueness of each Biosphere Reserve around the world, they all share in common a three-pronged mandate established by the MAB that is dedicated to the sustainable development of the regions that includes:

 1) Establishing and facilitating research and education through logistical support,

 2) Implementing ecological conservation efforts,

 3) Encouraging sustainable economic growth

Together they make up a network that facilitates knowledge sharing and best practices for conservation, sustainability and community development.

 

Who is the Fundy Biosphere?

The Fundy Biosphere Region received the MAB designation in 2007 after a lengthy nomination period. The biosphere spans the Bay of Fundy watershed area, from St. Martins to Sackville, and inland to Moncton. Fundy Biosphere Region holds this prestigious UNESCO designation because this region uniquely showcases initiatives to preserve outstanding natural and cultural heritage, and for sharing ideas and research for biodiversity conservation, climate action, developing quality sustainable tourism infrastructure, delivering educational programs, and ensuring responsible human development. We believe in local solutions to global environmental challenges. Our vision is a world where Canadians are leaders in adapting, nurturing and financially supporting our sustainable communities that thrive alongside unique, biodiverse ecosystems. We pursue our goals by implementing a range of environmental and educational programs, but more importantly by bringing together local stakeholders and community groups to solve local problems.

 

Why Here?

The UNESCO-designated Fundy Biosphere Region is a 440,000 ha area of land in the upper Bay of Fundy region that stretches from the Tantramar Marshes near Sackville, around the cities of Moncton, Riverview, and Dieppe, to the coastal village of St. Martins. Fundy Biosphere Reserve boundaries exist as the upper Bay of Fundy watershed to the Petitcodiac River (the major source of freshwater draining into the upper Bay of Fundy), as well as several other smaller rivers and creeks. The Biosphere Region includes many communities and cities, different land uses including industrial, agricultural, forestry, urban and rural settings. FBR spans a variety of ecosystems and natural habitats including inland and coastal environments. This area has a rich cultural heritage, given that there is a long history of First Peoples, principally Mi’kmaq, inhabiting the area followed by French settlers from Europe beginning in the early 17th century and English settlers beginning in the mid-18th century. This diversity of culture and language is still strong today; French and English are both commonly spoken in our biosphere, and Moncton is the only officially bilingual city in the province. We are also increasingly becoming home to newcomers to Canada, who are bringing with them a new infusion of cultures and ideas to our community. The area is also ecologically diverse, with a number of natural ecosystems found in a relatively small area. It is this vibrant cultural and natural heritage, as well as the presence of the world’s highest tides that contributed to the designation of the area by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve.

 

Governance and Operation 

The Fundy Biosphere Region is managed by an incorporated non-profit organization called the Fundy Biosphere Initiative Inc. The FBR is overseen by a Board of Directors composed of directors from various government, industry and community stakeholders while day-to-day operations and projects are administered by a small staff. FBR receives no funding from UNESCO, nor direct core funding from any federal, provincial, or municipal government. FBR solicits annual funding for individual projects, and receives some funds from its Membership Program, as well as from donations. Our work is guided by the Lima action plan for Biosphere Reserves, the CBRA guiding documents, and our own strategic plan. We also work to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals in all our projects. 

 

Our Work

The projects we pursue at within FBR are centered around our four high level goal areas:

1.Biodiversity conservation and protection of ecosystem services

  • Restore and maintain the ecological integrity of the region by engaging visitors, residents, communities, businesses and decision makers, participating in the development of policy, resources, and programming for promotion of land stewardship and protection and connectivity between protected areas.

2. Sustainable relations between people and nature

  • Support, promote, and celebrate sustainable development, initiatives, and innovation in the region in all sectors,
  • Build a culture of sustainability through education, stewardship, and awareness of the region's natural assets as well as individual and community ecological footprint.

3. Celebration of natural and cultural heritage

  • Enhance awareness of the regions natural and cultural heritage through education, programming, and storytelling

4. Knowledge Sharing

  • Support opportunities for information and knowledge sharing at the local, provincial, national and international levels through partnerships, networking, and collaboration

Under these strategic priority areas, we create and contribute to a variety of programming in the region. A few of our most significant projects include our Amazing Places program, which was created by FBR and has since been adopted by biospheres in Ontario and BC, Canada. Another of our flagship programs is Forests of the Future, which identifies naitve Wabanaki-Acadian Forest tree species that will suffer, tolerate or thrive during the climate crisis, and subsequently share that knowledge with stakeholders and the community. We also play a role in regional tourism through partnerships, hosting tours and attending and hosting outreach events, festivals and workshops.

swimathon

 The first ever Swim-a-thon for a cleaner ocean is a partnership between many organisations to engage the community in a fun active way while also contributing to cleaner oceans and a dedication to sustainability. We will start off with a huge kickoff event with booths from organisations who will inform participants on different ways to reduce plastic usage a long with a fun game where swimmers can collect clean garbage from the pool for a chance to win a gift basket!

Then comes the actual swim-a-thon. Swimmers will sign up to swim however many kilometers of "coast" that they can. Then members from the community will pledge them however many dollars for however many meters.

Ex: I pledge to swim 3km in the 2 weeks. My neighbor pledged me 10$ for every km I swim.

The proceeds from this will go towards supplies for a beach cleanup to happen later in the summer. This is a super cool way for the community to get active, while also making a positive difference on the world stage, and spreading awareness on a serious global issue!
Sign Up Now!

Download Pledge Sheet

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