Diving into the world of seaweeds

Hello, friends! I’ve been a bit off the map recently, and for a good reason. I’ve been in Bamfield, the definition of west coast on Vancouver Island – a place with stunning ocean and mountain vistas, charismatic wildlife including seals, bears, and eagles, and a lack of stable wifi and cell reception.

See? Good reason! During hours I would a week ago be spending reading, writing, or sunbathing, I have been collecting specimens, completing lab analyses, and gazing at the beautiful west coast surrounding the research station. My days usually span 5:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and every moment of that is filled with learning (and eating).

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The still waters of the Bamfield Inlet. Picture taken around 6 am – you can’t miss a low tide!

I am taking a Biodiversity of Seaweeds class here at the research centre, and loving every second of it. Every single day I am amazed by the incredible diversity of the seaweed community here on the west coast – multitudes of species almost too overwhelming in number to fully appreciate fill every inch of seawater-sprayed stone on these beaches. I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of what the world of phycology has to offer.

Many people are indifferent towards seaweeds, or think seaweed is a nuisance, or that it’s icky. I think that seaweeds are similar to spiders – people don’t like them, but they play a crucial role in our ecosystems. Seaweeds, along with acting as a food source for herbivores such as crabs and snails, provide necessary habitats for many species, including fish.

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Thick, slippery seaweed in the low intertidal zone near Bamfield.

Seaweeds can also be incredibly useful to us humans. Seaweed is crucial food source for many people – Pyropia, for example, is what makes Nori, which is used in sushi. Basically every seaweed out there is edible (perhaps some less palatable than others).

Some seaweeds also contain polysaccharides including agar and carrageenan – these polysaccharides are used in things like toothpaste and ice cream as thickeners and stabilizers. Many things you encounter on a day-to-day basis involve seaweed in some way.

The short of it is, appreciate your seaweeds! Algae is amazingly diverse, coming in all sorts of unimaginable shapes, sizes, and colours. Kelp yourself out and dive into the world of seaweeds!

-H

 

Plastic waste: small steps to solve an immense problem

Think about your day-to-day routine. How many items have you encountered or will encounter that involve plastic in some way? At least a handful, right?

Today we’re going to talk about plastic. What inspired this post was a discussion earlier today on plastic waste in oceans, and various ways to minimize the issue. Possible remedies brought up included those plastic-eating worms that everyone is suddenly talking about. While these very cool little critters, we were having difficulties imaging their application on as large a scale that is necessary to surmount the mind-bogglingly excessive amounts of plastic waste we as humans create. It became apparent, as it so often does, that to reduce our plastic waste, we really need to target it at its source. 

Now, this is a remedy that is understandably way more difficult than it would seem. Solutions vary from country to country, industry to industry, even person to person. As Rochman states, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to waste management. That being said, there are some little habits we all can change in order to reduce our own individual plastic waste impacts.

  1. Reusable containers. Always brought up, I know, the amount of disposable coffee mugs and drink bottles that we discard every day are ridiculous. It’s as easy as keeping a reusable container in your bag with you! You can even get a discount in some places if you bring a reusable coffee mug! It’ll probably keep your drink warmer for longer, too. So many benefits alongside helping out Mother Earth.
  2. Bamboo toothbrushes. A significant amount of plastic waste comes from things you wouldn’t expect, including toothbrushes. The good news is a biodegradable alternative exists – bamboo. An example is the bamboo toothbrush created by Live Without Plastic.
  3. Reusable bags. A huge portion of waste that ends up in oceans is low-value plastic waste such as plastic bags that you get at the store. There are the reusable bags you can buy at many grocery stores, and also some cool crafts where you can make a bag out of items you have lying around, including old t-shirts. A no-sew example is here on Craftaholics Anonymous.

These are just a few of the many ways we can all begin to reduce our plastic waste. It begins with changing a habit or two. Hopefully, with a couple of alterations to our every day routines, we can begin fixing the issue of plastic waste ruining our environment.

-H

An unfortunate stitch-uation

We’ve all heard about microbeads, but get ready for microfibers. 

So I’m as big a fleece fan as any outdoorsy twenty-something on the west coast. Owner of two Patagonia fleeces. So it breaks my ocean-loving heart to say this, but synthetic fabrics, including fleece, are ruining our ocean ecosystems.

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Microscopic microfibers. Photo retrieved from Teton Gravity Research.

Here’s the stitch-uation – tiny fibers from synthetic clothing, like acrylics and polyester, make their way from the washing machine to the oceans whenever they’re washed. This means that a high abundance of these microfibers are found near shorelines, where wastewater is released. The size of these microfibers makes them very easy to ingest for ocean organisms, and that can cause all sorts of problems; because of the stringy shape of microfibers, they can easily get caught and entangled in fish digestive systems. This is obviously a less-than-ideal situation for the fish, and it impacts us as well.

We’re impacted through the unfortunate process known as bioaccumulation – essentially when particles taken up by creatures remain in the tissue, to be consumed by that creature’s predator, and so on. Oftentimes this predator is us. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t much fancy the idea of microfibers in my body.

Now, this issue seems to be getting less attention than microbeads, even though it is a hugely important issue to address. This could be because of lack of research and knowledge on the subject, or because all efforts are focused on microbeads, or perhaps because the fact that everyone has synthetic clothing and solving this problem would be really, really, really complicated. At any rate, microfibers are not going to disappear overnight.

Patagonia has funded some research on the topic, and seem to be committed to taking a leadership role in beginning to address the issue of microfibers. As an owner of two Patagonia fleeces, I have to say I’m pretty proud of the company for stepping forward. Patagonia states that high quality fabrics seem to shed less microfibers than low quality, and stress the importance of manufacturing long-lived products. Additionally, the company states that they will try to distribute tips on how to minimize microfiber shedding, along with further developing bio-based fabrics.

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Me, in one of my cherished Patagonia fleeces. Jasper, AB.

There are other ways to minimize microfiber pollution as well. Some ways included in Plastic Pollution Coalition’s “15 Ways to Stop Microfiber Pollution Now” are washing synthetic clothing less frequently, throwing lint away instead of washing it down the sink, and finding organic fabric alternatives. They also mention the Guppy Friend – a bag you can wash your synthetic fabrics in to trap microfibers that are shed.

There is always hope, and for the issue of microfibers, finding solutions begins with lots of conversation and some slight changes to the way we treat our clothing. I am going to try to wash synthetics less, and when I do, use a Guppy Friend or find a lint filter. Let’s all defeat microfibers together!

-H

An introduction is in order.

First of all, I’m Hannah. Hey.

I will admit that very little forethought went into creating this blog, if any. The thought process was something like ‘hmm… I have a couple of empty hours to fill… what should I do? Ah, yes! I’ll make a blog!’ And onward I rode, and this is the result. A blog. Huzzah.

Now, I know you must be wondering a couple of things as you read this already-rambling introductory post. Who is this person? Why should I listen to them? What is this blog even about? How did I get here??? And these are all reasonable questions, and I will do my best to answer them in the next couple of paragraphs here. Hang in there.

Well, as I first stated, I’m Hannah! I’m an Environmental Sciences student nearing the end of my degree, and have a passion in conservation, particularly of west coast ecosystems. I have yet to figure out how I will harness this passion and use it to do something useful, but I’m getting there!

I’m going to try and not be overly science-y in this blog, but I can’t make any guarantees that there won’t be any science at all. I’m a scientist, sorry. I can’t help but geek out over things every now and then (or always).

Overall, this blog will be about the environment, conservation, and my every day struggles in living a green, sustainable life. I’m hoping that through these posts I can discover ways that everyone can be environmentally minded, and encourage people to do so.

That being said, I’m going to try my darndest not to be preachy about anything, and to remember that everyone comes from different scientific backgrounds, and that sometimes living a sustainable lifestyle sometimes isn’t all that possible. Conservation, after all, isn’t about the ecosystem so much as it’s about the people and their actions!

So, that’s me in a nutshell, and about as much information on what this blog will be all about as I myself know. Looking forward to exploring it further and expanding my knowledge!

 

-H