Figure from Whitenack et al. 2011, the sixgill tooth is the one in the lower right! This paper studied teeth of different shapes using Finite Element Analysis (FEA). When Lisa inputs the shape of the tooth, how elastic the tooth is, and how much force the tooth experiences into her computer program, FEA will map out stress on the entire tooth. High points of stress are where a tooth would be likely to break.
Learn more about the bluntnose sixgill shark and it’s unusual shaped teeth below!
Overall concerns include a lack of understanding of the problem (including but not limited to the fact that much of the harmful ocean plastic is small and well-dispersed), insufficient structural integrity for a large object that will be deployed in the open ocean (which would result in the object breaking and creating even more ocean garbage), and the fact that this device is designed to aggregate objects of a certain size to remove them from the water but cannot distinguish between plastic and living things.
Mainstream media coverage has been noticeably less critical of the Ocean Cleanup, often presenting the idea as revolutionary and it’s creator as a genius.
Artist’s conception of the Ocean Cleanup, from TheOceanCleanup.com
I am not an expert in ocean plastic pollution. However, the uncritical tone of most mainstream media coverage of the Ocean Cleanup does not seem to correspond with my impression of expert opinion on this matter from speaking with expert colleagues who study this.
Through professional contacts, I developed a list of 51 ocean plastic pollution experts who work in academia, government, and the environmental non-profit sector, and I sent them some questions about the Ocean Cleanup. 15 (4 in academia, 5 each in government and the non-profit sector, and 1 in industry) agreed to participate in an anonymous survey. While this is not (and not intended to be) an exhaustive survey of the entire field of ocean plastic pollution, the broad agreement among a diverse group of experts is telling. Below, please see what they had to say through some representative quotes. Some respondents chose to provide an on-the-record quote, while many chose to remain anonymous out of concerns about reprisal.
I also asked Lonneke Holierhoek, COO of the Ocean Cleanup, to respond to these concerns. Her comments are included in each section.
If you’ve been following along with our weekly round-up of ocean news, the Monday Morning Salvage (and, if not, why aren’t you reading the Monday Morning Salvage? It’s your one stop shop for the latest and greatest in ocean science and conservation news!) you probably noticed that we called for scientists and conservation professionals to write OpEds or Letters to the Editor this May. We heard from several folks that they submitted articles, though we haven’t heard back that any have been published yet (please leave a link in the comments if yours have). So, we’re extending the challenge and asking science and conservation professionals to take a stand for something you care about and submit a letter or article to your local paper.
Why? A recent study with a large sample size, published this year, demonstrated that OpEds can play a significant in shaping people’s opinions about political and social issues. Though this CATO Institute funded study has a distinctively libertarian slant in the issues they chose to use as treatments, the results are reasonably compelling. Not only did OpEds influence how readers felt about an issue, but regardless of political group, exposure to an OpEd made the reader more likely to agree with the author’s position.
“We find limited evidence of treatment effect heterogeneity by party identification: Democrats, Republicans, and independents all appear to move in the predicted direction by similar magnitudes… Despite large differences in demographics and initial political beliefs, we find that op-eds were persuasive to both the mass public and elites, but marginally more persuasive among the mass public.”
This month’s reward is the barb from a Pacific Cownose Ray, Rhinoptera steindachneri. This particular specimen is a part of the Texas A&M University Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collection, and was scanned as part of the #ScanAllFishes project!
I reached out to Heather Prestidge and Kevin Conway, curators of the Texas A&M collection. They told me that this particular specimen was collected in 1993 by John McEachran (author of the multi-volume “fishes of the Gulf of Mexico“) and Janine Caira (now a parasitologist at UConn). It was collected in Baja California, Mexico. Heather was pleased to learn that I was using their specimen for this project, and said “our specimens have an unlimited number of uses even after their primary project!”
Here’s a picture of another specimen of the same species from this collection, you can see why they’re sometimes called “Golden Cownose Rays”.