Tackling Growing Plastic Pollution Threat Facing Ocean, Rivers, Great Lakes
Nineteen aquariums across the United States, including the Tennessee Aquarium, have joined forces and created a new Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) to address one of the gravest threats facing ocean and freshwater animals – plastic pollution. Today, the ACP announced the launch of a nationwide consumer campaign and a business commitment to drive a shift away from single-use plastic among their visitors, in their communities and beyond.
“The public trusts aquariums to do what’s right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife,” said Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We’re just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act.”
Through the national “In Our Hands” campaign, the ACP hopes to encourage their 20 million visitors — and millions more in their communities — to transition from single-use plastic to less-harmful alternatives. The campaign includes a website that inspires visitors to make positive everyday behavior changes and raise awareness of the issue.
All 19 aquariums are also shifting away from single-use plastic within their own businesses. As of today, all ACP members, including the Tennessee Aquarium, have eliminated plastic straws and single-use plastic take-away bags in their institutions. In hopes of additional plastic reduction, the aquariums have also committed to:
- Significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by December 2020
- Showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic in their facilities
“We are uniquely qualified to set an example for others—in reducing our plastic footprint, encouraging sustainable operating practices, and inspiring hope in a public that is hungry to be part of the solution. We’re right where we should be.”
About 8.8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year worldwide – roughly a dump truck full of plastic every minute of every day. In the United States alone, plastic waste averages more than 200 pounds per person each year. If nothing changes, by 2025 the flow of plastic into the ocean is expected to double.
But it’s not just the ocean that’s affected: Plastic pollution in lakes and rivers has been found at levels as high, or higher, than in the circular oceanic currents that concentrate plastic trash. Today, there are an estimated one billion plastic particles floating on the surface of Lake Michigan alone.
The Great Lakes are the largest surface freshwater system on the Earth, making up approximately 21 percent of the world’s supply of surface freshwater. Additionally, more than 3,500 species of plants and animals live in the Great Lakes basin.
“Approximately 22 million pounds of plastic flows into the Great Lakes each year. In Lake Michigan alone, it is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with bottles,” said Shedd Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Bridget Coughlin. “Small actions can turn into big solutions, and we believe the 24 million people in the United States who rely on this beautiful, massive resource for their drinking water, jobs and livelihoods want to be part of that wave of change. We look forward to working together in these commitments.”
The Aquarium Conservation Partnership was first championed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, National Aquarium in Baltimore and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, in collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Coalition partners are located in 16 states and include:
- California: Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach; California Academy of Sciences/Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco; and Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Connecticut: Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut
- Florida: The Florida Aquarium in Tampa
- Illinois: Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
- Kentucky: Newport Aquarium in Kentucky
- Louisiana: Audubon Nature Institute/Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans
- Maryland: National Aquarium
- Massachusetts: New England Aquarium in Boston
- Nebraska: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska
- New York: Wildlife Conservation Society/New York Aquarium in New York City
- North Carolina: North Carolina Aquariums
- South Carolina: South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston
- Tennessee: Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga
- Texas: Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi
- Virginia: Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach; and
- Washington: Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma; and Seattle Aquarium
This summer, the aquariums will focus on raising awareness and sparking consumer action, and sharing their own success stories to highlight the many ways they’ve cut back on single-use plastic in their operations.
ACP members are working with their business partners to showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic products, and will collaborate with vendors to accelerate design of new products and materials. They are also finding ways to use less plastic packaging in gift store items and scaling back on single-use plastic in their cafes and restaurants.
The aquariums are also using their collective voice – at the local, state and national level – to support policies that reduce the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean, rivers and lakes. Beyond sponsoring clean-up events and education programs, many have also backed successful efforts to stem the use of plastic shopping bags and plastic microbeads found in personal care products.
Residents of the Southeast will get a better picture of the magnitude of microplastics impacting the Tennessee River watershed beginning on July 27th. That’s when Professor of Medical and Life Sciences Dr. Andreas Fath will embark on TenneSwim, a headwater-to-mouth water quality analysis and endurance swim of the entire 652-mile river. For more information about this unprecedented scientific endeavor, go to: http://tenneswim.org/
“Whether you’re on the highest mountain in the Appalachians or standing next to the Gulf, we’re all connected to each other by water, through the beautiful streams that make their way to the bigger rivers and the ocean beyond,” said Dr. Anna George, Vice President of Conservation Science and Education for the Tennessee Aquarium. “Helping keep this water clean, not just for our use and recreation, but also safe for the animals who live there, is one of the most important things we can do for the future. But just like how the drops of water that fall in the mountains turn into the mighty Tennessee River, the small decisions we make every day add up to big change. The solution to plastic pollution is in our hands.”
For more information about the Aquarium Conservation Partnership’s plastic pollution campaign, go to: http://www.ourhands.org/