Chapter 1: Runde Environmental Centre
Runde Environmental Centre is an international research facility located on the west coast of Norway, south west of the city Ålesund. While it’s mostly knows as a research station it also includes an exhibition space, a meeting plan for courses, seminars and conferences. Runde as an island is in a highly biologically active area. Right off the island you’ll find the spawning grounds for many important fish populations in The North-East Atlantic. Runde also features the most southern bird cliff in Norway.
On February 28th – March 1st 2017 Runde Environmental Centre was the centre for a sea bird seminar and workshop with some of the brightest scientists in the field. The focus of the seminar, was to see if there’s a connection between the oceans food supply, and the decreasing sea bird population at Runde. They were also to discuss how one can make use of modern technological equipment to monitor sea birds and food supply, and what can be done to better the situation.
Not only is Runde Environmental Centre in a great geological area for the seminar, it also has top notch technological equipment used to gather the data needed for its research. An example of this is the ROV (Remote Operated Underwater Vehicle), used to gather data, take pictures, take videos and more from down to 400 meter depths.
Chapter 2: Plastic
While looking for connections between the food supply in the ocean and the sea bird population, another issue regarding this is increasing amount of plastic waste. This is a global environmental issue, however at Runde, the issue is primarily in regards to the sea birds. The most common, and famous bird on the island, the Puffin, have been found with scraps of plastic in their stomachs for the past couple of years.
In February, this year a whale was also found stranded on the Norwegian coast with more than thirty plastic bags and other plastic waste inside its stomach. This wasn’t surprising to scientists as the volume of plastic in our seas continue grow.
Chapter 3: Out of sight, out of mind
The effects of plastic waste are clear when viewing how it has affected sea birds and other ocean life. Sadly, unless it directly affects us daily, a lot of people won’t personally act to better the situation. The whale having swallowed plastic bags is an extreme example, but the bigger picture has much tinier issues associated to it. Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland did a large-scale report of sub-surface microplastics in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, a couple of years back. 94% of the 470 samples contained plastics. A total of 2315 particles were identified in total, and the common size class was between 1.25 mm and 2.5 mm. Anything less than 5 mm in length is classified as microplastics. At this size, they’re not a visible threat or issue in and by itself, but become apparent as the biological environment of the oceans worsen.
Not only is microplastics an issue for the animal ingesting it, it also becomes an issue for animals further up the food chain, i.e. humans. Fish is the primary source of protein for nearly one-fifth of the human population. In a study done by the State University of New York, 18 fish species were samples, and all of them showed some level of plastic in their system. We don’t have enough research to say how this directly affect human health.
Chapter 4: Cleaning the ocean.
Runde Environmental Centre also featured an art exhibition meant to educate children and adults alike, on the issues regarding plastic waste in our oceans. This is a nice effort, and not the only one the Environmental Centre has done to move the spotlight towards the issue. At March 11th, the environmental centre also launched a collaborative project focused on cleaning the island of its plastic waste before the birds return to the island. By doing this they can prevent some cases of sea birds building nests and feeding plastic to its children. One million sea birds die each year from this throughout the world. It’s death by suffocation, drowning and infections. The threat of this is especially apparent in the breeding seasons.
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However, Runde islands problem is but a small part of a bigger issue. How are we to tackle the increasing amount of plastic waste in our oceans? The most effective way to deal with the issue is to kill the source of the pollution. So, where does the microplastics come from? There’s plenty of sources as several industries make use of them in their products.
The cosmetics industry is an example. Many of the manufacturers replaced natural ingredients in was washers (for example), with microplastics. These usually go down the drain, into the sewer system and into the oceans. Aside from a global ban on this practice, all we can do to prevent it is to choose products more carefully.
There’s plenty of microplastics in the clothing industry too. Synthetic fibres such as nylon and acrylics can be shed off clothes and persist in the environment. Laundry is a common way of this happening. Coastal tourism and shipping also provide plenty of plastic waste as well, but they’re not issues we can tackle alone.
Chapter 5: Conclusion
Plastic waste in not only the North-East Atlantic Ocean, but all oceans is a real and severe problem. While the big adressing changes will have to come through laws, legislations and huge clean up projects, we as individuals still have the power to make a change through our daily lives. Reduced use of plastic and products that makes use of microplastics is the way to go. Then hopefully we’ll soon see a bettering in the situation we now find ourselves in.