Positive Eco News From December 2021: Out With The Old, In With The New

It goes without saying that this year has had its ups and downs, but as we edge our way into 2022, we want to highlight the times that December has shone above the rest in the world of sustainability. There have been some brilliant steps in the right direction last month and, of course, we have to share these smile-inducing stories with you all!

bird

Has plastic met its match?

According to a fascinating study published in Microbial Biology, over 30,000 ocean water enzymes were found in DNA samples that had the startling ability to break down and eat ten different types of plastic. This discovery is both amazing and a little harrowing … demonstrating just how much our plastic pollution has warped the ecosystem, causing such organisms to evolve in order to survive.

The study clearly showed how the number of enzymes found per sample correlated to specific locations where plastic pollution was greater, further illustrating our impact on the environment. And though this discovery is a positive one, we still don’t know the full extent of how pollution is forcing other organisms to evolve – in irreparable and potentially dangerous ways.

This really is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the exploration of biodiversity in these bodies of water, and this study is the first of its kind. This discovery could change the way we manage global waste forever, though we still shouldn’t be leaving all the work to these microscopic lives. It is still our weight to bear.

Hungry sea otters are standing up to climate change

The importance of sea otters to the health of kelp forests is a fact researchers have pondered and studied for years – they eat the nutrition-rich sea urchins that threaten the underwater forests, and by doing so limit the number of ‘urchin barons’ and support the biodiversity of the ocean floor while they’re at it.

More recently, scientists have noticed similar goings on in eelgrass meadows. But instead of curbing the uprising of eelgrass predators, the otters and their hunger is actually diversifying the genetics of the meadows.

In a study co-authored by Erin Foster, a University of Victoria graduate, and with the support of the Hakai Institute, it was discovered that by hunting in the meadows for food, the sea otters were unearthing the eelgrass and leaving behind little pockets in the ocean floor – like bald patches in the otherwise densely populated greenery.

The reason these pockets are so important is because generally, if left alone, eelgrass will reproduce by cloning itself via rootlike ‘rhizomes’ that sprout and dominate, making it almost impossible for new life to have a fighting chance when the plants do decide to flower and reproduce sexually.

However, with the otters digging up the population, the eelgrass is forced to flower and reproduce at a higher rate. The new seedlings will then fall into the pockets of space left by the otters, allowing the eelgrass to spread in regions heavily dominated by genetically identical plants (that could be carrying and passing on disease to the rest of the meadow, weakening the collective).

With rising sea temperatures and pollution threatening these meadows every day, this kind of genetic diversity is vital to the species survival. And like coral reefs and mangroves, these plants play their part for us too – by drawing carbon out of the water and atmosphere, and protecting the coast from rapidly rising sea levels.

sea otters

America takes a step in the right direction following Cop26

On December 8th, President Biden signed an executive order which makes way for the federal government to use its sway and power to reach a number of ecological milestones over the next thirty years.

Among them are aims to be entirely carbon neutral by 2050, prioritising the purchase of sustainable products, forming workforces that are climate and sustainability focussed, and producing electricity that is 100% free of carbon pollution and manufacturing, which promotes the health and resilience of local communities.

Though there is some debate over the strength of this action – with others reminding that future administrations could vote to undo it – the impact of this order could be extremely influential in the meantime. The Whitehouse are framing this move as an example set for other countries, and it just might be.

So, as we bid 2021 farewell and welcome in this new year, we’re feeling … hopeful.
From tiny organisms to large-scale governmental movements, everyone and everything has joined hands with the earth as we step into a brighter tomorrow.

We hope you enjoyed this month’s Positive Eco News! Did anything else put a smile on your face this month? Join the Wearth London community and conversation on Instagram at @wearthlondon.