What caught my eye: August 2023

Young teens launch model boats to circumnavigate Antarctica
The boys with their model boats. Photo credit: MacNeill Ferguson
The boys with their model boats. Photo credit: MacNeill Ferguson

They say you have to catch them young! This is such a wonderfully curious and quirky story, I simply had to bring it to your attention. Ollie Ferguson (13) and his brother Harry (11) of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, have launched replica vessels of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to circumnavigate Antarctica in what is probably a world’s first. The brothers have been inspired by the 1839-43 scientific expedition that discovered the Ross ice shelf. According to an article from The Guardian, the models, both more than 3 feet long, will follow the circumpolar current around Antarctica. The journey is more than 12,500 nautical miles and could take two or more years to complete.
According to their father, MacNeill, the boats have cameras onboard to catch pictures of penguins and whales for Harry.

The models themselves are crafted from a 200-year-old piece of elm wood and copper. They are equipped with tracking devices from Icoteq and have a battery life of more than six years. The use of sustainable materials helps minimize litter, in the event the boats are lost to the ice and conditions of the Arctic. The boats were sent to family friends in the Falkland Islands until they received launch approval, and were then transported on the Pharos SG, a South Georgia fisheries patrol vessel, into the circumpolar current in mid July.

Fair winds Ollie and Harry.


Dead whale reveals valuable hoard of floating gold
Image credit: Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Image credit: Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

A large sperm whale washed up dead on a beach in the Canary Islands recently. Not common, but not so unusual I hear you say, but what was discovered next was highly unusual to say the least. Antonio Fernández Rodríguez, head of the institute of animal health and food security at the University of Las Palmas, made it his job to carry out a routine postmortem of the whale. Mr Rodríguez assumed the whale had died due to a digestive issue and got to work inspecting the animal’s colon. He discovered a hard rock stuck to the whale’s intestine. The rock, however, was not just any rock – it turned out to be ambergris rock.

Now, if like me you are unfamiliar with the term ambergris rock, I can help you. It is a very rare substance commonly referred to as floating gold. The substance is highly coveted by perfumers as it can be used to enhance the life of scents. The rock Fernández discovered was valued at 500,000 euros. It is produced by just one in a hundred sperm whales when squid beaks and other sharp objects they ingest threaten to puncture their intestines. While the trade of ambergris is illegal in the US, Australia and India, the university in La Palma is looking for a buyer. The university plans to donate the money to victims of the Island’s 2021 volcano eruption. Now that would be a great use of the money and a story of good to come from a sad incident.


Are autonomous ‘plastic-guzzling’ aquatic drones the next craze?

The idea of a ‘plastic-guzzling’ aquatic drone prowling around the oceans captured my imagination and sounds like a brilliant concept. I am always prepared to champion those innovators who can bring something new to the sector, especially ones that can help to clean up the seas.

And who would have thought that the Disney movie WALL-E would have inspired South African founder and entrepreneur, Richard Hardiman; and if you don’t know the movie, it is about a solitary robot left alone on earth to clean up human garbage.

The WasteShark is not totally new and was first deployed at Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront marina and is now in use at multiple waterway sites worldwide. The Dutch company designs autonomous robotic vessels designed to remove plastic pollutants, algae, other biomass and oil from water.

Anyway, that aside, the story relates to the filing by the company for a public offering with the American Securities and Exchange.


We have reached Plastic Overshoot Day as waste crisis unfolds

This is a distressing story frankly, and one that the world should be ashamed of. Yes, it’s official. The globe has reached ‘Plastic Overshoot Day’ – the date when the amount of plastic waste outweighs the world’s ability to manage it – for the first time.

New data published by plastic waste management data platform Plasteax and Swiss-based association Environmental Action reveals 28 July 2023 was the date that humans could no longer effectively manage the plastic waste produced worldwide annually. This means with global production of short-life plastic expected to reach 159 million tonnes this year, the international capacity for managing plastics without leakage will no longer meet the demand for the rest of the year. The data reveals that this year over 68.5 million tonnes of short-life plastic will be mismanaged worldwide.

It’s the first time that the Plastic Overshoot Day date has been announced internationally in a bid to raise attention of the global plastic crisis. In previous years, Plastic Overshoot Days have been calculated for individual countries.

I will leave you to try and make sense of this stark statistic and make up your own mind, but if you want to know more, the full report can be downloaded here.

Let’s see what next month throws up!
Mike Schwarz

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