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Executive Summary for November 10th

In our weekly roundup, we report on climate change’s threat to endangered North Atlantic right whales, Coca-Cola’s pledges to reduce plastic pollution and innovative ways to cope with jellyfish blooms.

Published on Nov. 10, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Climate Change Could Force North Atlantic Right Whales Into Decline

Rising temperatures will leave little room for error in efforts to save the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale, according to a new study.

There are only about 500 of the mammals left in the world, and this year proved particularly deadly, with at least 16 whales killed in Canadian and United States waters – largely as a result of fishing-gear entanglement or collisions with shipping, a recent incident report found. The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, determined that if climate change reduces the whales’ prey, just 10 whale deaths a year could signal a decline in their population. In the past decade their numbers had shown a slight recovery.

In recent years, whales have been venturing further north in greater numbers, appearing in Canada’s Gulf of Saint Lawrence rather than the Gulf of Maine. Though no one fully understands the reasons for the shift, Cornell University researchers say the mammals are most likely following small crustacean prey that prefer cold waters. The problem – and the reason why 2017 was so deadly – is that the Gulf of Saint Lawrence lacks policies to adequately protect whales from the threat of human activity.

On Thursday, Canada’s fishing minister met fishers, ship operators, First Nations representatives and scientists to discuss implementing better protection for the whales in the gulf, in addition to a ship speed limit introduced this summer. A consortium of scientists recently told Canada’s prime minister that “bold and swift action,” not more research, is needed.

Coca-Cola to Reduce Plastic Packaging in Europe

Noting “too much of our packaging ends up in the wrong place, including as litter or in our oceans,” Coca-Cola released new goals to address plastic pollution and move to a “circular economy” in Europe.

Among other pledges, the beverage giant promised to collect 100 percent of its packaging and ensure at least 50 percent of its bottles are made from recycled plastic by 2025. In 2016, the figure was 21 percent.

Greenpeace UK, which has run a campaign pressuring the company on recycling, questioned whether the goals marked major progress, noting 50 percent recycled plastic is “nothing to celebrate” and that, globally, Coca-Cola is only at 7 percent. The activist group said that while the 100 percent collection goal is ambitious, the company should specify the concrete actions it will take to get there. It urged Coke to continue pushing forward “innovative” delivery systems that reduce overall plastic use, such as smart fountains and refillable bottles.

In October, Greenpeace UK expanded its Coca-Cola campaign to the company’s worldwide operations.

There’s No Wrong Way to Use a Jellyfish

A new $7 million project, called GoJelly, aims to tackle the explosion in the population of jellyfish in our oceans by putting them to innovative uses.

The project is needed because around the world, jellyfish blooms are thriving in warm, overfished and polluted coastal waters, where they threaten beachgoers and wreak havoc on power plants and fishing nets.

A European Union research consortium, coordinated by Germany’s GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, will explore how jellyfish could be used in sustainable fertilizers, fish feed, collagen-based cosmetics or perhaps even as a human snack (some Asian nations already eat jellyfish.)

To the researchers, one of the most compelling potential ideas is a jellyfish-based filter to stop microplastic pollution from entering oceans. Previous research has shown that jellyfish mucus binds well to tiny bits of plastic.

Other scientists involved in the project will study jellyfish life cycles to better predict the timing and location of blooms. The goal is to eventually harvest them in various locations around northern and southern Europe.

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