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Executive Summary for December 22nd

In this week’s roundup, we report on a case of scientific misconduct involving a high-profile plastic pollution study, a decision by Chile to limit bottom trawling, and a Greenpeace effort to pinpoint brands associated with beach litter.

Published on Dec. 22, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Closure to Misconduct Case for Headline-Grabbing Microplastics Study

Policies addressing microplastics that pollute the ocean won’t advance without good science behind them, and that goal wasn’t helped by one of the bigger research scandals of 2017. Now, a finding has come from the university that conducted a misconduct investigation.

In 2016, a study published in the journal Science made global headlines for its conclusion that young fish prefer microplastics to their natural food, but that eating plastic makes them more vulnerable to predators. But soon several scientific whistleblowers called out potential inconsistencies with the data, and by May 2017, the journal Science retracted the study.

This December, after extensive investigations, a board at Sweden’s Uppsala University – where the two researchers, Oona Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv, work – made a decision on the case, finding them guilty of research misconduct. The report alleges that primary author Lönnstedt had intentionally fabricated data, since the experiments were not conducted during the period and to the extent described. Her supervisor, Eklöv, failed to check her work and also didn’t ensure that she secured an ethical approval for animal experimentation, it said. Eklöv told Science recently he wasn’t very involved in the work itself: “I have never done research on microplastics and I probably will never do research on microplastics.”

Chile Ends Fish-Trawling Creep

Ocean conservation groups applauded a recent decision made by Chile to protect 98 percent of its waters from the environmentally destructive fishing practice of bottom trawling.

The measure isn’t necessarily meant to affect current trawling, as the government stated that it doesn’t “impact economic activity, and it does not affect sources of employment,” according to a press release form Oceana, a conservation nonprofit. It does, however, stop the gradual expansion of bottom-trawling activity. A 2016 assessment conducted by Oceana found that trawling activities were growing by 214 square miles (554 square km) a year. Oceana Chile director Liesbeth van der Meer called “freezing the trawling footprint” a “great step toward the protection of the ocean.”

Chile, which has nearly 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of coastline, has lately been considered a world leader in ocean protection. According to National Geographic, it has designated more than 400,000 square miles of marine parks since 2010 that ban extractive activities. “Chile is a fishing country, and most fisheries there are fully exploited or overexploited, but this government has realized that there is no future of fisheries without significant protection,” said Enric Sala, executive director of National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project, when Chile announced two new reserves a few months ago.

Branding Ocean Litter

According an audit conducted by activist group Greenpeace USA, Pepsi, Nestle and Coca-Cola are the brands most responsible for single-use plastic trash littering urban shores of the United States.

The group worked with local organizations in 31 cities that led beach cleanups to identify the biggest litter contributors. Mars and the Hershey Company were the two other companies rounding out the top five. Volunteers in three cities – Miami, New York City and Long Beach, California – collected the most plastic trash.

This year, Greenpeace began to specifically target Coca-Cola with a global campaign to pressure the company to phase out single-use plastics. In Europe, where it has so far focused its efforts, Coca-Cola recently pledged that it will work with cities so that 100 percent of its packaging is collected for recycling and ensure at least half of its bottles are made from recycled materials by 2025.

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