Photo by Repoort via flickr
This week, I sat down to a double-header at the Vancouver International Film Festival – Carbon for Water and Into the Gyre, both a part the “Garden in the Sea” series sponsored by WWF.
In the Western Province of Kenya, there are large issues with drinking water.
There are very few clean sources of water, and as such, water needs to be boiled. In order to do this, trees need to be chopped for firewood. And although it’s possible to chop sparingly, that idea goes out the window when a family member becomes sick and the doctor says that all water consumed needs to be potable.
The province was seeing a link between deforestation and rainfall – less trees means less rain. They were in a downward spiral, where they couldn’t consume the water they have, and treating this water could result in a future drought.
Enter Carbon for Water, an initiative by Vestergaard Frandsen aimed to assist Kenyans in reducing their environmental impacts while providing a clean source of water. The program puts free filtration systems (called FreeStraw) into thousands of homes that are simple and reliable. In turn, residents take smartphone pictures and submit them to the non-profit group, relaying information about satisfaction and use.
Since initiation, they’ve seen evidence that the program is working. Nurses in the area are seeing less water borne diseases within patients – a great success for the Western province (these diseases tend to affect many people at once – not just one person).
People in the area feel great about the initiative as well, understanding that they are decreasing their impacts on the environment and contributing less to climate change.
This story shows that the effects of climate change can be felt on small scales too, and shows need to use technology efficiently (curbing both future and projected impacts). With Kenya’s population aiming to hit 160 million people by 2100, we’ll be needed great initiatives like this to meet projected water demands!
For more information about this initiative, click here.
If you’ve been following current ocean research (no pun intended), you may know about the issue of plastic debris. There’s been a lot of discussion about the Pacific “garbage patch”, but make no mistake – there are plastics in other oceans as well.
Into the Gyre follows a team of marine scientists, volunteers, and engineers that voyaged on 30-day expedition to track plastic debris in the Atlantic gyre. It was part of a 25-year study from the Sea Education Association, a research-oriented institution based in Massachusetts. This trip, however, was there first time exploring the gyre in specific detail, where they expected there might be a large concentration of debris.
Their study involved setting tows at the water’s surface four time a day, often picking up smaller, borderline-microscopic bits of plastic. Although small, these plastics are influential in changing ecosystems – organisms will digest these, substituting foods of higher nutritional value for it. Also, microbes form relationships with these plastics, causing slow decays of the plastic that require further study.
The results were astonishing, as they found plastics in every tow. Once they entered the gyre, they found a record amount of plastics, which equaled an average density of over 1,000 pounds per square kilometer!
This documentary exposes the life of marine researched on the high seas, and calls for consumers to think critically about the materials used on a daily basis. Although recycling systems are in place in many countries, it is estimated that only 8% of plastics are placed into recycling bins in the USA (and it’s safe to assume Canada’s numbers are quite similar). Into the Gyre asks viewers to reduce the use of single-use plastics and to promote research in the growing field of plastics in the ocean.
For more information about Into the Gyre, check this out.
Kyle Empringham is co-founder and editor of a environmental news site, The Starfish. He is also currently enrolled in graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, studying Resource and Environmental Management.