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Executive Summary for February 23rd

In our weekly news summary, we report on the effectiveness of plastic bottle deposits, warming trends around the Galapagos Islands and the Trump administration’s upcoming oil and gas bonanza in the Gulf of Mexico.

Published on Feb. 23, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Paying People to Stop Plastic Pollution Actually Works

Many governments have passed container deposit laws, giving consumers a nickel or dime back when they recycle beverage containers. A clever new study in the journal Marine Policy shows how effective these programs are.

The study’s authors say that while previous research shows that container deposits do increase recycling and combat street litter, no one had studied whether they actually reduce the amount of debris entering coastal waters.

The answer, according to the Australian researchers, is that they do – by a lot. They came to this conclusion by comparing marine litter surveys in places in both the United States and Australia that have deposit laws with those without. The relative proportion of coastal container debris found in states with bottle deposits was 40 percent lower than in areas that didn’t have laws. They also found that the reduction was greatest in areas of low income areas, which also tend to be the most polluted.

What if people are simply buying fewer bottled sodas or waters in these states? The researchers answered this by surveying the number of containers lids versus the number of containers. Recycling laws don’t cover the caps – so these would be much more numerous than the actual containers if people were truly recycling a lot, rather than just buying less. “That’s exactly what we found,” the authors wrote in The Conversation.

Ocean Warming Around the Galapagos

Sea surface temperature monitoring in the remote eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is sparse, which is why it was surprising to scientists to recently find out that temperatures have been warming there since the 1970s.

Cold, deep ocean water rises to the surface near the Galapagos, partly accounting for rich biodiversity in its waters. Previously, there had been disagreement over whether, and the extent to which, the area had been warming.

In the study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, lead author Gloria Jimenez of the University of Arizona reported drilling into corals in the northern part of Galapagos National Park and analyzing their chemical composition as an indicator of ocean temperatures of the recent past. Comparing this with other records, the researchers concluded that the regional ocean temperatures had warmed by about 1.1F (0.6C) between 1979 and 2010. The corals sampled were some of the few that survived a major bleaching event after a particularly warm El Niño in the early 1980s.

U.S. to Hold Largest Oil and Gas Sale in Gulf of Mexico

On March 21, the Trump administration plans to auction off 77 million acres of coastal waters for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the United States Interior Department, the area will include “all available unleased areas in federal waters” of the Gulf, with a few exceptions such as the area within 125 miles (201km) of Florida’s coast, an area banned by Congress until 2022. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke cited the revenue the sale will bring as one important motivation, according to The Hill.

The sale comes as the administration is holding hearings around the country concerning its plan to vastly expand offshore drilling to other federal coastal areas, including the Atlantic, Pacific and Alaskan coasts. The effort is opposed by many politicians, both Republican and Democrat, in key states with major reserves, such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. California regulators have said they could refuse to issue pipeline permits as a way of blocking drilling off their coast.

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