February 22, 2022

A plastic disease

Plastic pollution in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka faces an unprecedented pollution crisis as waves of plastic waste from a burning container ship hit the coast and threaten to devastate the local environment, a top environment official warns.

  • Sri Lanka's beaches have been inundated with tiny polyethylene pellets 
  • Authorities say the plastic debris is 60 centimeters deep in places
  • The disaster threatens to make thousands of Sri Lankans destitute by devastating the fishing and tourism sectors

Thousands of navy sailors have been using mechanical diggers at beaches to scoop up tons of tiny plastic granules that have come from the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl, which has been smoldering on the horizon for 10 days.

Sri Lanka's Marine Protection Authority (MEPA) said the microplastic pollution could cause years of ecological damage to the Indian Ocean island.

The tiny polyethylene pellets threaten beaches popular with tourists as well as shallow waters used by fish to breed.

Fishing has been banned along an 80-kilometer stretch of coast near the ship that has been burning for 10 days despite an international firefighting operation.

"There is smoke and intermittent flames seen from the ship," navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said. Orange-colored plastic booms were set up in case oil leaks from the crippled ship reached Negombo Lagoon, which is famed for its crabs and jumbo prawns.


Plastic pollution in the ocean

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. Plastic pollution is most visible in developing Asian and African nations, where garbage collection systems are often inefficient or nonexistent. But the developed world, especially in countries with low recycling rates, also has trouble properly collecting discarded plastics. Plastic trash has become so ubiquitous it has prompted efforts to write a global treaty negotiated by the United Nations.

Most of the plastic trash in the oceans, Earth’s last sink, flows from land. Trash is also carried to sea by major rivers, which act as conveyor belts, picking up more and more trash as they move downstream. Once at sea, much of the plastic trash remains in coastal waters. But once caught up in ocean currents, it can be transported around the world.

Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough.

Figure 1:  The paper in the data table indicates that Sri Lanka generates 5.1 kg of waste per person per day and 7% of waste being plastics. The extent of waste mismanagement is assessed to be 84%.


How much personal consumption influences the environment

Just stop for a second and look around, wherever we are, almost all the objects around us are made of plastic, but how did we get to this point?

The first plastic made from fossil fuels was invented a little over a hundred years ago, becoming commonplace after the Second World War, with its production taking off around 1950. Today we are left with 9.2 billion tons of material to manage. Of these, 6.3 billion tons become waste that will never reach a separate collection bin.

Everyone of us should just need to take care a little bit more of his or her personal consumption. Purchasing sustainable products, avoiding plastic items and having a better look at the waste management in the household is fundamental to reduce the global waste disease.

It is estimated that by 2050 the weight of plastics present in the seas will be greater than that of fish. Every year from 5 to 13 tons of plastic ends up in the oceans, reaching a total of about 150 million tons to date.

pollution—and saved lives with helmets, incubators, and equipment for clean drinking water.

The convenience plastics offer, however, led to a throw-away culture that reveals the material’s dark side: today, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

We just need one moment more of reflection in our everyday life, to make a big change in the world.

February 17, 2022

The oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate in 300 million years. How bad could it get?

Ever wondered how our lifestyles could lead to environmental disasters! Certainly not. Because turning ON the light of my room the entire night is such a small act that it can't harm the environment. Is it? YES, definitely. The practices in our daily life have a significant impact on the environment.
Ocean acidification is an example of an environmental issue whose causes are traced back to our daily life practices. The effects of these practices vary from alteration of the marine ecosystem to food security and ecological disaster in the long run.

The average pH of the ocean is 8.25, which supports the marine ecosystem's everyday activities. The pH of oceans has decreased over the past decades, and now it is around 8.14. A suitable pH is required for marine plants and animals to perform their functions properly.
Ocean acidification is a serious environmental issue that will severely impact the ecosystem. But the question is, what exactly ocean acidification is?
Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is combined with seawater, and after a series of chemical reactions, it increases the concentration of hydrogen ions. Ultimately, the pH of ocean water goes down, and the phenomenon is termed Ocean acidification. The reduced pH over an extended period affects the behavior of calcium-producing animals and non-calcifying animals.
Let's head out to the causes of ocean acidification.

Causes of Ocean acidification 

The ocean absorbs around 30 percent of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The more significant the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is, the more will be absorbed by the atmosphere. So, increased concentration of carbon dioxide is directly linked with ocean acidification. The absorption of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides in water also reduces the pH of ocean water. However, acidification is relatively low as compared to carbon dioxide.
Ocean acidification is caused by several natural and anthropogenic activities. However, natural causes have little to no environmental impacts.
Burning of fossil fuel for industrial activities
With the rise of the industrial era, humans started burning fossil fuels and degrading their environment. Results were seen with an increasing concentration of pollutants in the air. Carbon dioxide is among those air pollutants whose concentration started increasing in industrialization. Now, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is around 450ppm.
Increase in Number of Motor Vehicles
The human population is exponentially increasing over the last hundred years. That most enormous number of people require transportation to move from place to place. However, with every passing day, the number of vehicles on roads increases. A documentary named "Under the dome" reported that people in China do not walk even the distance of a Block's length. They prefer to use their cars. Just imagine the population of the world and their transportation patterns. Obviously, transportation will create a massive impact on the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere and ocean.
Transportation is the largest source of air emissions. Especially the fuel used in vehicles releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the air. It results in an increasing concentration of carbon dioxide.


Land Use Change

Before the rise of the human population, mainly the land was wild - covered with forests. But agricultural and industrial eras changed land usage. The wild area has been converted into agricultural land, or industries are installed there. The remaining land is used by humans for their living. So, the natural land cover is totally altered within a century and a half.
Now, what happened with land-use change? How does it cause ocean acidification? Well, the answer is pretty simple. Forests are considered as lungs of nature. How nature can survive and perform well when the vital organ is being destroyed?
Agriculture and industrial activities release potent greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. So, the individual human practices for food and comfort affect the whole ecosystem.
Effects of Ocean Acidification
Calcium carbonate is the building block of sea animals. It is the building block for shells and skeletons of life in seawater. The concentration of calcium carbonate is high in areas where life is present in water. Thus, more calcium for calcifying organisms to sustain life. Nevertheless, with the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide, oceans absorb more fraction of it and make the water undersaturated with life-sustaining calcium carbonate. This affects the ability of organisms to produce and maintain their shells.
Since the industrialization era, the pH of the ocean surface has fallen by 0.1. Although it looks like a small change, the pH scale is logarithmic. A figure of 0.1 represents a 30 percent increase in acidity. If the emission scenario remains the same, acidity near the ocean surface will be 150 percent higher at the end of this century. Oceans haven't experienced this pH level in the previous 20 million years.
Impact on Biological life
A disaster for one organism could be an opportunity for other organisms. Algae and seagrass benefit from increasing carbon dioxide concentration as it helps them carry out photosynthesis. On the other hand, a decrease in the concentration of calcium carbonate due to acidification has a dramatic effect on calcifying organisms. It may alter the whole ecosystem. Humans will definitely be affected by this because a large population depends on seafood. Change in the aquatic ecosystem might cause food security.
Low pH reduces the ability of coral reefs to produce their skeleton. Another study has shown that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is causing under saturation in aragonite.


Since ocean acidification is linked with human activities, a change in human habits and practices could be effective to reduce its disastrous impacts. Move to a sustainable lifestyle such as use of renewables and chose cycling or walk in place of vehicles can make a significant difference.

Every human activity has an impact on its environment. A rise in human population and intensive industrial practices increase the emissions in air. Since ocean absorb the pollutants from air, its pH reduce that makes the aquatic ecosystem at risk. We, humans can opt alternative options which are more sustainable to minimize the ill-effects of ocean acidification.


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