Construction Notice: Seal Perimeter Fence

As of April 18, our team is installing fencing around the perimeter of our seal exhibit for the seals’ safety and to comply with USDA regulations. The exhibit will remain accessible during normal operating hours for visitors to observe our seals, and work is expected to be completed within a few weeks.

An osprey stands in a nest that has a piece of plastic stuck in the side. Photo Credit: Reese F. Lukei, Jr.

Osprey Photo Credit: Reese F. Lukei, Jr. 

This year’s Earth Day theme is Planet vs. Plastics, highlighting the impact plastic use has on the environment and how to mitigate the impact of plastic waste for a cleaner, healthier world.

Plastic is the most common debris found in the oceans. Plastics derived from fossil fuels like petroleum create both physical and chemical hazards for humans and wildlife alike. Animals can become entangled or trapped in plastic waste found in the environment, which can cause injury and even be fatal if the entanglement restricts movement and the ability to hunt, eat, or escape predators. This threat extends to many animals from birds and fish to reptiles and mammals, including threatened species whose populations are dwindling.

Ingesting plastics is known to cause illness and even death in wildlife. For example, sea turtles who consume jellies often mistake plastic bags in the ocean for jellies, and will have difficulty eating and digesting food after swallowing a bag. Microplastics , which are plastic pieces less than five millimeters long, have been found in marine organisms all along the food chain, posing health hazards to animals whose stomachs are being filled more with plastic and less with nutrients.

Sea nettle floating in exhibit. Plastic bags are often confused as jellies by sea turtles that then ingest them.

Humans are not immune from the harmful effects of plastics. Ingesting microplastics has been associated with a 20% increased risk of childhood cancer, and some research indicates the accumulation of microplastics in the body can alter DNA and produce developmental issues. Researchers from EARTHDAY.ORG have produced a report on the prevalence of microplastics in the environment and the home, as well as the dangers they pose to people, particularly infants and children. You can read the full report on their website here.

Here are a few simple ways to play for Team Planet and combat plastic.

Trash the Trash!

One of the most tangible and immediate ways to mitigate the impacts of plastic is to remove it from the environment. The Virginia Aquarium, as well as several other organizations in our area and across Virginia, organize regular cleanups to remove trash and debris from nature to protect wildlife and avoid microplastics from leaching into our local ecosystems and waterways. Participating in just one of these cleanups can make a big difference, and joining a volunteer organization for frequent cleanups is a great way to show love to your community!

Local to Hampton Roads? Keep an eye out for opportunities such as our monthly Creek Cleanup with our Aquarium volunteers to help clean the area around the Aquarium and Owls Creek, or for another special volunteer event . You can sign up for a cleanup with Lynnhaven River Now , a Virginia-Beach based organization that protects and restores local waterways. And as much of Hampton Roads is a bayside community, you can participate in one of the Clean the Bay Day cleanups happening around the Chesapeake Bay this June.

Aside from our cleanups, the Aquarium also offers other special volunteer opportunities to keep plastic waste out of the ecosystem. Our E-Cycling Event gives locals the opportunity to bring old electronics and other household waste items for responsible disposal. Our next E-Cycling Event will be held later this year, so hold onto any electronics you need to dispose of so they don’t end up in the landfill.

Are you a Virginia resident? Check out the events offered by Keep Virginia Beautiful throughout the year, including the Great Virginia Greenup  efforts to beautify the state of Virginia through the spring each year. Plus, Clean the Bay Day is held in June, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has multiple area chapters , offering volunteer opportunities for cleanups, oyster reef restorations, and more.

Beyond Virginia The Surfrider Foundation has chapters all around the coasts of the United States, including along the Gulf Coast and the coasts of the Great Lakes! They support the protection of the oceans and offer year-round volunteer opportunities to the public.

A group of adult and youth volunteers in high-vis vests (plus a dog) pose for a photo on Clean the Bay Day.

Other Ways to Combat Plastic

Like cleanups, using products made from recycled plastic can help keep plastics out of the waste stream longer with a new form and purpose. Many everyday items from sneakers and bags to furniture and home décor are made with recycled plastics that were removed or kept out of the environment. For example, the carpet in our Jellies Gallery is made from reclaimed ocean plastic, keeping this plastic out of marine ecosystems. Our Aquarium Stores offer certain products made out of recycled plastic bottles removed from the ocean, such as socks and stuffed animals, and they even sell kids’ beach toys made from recycled plastic items reclaimed from beaches!

You can also opt to reduce plastic usage in your daily life altogether. Our stores sell reusable sponges, straws, and food storage bags made from environmentally-friendlier materials to help replace the plastic versions in your home. One notable source of marine debris is the use of plastic balloons, often released during celebrations. These balloons can entangle animals caught in their strings, and can cause health problems, often fatal, for animals that ingest them. Take the pledge against balloon use and find eco-friendly alternatives for your celebrations through .

Every action you take to combat plastic in our world, however large or small, helps provide a safer, cleaner environment for both humans and wildlife. Help us contribute to a future without plastic and save our planet and our health!

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