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Executive Summary for December 8th

In our weekly roundup, we report on an international resolution to fight plastic pollution, new data that charts the rise of global aquaculture, and research showing marine mammals are probably more stressed out than you are.

Published on Dec. 8, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

World Vows to End Marine Plastic Pollution at U.N. Meeting

Nations gathering this week at a United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Kenya pledged to eliminate the vast quantities of litter and microplastics entering the ocean over the long term. But the resolution isn’t binding and didn’t set specific timelines.

Environmental advocates viewed the language of the new resolution as a step forward from the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal target to “significantly reduce” marine pollution of all kinds by 2025. The resolution does pave a path for the international body to explore a legal treaty on the issue. The biennial meeting also saw four nations – Chile, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka – join more than 30 countries in the U.N.’s Clean Seas campaign, pledging measures such as plastic bag bans, new marine reserves and recycling programs.

The World Plastics Council, representing the global plastic industry, issued a statement calling marine debris a “complex, global issue that deserves thoughtful consideration and action.” It emphasized the consensus around investing in improved waste management (a solution that industry would prefer over, say, reducing overall plastic use or scaling up biodegradable plastic alternatives).

OECD: Boom Times For Aquaculture, Bust For Wild Fisheries

In its 2017 review of fisheries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) emphasized a long-term trend that continued in the last year: the decline of wild-caught fisheries and increasing aquaculture output.

The report found that landings for wild fish have dropped 40 percent below their 1980s peak, due to stock declines and measures put in place to reduce catch. What’s more, for the more than 1,000 fish stocks that have assessment data, fewer than two-thirds were found to be meeting existing sustainability goals. In the meantime, aquaculture output has increased 2.1 percent annually since 2011, and its value is increasing even more quickly as more desirable species are farmed. “The data suggest that aquaculture production is set for long-term growth while capture fisheries can expected modest recovery at best,” the OECD said in a statement.

The review covers 28 developed countries that are part of the OECD and seven major fishing nations, including China, Indonesia and Thailand, that are not. Together they are responsible for most of the world’s aquaculture production and nearly half of global fisheries production.

Stressed Out on the Seas

Two studies published this week show that seals and whales are stressed as a result of natural and human causes.

Fur seals living in great white shark territory near South Africa are highly stressed out by the constant fear of death, a three-year study led by the University of Miami found. Through fecal samples, the team measured the seals’ cortisol stress hormone and found levels correlated with the seals’ risk of becoming prey, likely resulting in both a psychological and potential health cost for seals.

In a separate study, published in the journal Science, researchers attached heart-rate monitors to narwhal whales that had just been released from net entanglements or strandings. Living in the Arctic, these marine mammals have been relatively isolated from human activities, but melting sea ice is now beginning to increase shipping and extraction activities in the region.

The monitors showed narwhals exhibiting a strange combination of both fleeing the scene – quickly diving deep, away from the threat – and “freezing” up by slowing their heart rate. These two responses combined, the study said, puts stress on the narwhals’ cardiovascular system and shows why they may be especially vulnerable to growing human disturbances.

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