Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are some of the world’s most complex and biodiverse ecosystems. They can be found between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Though they only cover less than one percent of the ocean’s floor, they are home to about twenty-five percent of marine life! This is significant because while they are home to many underwater species, coral reefs most likely benefit you as well. Some of the ecosystem services that coral reefs provide are food, protection from storms, and over half a billion people depend on them.

There are many ways that climate change will and is affecting coral reef ecosystems. One of the major effects is coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is when corals turn white and lose their color. This occurs because corals are covered in  microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. Between the corals and algae, there is a mutually beneficial relationship where the corals provide the algae with protection and materials they need for photosynthesis while the algae provide the corals with the oxygen they produce as well as the removal of waste. When ocean temperatures rise, the algae leaves the corals. However, the corals aren’t immediately dead. If they stay in that state without algae, they will eventually die, but corals do have a possibility to recover. In addition, all coral bleaching isn’t due to rising ocean water temperatures. The cooling of ocean temperatures can have the same effects. 

Temperature changes also make coral reefs more susceptible  to disease outbreaks, as well as ultraviolet radiation and pollution. In recent years, the occurrence of diseases has risen due to the increase in marine pollution and temperatures. Disease outbreak in coral reefs is still not well known, and recovery is slim.

Another factor affecting coral reefs is the changes in storm patterns. Due to climate change, the frequency and extremity of storm occurrences are increasing. Storms can destroy the structure of the coral reef ecosystems. Since coral reefs are such biodiverse ecosystems, they are naturally more stable and bounce back from storms more easily. However, as the occurrence and strength of the storms increase, it will be more difficult for coral reefs to bounce back. 

Other factors affecting the reefs include ocean acidification and rising sea levels. Coral reefs are in danger of irreversible damage. Already, about fifty percent of coral reefs are dead and a predicted forty percent more will die in the next thirty years. Scientists are trying to find new, innovative ways to save coral reefs. There are also many ways to do your part in helping protect coral reefs. While the most important part is to address the factors that degrading the ecosystem, doing your part can help as well. One of the biggest factors that contribute to the degradation of these ecosystems is the rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some ways to decrease your carbon footprint are walking instead of driving, don’t leave the lights on constantly, and use less water. When you are at the beach, wear reef-safe sunscreens, don’t litter, and be mindful of ocean life. If you do choose to go snorkeling, don’t touch the coral reefs. Lastly, if you are passionate about protecting marine life and want to take an extra step, you could raise awareness in your community, participate in beach clean-ups, and learn more about the ocean and coral reefs.

Sources:

Coral Reef Alliance. “Coral Reef Biodiversity  | Coral Reef Alliance.” Coral.org, 2013, coral.org/coral-reefs-101/coral-reef-ecology/coral-reef-biodiversity/ .

Hancock, Lorin. “Everything You Need to Know about Coral Bleaching—and How We Can Stop It.” World Wildlife Fund, 2014, http://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/everything-you-need-to-know-about-coral-bleaching-and-how-we-can-stop-it .

NOAA. “How Does Climate Change Affect Coral Reefs?” Noaa.Gov, 13 Nov. 2019, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralreef-climate.html .

—. “What Is Coral Bleaching?” Noaa.Gov, 2010, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html .

SLO. “Coral Reef Crisis Guide.” SLO Active, SLO active, 23 May 2019, sloactive.com/coral-reef-crisis-guide/ .

Water Waste

Many people live in states and regions that are suffering from drought. About 55 million people are affected by lack of water now and if trends continue by 2030, about 700 million people will be. Some of the reasons water shortages are occurring are due to global warming’s rising temperatures, as well as changing weather patterns. Climate change is increasing the moisture and water of wet regions and dries out dry regions because the moisture evaporates more quickly. Climate change’s effects on weather and disaster patterns include an increase in the occurrence of them. This means that droughts are thought to continue to worsen. This is why it is important to be conscious of your water use, especially if you live in dry areas.

  1. Take shorter showers: this is a common tip for reducing water usage at home. Specifically, you could think about buying a timer for your showers, play a song that acts as a timer, or simply just keep track using a clock.
  2. Don’t keep the water running: whether you are brushing your teeth, cleaning the dishes, or using the sink for other purposes, keeping the water running when it isn’t necessary wastes a lot. Try to be aware of your habits and turn off the running water.
  3. Buy plants that need less water: plants like succulents, snake plants, and lavender need less water and are especially good plants to choose if you are a beginning gardener as well.
  4. Know how much water your food takes: foods like almonds take a lot of water to grow and harvest. Instead, try others like walnuts or pecans. In addition, beef, rice, sugar, and avocados take high amounts of water to produce. Look for brands that find innovative ways to reduce the amount of water used or find alternatives to these.
  5. Only run full loads of laundry and full loads of dishes in the dishwasher. Try to maximize the amount of clothing or dishes you can fit into the laundry machine or dishwasher. This wastes less water overall.
  6. Thrift clothing: it takes a lot of water to produce textiles, especially jeans and cotton. If you choose to buy new, see if you can invest in a long-lasting pair or a pair from a more sustainable store.

Sources:

“Drought.” Www.Who.Int, https://www.who.int/health-topics/drought#tab=tab_1 

September 13, and 2018 Melissa Denchak. “Drought: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, www.nrdc.org/stories/drought-everything-you-need-know#causes 

How and Why to Cut Back on Plastic Waste

Most people know that choosing a reusable  water bottle over a single-use  one can help  make a huge positive impact on the environment. Additionally, there are so many other ways you can cut back on plastic and waste.

To begin, we should start by asking, “Where does the plastic go?” Plastic can take up to one thousand years to break down in a landfill. To add, most plastics made aren’t continually used and most are used for packaging. They directly harm oceans because there are many ways that plastics can end up there such as littering and sewage. In addition, microplastics that float about in the ocean are often ingested by fish and other sea life. Nets, plastic bags, and rope can be extremely harmful to animal species if ingested or entangled. One prediction states that by mid-century, or 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Assessing yourself, your plastic use, and making changes is crucial.

Plastic material is hard to avoid, but some alternatives, as well as long-term use items, include:

  1. Bamboo: Bamboo alone is a more sustainable option because it is fast-growing and doesn’t often need pesticides. Some things you can buy bamboo are utensils, disposable plates, and straws. There are so many products made from bamboo!
  2. Stainless steel: This material is durable, easy to clean, and will last a while. Cutting back overall waste is important too. Some ideas of what you can buy are lunch tins, mugs, and straws. It is important to choose products that will last a while, reducing your overall waste.
  3. Paper: One thing that is more positive about paper than plastic is how it breaks down and degrades. Paper straws, some plates, and paper bags are not the best, but more optimal options over plastic if you must.
  4. Pottery and ceramics: Buying ceramic mugs, plates, and pots adds a pop of color and a touch of uniqueness to your home. It is long-lasting (if not broken of course) and corrosion resistant.
  5. Silicone: Although some may consider  silicone to be a rubber or a plastic, it is a more optimal option because it is long lasting and non-toxic. You can buy silicone reusable bags to store sandwiches, frozen fruit, or snacks. In addition, if you like to bake, investing in a silicone baking mat will cut back on waste and avoid running out of parchment paper last minute.

In sum, investing in longer-lasting products isn’t always easy for everyone. Do the best you can and be mindful of your carbon footprint and the amount of waste you produce. Looking into more durable and sustainable products and materials can be an investment, but if they last longer and have a smaller carbon footprint, it makes a difference.

Sources:

Parker, Laura. “A Whopping 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled.” Nationalgeographic.Com, 20 Dec. 2018, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/.

RMcIntyre. “How Does Plastic End up in the Ocean?” WWF, WWF, 17 Apr. 2018, http://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/how-does-plastic-end-ocean.

Sustainable Swaps

Switching to sustainable items and habits can be a challenge for many, but it is one of the best ways to help fight climate change. Giving up on items and habits that you have grown accustomed to can pose several difficulties; however, here are some sustainable swaps that are easier to integrate into your daily routine and a great start to becoming more sustainable:

10 Sustainable Swaps:

  1. Reusable Lunch Bag and Utensils- If you take your lunch to work or school, consider investing in a reusable lunch bag rather than using plastic bags. In the long run, this will save you money as well.
  2. Choose to Bike or Walk-  If you aren’t traveling far and the weather is nice, try walking or biking to your location rather than driving or using public transportation. It emits less carbon dioxide, and spending time outdoors is good for the mind and can prove to be very relaxing.
  3. Don’t Choose the Pre-Cut Fruit- Bring your own bag when going grocery shopping (pro-tip: always keep some in your car or by your door) and choose the produce that isn’t wrapped in plastic or pre-cut. This cuts down on waste.
  4. Upcycle Clothing/Thrift- Clothing and textiles are one of the top contributors to waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. If you have  a thrift store near your home, you can get more affordable clothing and help reduce waste. Upcycling clothing is reusing your old clothing to make something new, such as turning an old pair of jeans into a tote bag or can even be as easy as reusing a shirt as pajamas.
  5. Buy Reusable Containers- Instead of plastic bags and plastic wrap to store your food, consider investing in silicone bags and reusable plastic wrap. You can find many options to purchase.
  6. Bring Your Own Cups and Straws- If you are planning to grab a cup of coffee instead of making your own (an easily more sustainable option), bring a reusable thermos for your drink. If you can, try to always carry with you reusable straws. There are many different options of straws that you can choose, such as  silicone (which are more like traditional straws) or bamboo. However, due to the current pandemic, many stores may be unable to offer this.
  7. Keep Hand Towels Around- Instead of always reaching for  single-use towels, keep cloth napkins around in your kitchen to use more often for simple things like drying your hands or wiping up a small spill.
  8. Buy Used- Clothing isn’t the only thing that you can find at thrift stores. Books, dishes, art, and home decor are just a few of the many other items and products that can also be bought from thrift stores.  These items can also easily be found at a local flea market!
  9. Cut Back on Ordering In- Most take-out options include a lot of packaging, plastic bags, and utensils. If you can, try to limit ordering in. Find recipes that you genuinely enjoy, that fit your time frame, and aren’t too hard to make. Prepping meals or ingredients can also be a useful strategy to save time.
  10. Reduce Waste When Buying Food- If you have a farmer’s market nearby, getting your produce from there helps to support local businesses and often allows for you to bring your own reusable bags. Buying from other small local businesses often reduces the emissions from transportation. As previously stated, remembering to bring your own reusable bags when shopping is key to reducing waste.

While it can be exciting to make the switch to more sustainable items, it isn’t sustainable to throw away the products you already own. Sustainability is important, but can be hard for some as well. Try to add habits and items into your lifestyle to the best of your ability. Keep using the items you have until you get the most use out of everything. Reducing your waste is also a crucial part of this process.

Sources:

Compton, Julie. “8 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Use.” NBC News, NBC News, 18 Mar. 2019, www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/8-simple-ways-reduce-your-plastic-use-ncna984396 McFall-Johnsen, Morgan. “How Fast Fashion Hurts the Planet through Pollution and Waste – Business Insider.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Oct. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10

The Benefits of Growing a Garden:

There are so many different things that you could do  to make a positive impact and help the Earth, and starting your own garden is one of them! It might seem daunting at first, especially if you don’t have experience with gardening. However, it is easier than it seems and can even be relaxing and calming.

Location can be a constraint, but that  doesn’t make it impossible. If you live in a city, there are many places that have community gardens. If not, you can grow one in your home! Starting a herb garden in your home, even though it seems small, makes an impact and can reduce your carbon footprint and waste. Growing a garden is, essentially, a fun and exciting way to help the Earth.

Different locations, growing spaces, and climates impact what you need to know about gardening. Therefore, it is important to research your specific area. Reach out to friends, family, and people you know that could give you advice on growing a garden. If you are completely new to gardening, start small and build up. Learn about which plants grow best, when they grow best, and how to plant them before getting started. 

Planting flowers, trees, herbs, and vegetables can add color and vibrance to a garden. You can cater what you plant  to where you live. For example, if you live in a dry area, don’t choose a garden that requires enormous  amounts of water! Gardening should be both relaxing and a positive thing to do for the environment.

Environmental Benefits of a Garden:

  1. Food without the waste: Store-bought food often comes with a lot of packaging to be thrown away. Growing your own food allows you to get fresh, homegrown produce without the plastic or packaging.
  2. Improves air quality: Plants, through photosynthesis, need carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water to release oxygen and improve overall air quality. 
  3. Decreases food mileage: Food shipping takes a lot of carbon emissions, and growing local decreases that factor.
  4. Connect with nature: Many don’t get the time to be outside, but having a garden tends to allow people to take the time and connect with nature. This is important because it creates empathy for the environment and animals and has other positive effects.
  5. Transform vacant lots into lively gardens: Many city gardens started as a bare empty lot. Gardens can transform a space and make it more enjoyable to be in.
  6. Reduce Carbon Footprint:  Growing your own food reduces your overall carbon footprint by reducing packaging, shipping, and many other factors in the process.
  7. Makes for a nicer environment: A city or home garden can improve the space and add elements of greenery and life.

Sources:

BBC. “What Is Photosynthesis?” BBC Bitesize, BBC, 5 Sept. 2019, www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zvrrd2p/articles/zn4sv9q .

Cho, Renee. “State of the Planet.” State of the Planet, 8 June 2011, blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/05/26/why-we-must-reconnect-with-nature/ .

DeMuro, Katie. “The Many Benefits of Community Gardens.” Greenleaf Communities, 7 Dec. 2015, greenleafcommunities.org/the-many-benefits-of-community-gardens/.“Planting Seeds for Clean Air | Green America.” Www.Greenamerica.Org, http://www.greenamerica.org/your-home-detoxed/planting-seeds-clean-air. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.

The Problem with Food Waste and How to Help

The U.S. produces $160 billion worth of food each year, and about fifty percent of it is thrown away annually by the farms themselves, grocery stores, or even consumers. Many people are trying to fix this problem or better themselves and their habits, but many still contribute to the ongoing issue of food waste. People need to decrease the amount of food wasted because it leaves a huge carbon footprint and it takes away from the food others need to thrive. 

Beginning at food production, farms create a massive carbon footprint and throw away food that is adequate to eat. The production of food in the United States takes up 15.7 percent of the total energy budget, as well as using 50 percent of all land. In addition, the production of food takes up 80 percent of all freshwater the United States uses yearly. One would assume that with this significant amount of resources being used that the food produced wouldn’t be wasted, however, 20 billion pounds of, mainly edible, produce is lost or thrown away on farms annually- while some food is even left unharvested. 

As for the food that gets to the stores, according to a recent study, supermarkets throw away 43 billion pounds of food every year. Most of this food is unexpired and edible. It is thrown away because massive shipments of food for grocery stores arrive before people have had the chance to buy the previous shipments. In addition, at home people follow expiration dates too strictly. Expiration dates are determined by the producers of the food, and expiration dates signify when the food is at the end of its peak of taste. Food is still edible after the expiration date, but companies want their food to taste its best so consumers buy it again. Also, people overestimate the amount of food they can eat. U.S. consumers waste nearly 150,000 tons of food per day. Many believe that since food can decompose, it is okay to throw away. On the contrary, as food rots, it releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas that has a far greater negative impact on the atmosphere than CO2.

30 to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Around 300 million people live in the US, and around 41 million are facing hunger. If we were able to use that 30 to 40 percent of food wasted, national hunger could potentially be ended. Many take for granted the food they have and don’t stop to think about the impact that wasting food has on the planet. 

People ignore the problems around them because they assume that others will fix them, and it is only “one meal wasted,” but millions of people are thinking the same things. By implementing small changes, tips, and tricks to waste less food, your carbon footprint could significantly be reduced. Food waste is an apparent and growing issue. It’s important to recognize how much food waste you produce, do your research, be more mindful, and help spread the word to others. Unfortunately, this issue cannot be fixed by a single person.

Ways to Help Save Food:

  1. Compost: Instead of throwing away the scraps of food you may have leftover, you can compost them. You can purchase a composter online and manually take your composted food to your local recycling and disposal facility or use the broken down scraps as dirt for your garden. 
  2. Buy Foods with Less Packaging: Try to avoid buying pre-cut fruits or packaged veggies. In addition, try to bring reusable grocery and produce bags instead of using single-use paper or plastic ones.
  3. Save Your Leftovers: Freeze soups or stews for later and bring your leftovers for lunch the next day. You can also freeze your fruit which can be used in smoothies, oatmeal, baking, and so much more!
  4. Find Multiple Uses for Foods: If a watermelon is mushy, make popsicles. Pickle your vegetables or make applesauce out of your old apples. Be creative with the ways you save food.
  5. Eat the Skins: Many people peel their apples, peaches, cucumbers, and kiwis. But did you know that those are all edible? You can also eat the stems of strawberries and save carrot tops for broths or juices.
  6. Don’t take expiration dates too strictly: This is not saying to force yourself to eat your moldy bread or turned-blue yogurt. However, if it is a little after the expiration date and it looks, smells, and tastes fine or if it is not even opened but a few days after the expiration date, check before you chuck it.
  7. There are many creative ways to avoid wasting food. Implementing some of these strategies into your life can reduce your carbon footprint and help combat this issue of food waste.

Sources:

“Food Waste Is a Massive Problem-Here’s Why.” FoodPrint, 15 Apr. 2020, https://foodprint.org/issues/the-problem-of-food-waste/ .

“Food Waste Set to Increase to 2.1 Billion Tons Annually by 2030 – Yale E360.” Yale E360, https://e360.yale.edu/digest/food-waste-set-to-increase-to-2-1-billion-tons-annually-by-2030#:~:text=Food%20Waste%20Set%20to%20Increase%20to%202.1%20Billion%20Tons%20Annually%20by%202030,-Discarded%20food%20at&text=Each%20year%2C%201.6%20billion%20tons,third%20of%20all%20food%20produced . Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.

Kubala, Jillian. “20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 20 Nov. 2017, www.healthline.com/nutrition/reduce-food-waste.

“Reducing Wasted Food At Home | Reduce, Reuse, Recycle | US EPA.” US EPA, 18 Apr. 2013, https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home .

Why Do We Waste Perfectly Good Food In The U.S.? | AJ+. YouTube, 28 Aug. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkbOpCRyKvQ .

The Importance of Protecting Beach and Dune Ecosystems

It is summer, and to many, that means trips to the beach. People are traveling coast to coast just for a day in the sun. Unfortunately, many are unaware of how fragile and important our beaches are, with some beach goers being unaware of the damage they could be causing.

Coastal sand dunes are found in every continent except for Antarctica. Generally, they are located behind the sandy areas of beaches. These dunes are made up of three zones: the pioneer zone, the intermediate or scrub zone, and the back dune or forest zone. Dunes form when wind, rivers, or waves carry sediment from eroded land or animal skeletons, and that sediment is held together by vegetation. The ecosystems that coastal sand dunes create provide a plethora of uses. They protect inland communities from severe storms by absorbing the impacts, provide homes to many beach plant and animal species, and act as a natural barrier against wind and waves.

However, many forms of degradation are hurting dune ecosystems. Hurricanes impact the dunes the most, and it can take up to five years for dunes to recover from such events.  To make matters worse, global climate change is causing hurricanes to increase in intensity and occurrence. Sea levels are expected to rise due to an increase in ocean temperatures causing ice caps to melt, leading to a greater threat to the dune ecosystems. While hurricanes have a large impact on the dunes, the effect that humans are having is relatively worse.  Housing and building developments on or in the vicinity of dunes as well as service pipelines built over dunes weaken the roots of vegetation, causing erosion and overall destruction of dune wildlife. Even recreational use of beaches and sand dunes are a large factor. A lot of people don’t understand the importance and fragility of dune ecosystems. Many trample, pollute, litter, and even  drive over coastal sand dunes. These are only a few of the many forms of degradation. Others include overgrazing and invasive species.

Some groups are trying to help restore these ecosystems with native plant species and wildlife, though this is an extremely difficult feat. Attempts at restoration are only part of the solution. Until people are educated and aware, coastal sand dunes will continue to be harmed. 

It is important to protect dune ecosystems and many other ecosystems because too often they are being degraded or built upon. After years of degradation, it is near impossible to restore an ecosystem to its original state. Many natural ecosystems are at risk and even experiencing permanent damage. You can get involved through beach cleanups, spreading the awareness of dune importance and fragility, taking advantage of opportunities to participate in restoration, and incorporating habits into your lifestyle that reduce your carbon footprint. While it may seem like one person can’t make a huge difference, if everyone made an effort and rejected that mentality a lot could be done.

Ways You Can Help Protect Dunes:

  1. Use the boardwalk: Many beaches have a boardwalk over the dunes to the sandy part of the beach. It is important to use this to avoid trampling the plants.
  2. Don’t Litter: This goes for anywhere you travel. Don’t leave your trash on the beach or toss it to the dunes. It might seem convenient, but it hurts the ecosystem. Instead, try to bring a bag or leave extra room in one to carry your trash with you.
  3. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: A lot of factors contribute to the size of your carbon footprint, but small changes in your daily routine such as remembering to turn off the lights or walking instead of driving can help so much if everyone does their part.
  4. Get involved: Research ways you can get involved in your area. Find beach cleanup opportunities or ways you can participate in restoration practices.
  5. Educate Others: Help spread awareness of the importance of dune ecosystems.

Sources:

Perrow, Martin R, and A J. Davy. Handbook of Ecological Restoration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

“Coastal Dune Habitat Restoration Projects: Why Is Dune Restoration Important?” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/planning_dunerestoration_importance.htm