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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Our Endangered Beautiful Oceans

Published 06/19/09
By Jessica Stout, Office Generalist

Three months ago, I had the privilege of hearing world-renowned ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau speak at an intimate Ocean’s Day event in Sacramento, CA. Mr. Cousteau gave us a firsthand account of how endangered our beautiful oceans, and those living in it, are.

We saw his personal footage of uninhabited islands, whose shores were littered with garbage from more than 50 different countries, as evidenced by the language that was on the various product labeling. We watched mother birds regurgitate what should have been simply fish but was a mixture of fish and garbage, right into the guts of their babies. We saw many dead birds, whose partially decomposed bodies showed an abundance of various pieces of trash in their stomachs. What I learned that day was deeply disturbing, to say the least.

During this particular lecture, I also learned about a substance called Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE). PBDE is the flame-retardant substance that is used in every product imaginable, from mattresses, to rugs, to children’s toys. California is the State that uses it most, coating literally all of its products with it. Research has since shown that children in California have a 10 times higher incident of PBDE in their blood levels than in any other state in the country, and 200 times the incident than children in European households, due to breathing in dust particles from various PBDE-treated items. The theory is that they tend to be closer to the ground, or on the ground, when playing at home, and thus are more apt to picking up this toxic substance.

Further disturbing is the research that Mr. Cousteau and his crew member, marine biologist Holly Lohuis, have found out in regards to the levels of PBDE in marine mammals off the California coast, especially the killer whale. Killer whales are already among the most polluted marine mammals in the world and have been listed officially as an endangered species in both Canada and the U.S.

PBDEs contaminate marine life through both the air and runoff contamination into the ocean. It is believed that the toxin affects their reproduction, immune systems, and endocrine systems, among other detrimental effects. Mr. Cousteau and Ms. Lohuis, along with their organization, the Ocean Futures Society, are working diligently to change the way that PBDEs are used. They have released a film, Call of the Killer Whale, and built a website, www.toxicflameretardants.org, to further their efforts, and to help spread the word of this silent danger. I think that for the sake of our marine life, our oceans, and our children, we need to begin to sit up and take notice of this grave threat, and take action before we see an endangered species dwindle to extinction.

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