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Herb Herman

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world's oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

There appears to be no end to plastic. We use it, live with it, discard it and we can never rid ourselves of the stuff. It comes as food wrappers, bottles, toys, containers of all kinds, and is so pervasive that plastic is very much an omnipresent part of our world. 

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) along with other legislators propose plastic legislation. Photo by David Luces

The numbers are staggering. More than 400 million tons of plastic are produced globally every year. And when we finish with plastic, we throw it out, try to recycle it, hide it in landfills, incinerate it, but, by far, most of the plastic debris we no longer have use for ends up in lakes, waterways and in the ocean. Some 80 percent of this litter comes from land sources, while 60-to-90 percent of beach litter is comprised of plastic. It is not encouraging to learn that Americans use approximately 100 billion single-use plastic bags annually, and around a trillion are used globally. The persistence of plastic waste is legendary, a plastic water bottle lasting 450 years. Much has been written of the plastic floating islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the apparently futile means to get rid of them. The National Geographic pleadingly offers us the “Planet or Plastic?” initiative, but the seemingly endless mass of plastic waste continues to grow like a cancer on the Earth.

If one were to carry out a literature search on plastic waste scientific publications the number of citations would exceed 450,000. The tangible impact of plastic waste is well documented. Most of the articles cited address the problem of plastic distribution around the world, from India to countries in the west, even the Antarctic, and at depths of 6,000 meters in the world’s oceans. Much research concentrates on sea animals and birds the world over, either through ingesting plastic particles or becoming tangled in plastic nets and fishing gear. Many of these plastics break down to fine, toxic particles leaving numerous bird species and sea animals with a high percentage of toxins in their guts. 

Crustaceans and fish are well known to consume plastic particles. Since we eat these animals, we also eat plastics. The long-term health consequences of plastic ingestion on sea creatures and humans are still unknown. Enormous quantities of micro-sized particles of plastics from personal hygiene products get deposited in water systems and also float around the world as airborne pollutants. There appears to be no end of plastics in various forms proliferating the earth. 

Of course, scientists are constantly seeking solutions. Landfills reach enormous proportions, with no guarantee that the waste plastics thus disposed of will remain where they are placed. Incineration is also used, sometimes to supply energy as a spin-off from the heat produced, but this approach leaves pollutants escaping into the environment. Of course, recycling appears to be the panacea for ridding ourselves of plastic. Unfortunately many plastic materials do not readily lend themselves to this gratifying solution, and recycling depends to a large measure on citizens acting responsibly, collecting candidate plastic products and properly disposing of them. Furthermore, those recyclable plastics that can be conveniently collected and segregated need to be sent to appropriate facilities for processing, and there are far too few of these plants. There will probably never be sufficient numbers of such facilities for the recycling of the vast quantities of plastics, which are continually produced.

Microplastic scooped from the surf off Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, where there seems to be more plastic than sand. Photo by Erica Cirino

What then to do? One can clearly appreciate the great need that exists and the challenges faced by planners and engineers who are tasked with dealing with this overwhelming problem. Academies of sciences and governments the world over have met and discussed this global problem. Some plastic-producing industries have pledged to carry out manufacturing measures and use materials that would ensure plastics can indeed by readily recycled. Governmental organizations have outlawed the use of plastics bags, and even paper straw bans have been introduced. The use of single-use plastic bottles has been vigorously discouraged. Non-governmental organizations have made the public aware of the seriousness of the problem. The list goes on, but millions of tons of plastics continue to be produced annually, and beachgoers continue to use plastic utensils and fail to discard them responsibly. 

It is imperative to formulate policies and mechanisms through which plastic litter can be controlled. For starters, the production of biodegradable, nontoxic plastics must be encouraged. A ban on single-use plastic bags should be incorporated in any waste-controlling legislation. Government research funds should be allocated for developing cost-effective chemical and mechanical recycling technologies, and perhaps most important is the education of the public on the matter of plastic’s effect on the marine ecosystem. The time has come to act to save the planet from this scourge of plastic.

Herb Herman is a distinguished professor emeritus from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University.

The nonprofit Sea Grant is sponsoring a competition for proposing cleanup solutions.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Port Jefferson flotilla, is sponsoring a competition for high school students called Solution for Pollution. Supported by a New York Sea Grant, the competition is aimed at Long Island public and private high school students, who can submit concepts for reducing trash in our waterways and on our beaches. The focus will be on the Long Island Sound, with special reference to associated harbors. The goal will be to create cost-effective methods to return our waterways to a trash-free sea. 

Waterway trash pollution is both unsightly and unhealthy. Trash can contain contaminants that are toxic to marine animals and humans. Much of this trash is the result of individuals and governments assuming that the waterways that we enjoy and live near are virtually infinite sinks for refuse. We observe in the water and on beaches piles of trash comprised of plastic bags and other plastic products. According to National Geographic, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. 

Cash awards will be given to the top three winning entries. Entries are due by April 1, 2020, and winners will be announced soon after on May 15. 

Go to https://solution4pollution.org for detailed information.

To obtain information on New York State required boating courses or to have your vessel inspected by an auxiliary member, contact the Port Jefferson flotilla by email: info@cgapj.org; or phone 631-938-1705. Visit www.cgapj.org for more information. 

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 22-6.

Photo from U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

By Herb Herman

Boating safely is more than common sense. While you don’t have to memorize the marine Rules of the Road to be a safe boater, a careful reading would be beneficial for every boater. Pass oncoming boats port-to-port, always have a look out, have a marine radio available and preferably tuned to channel 16. Use charts so you don’t go aground. Reduce speed in harbors and in tight quarters. Know what the buoys and other channel markers mean, and, above all, be mindful of your environment. The Coast Guard calls this “situational awareness,” a mindset that is useful anywhere and at anytime doing anything, though it’s especially important out on the water. 

Old salts, the veteran hands of boats and sailing, are not born that way — they learn by experience. There is, however, a better way: take a boating safety course. These days, thankfully, boating safety courses are required in most states. These courses are given by government and private parties. The Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Power Squadron give excellent programs that are tried and true and can get a dedicated novice up to speed in a few hours. The problem is getting boaters to sign up for these courses. We have all kinds of excuses, ranging from limited time in our busy lives to talk of, “boating is like driving, all you have to do is steer the boat.” 

But boating is not so simple an activity. Steering a boat is nothing like driving a car. In driving, does the road flow in a direction different from the one you’re going? When’s the last time you’ve seen a road center lines on the water? Does the wind usually effect your driving? Put simply, boating is a unique activity and one that takes some learning to be proficient at.

Granted, there is no better teacher than experience. However, most of us didn’t learn how to drive by getting behind the wheel and driving. We usually took driver training course.  What, then, makes us think that handling a boat doesn’t require training? One full day or a couple of afternoon training sessions can add immeasurably to your enjoyment on the water and may even add years to your life. 

A central feature of the Coast Guard’s safety mantra is the Personal Floatation Device, i.e., life jackets. It is estimated that life jackets could have saved the lives of over 80 percent of boating fatality victims. Accidents can and do happen with terrifying speed on the water. There’s rarely time to reach stowed life jackets. These days floatation aids can be comfortable, so there is no excuse for not wearing one, except for, perhaps, your vanity. Doesn’t look good? How does a drowning victim look after being pulled from the water?

In fact, life jackets are required for jet skiers and paddle boaters. There are other requirements for these activities, all based on common sense. But common sense is sometimes lacking on the water. Observed in Mount Sinai Harbor last summer, a young woman on a stand-up paddler with a young child sitting there, neither of whom had on life jackets. And there are kayakers in Port Jefferson Harbor, silently gliding in and out of the mooring field while an equally mindless power boater heedlessly plows his way between the mooring buoys. These situations are disasters waiting to happen.

We have every opportunity to make this summer’s boating a safe one. Safe boating classes are readily available. Make it a family affair. Make your dream on the water come true and not end tragically. Have the family don their vests and tell them they look great. Don’t boat under the influence. Avoid speeding when it is clearly dangerous. Adhere to regulations that are posted for No Wake, etc. Make certain that your mechanical systems are functioning properly. Be prepared for someone falling overboard or some other accident. And above all, have a Vessel Safety Examination by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Contact the Port Jefferson Flotilla to arrange an inspection: email: info@cgapj.org or phone: 631-938-1705.

Have a great family summer on the water!

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

Photo courtesy of Herb Herman

It’s official — the boating season starts on Memorial Day, May 27. Here’s some tips for you before taking your vessel crashing over
the waves.

You get the family in the car and go to the marina, but being a responsible boater, first of all you check the weather forecast and make sure that you won’t face any surprises out on the water. You get to the boat and go through the required check-off items: the fuel level, check oil, Nav-lights in order, see that the personal flotation devices are in the right place — at least one per person and easily accessible in an emergency, set up the anchor for easy deployment, flares and other emergency items in order and handheld VHF radio charged and readily available. You will have an up-to-date first aid kit on board. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

Assuming you are a responsible boater, the final thing to do before you cast off is to inform the passengers and crew as to where the emergency items are and where and how to don the PFDs. And if you are a diligent boater, you file a float plan with friends, so that in the eventuality you aren’t where you’re supposed to be in the coming days, they can inform the Coast Guard of a potential problem.

All of the above seems like a lot of hard work to go out for a day trip to the local anchorage, but with some experience and perhaps some nasty events you will tend to do these things automatically. Better yet, have an actual check-off list so you forget nothing. Then you’ll have a fine day to go boating.

Added to the above list should be what the Coast Guard teaches — rather preaches — to its boat crews and to the Coast Guard Auxiliary as well:

The USCG boating statistics for the U.S. in 2017 are as follows:

• Fatalities: 658 

• Drownings: 449 

• Injuries (requiring medical treatment beyond first aid): 2,629 

• Boating accidents: 4,291 

• Property damage: Approximately $46 million 

• Number of registered recreational boats in the U.S.: 11,961,568 

Situational awareness, that is, what’s going on around you. In the parlance of the local guru, it’s called mindfulness, or the state of knowing the environment in which your boat plows. These include water state, weather — both now and what’s coming — wind, other boats and buoys, and all the impediments that exist on local waters. It’s important to have a designated lookout in case someone falls overboard. 

Above all, know the rules of the road, or the elements that dictate, mainly through common sense, what to do when boats approach one another. This covers a myriad of circumstances in which both professionals and amateurs alike find themselves. These regulations, also known as COLREGS, are devised to avoid collisions at sea. The main elements should be learned either by way of courses given by various authorities, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, or through a variety of books and videos. The Port Jefferson auxiliary gives a Safe Boating Course as well as a course entitled Suddenly in Command, conveying essential know-how when the second-in-command must take over the running of the boat.

You will, of course, have a nautical chart available for the waters in which you wish to sail. The chart, unlike a land road map, gives you broad swaths of safe passages and also tells you which regions to avoid due to shallow depths, rocks and a wide range of impediments. One can navigate using charts — themselves marvels of information collected over years of careful observations by mainly government vessels — your key to safety and enjoyment on the water, whether you’re out for a day or on a longer passage. 

If you’re a power boater or a sailor with an accessory motor, you should know something about the innards of the beast. Have you enough fuel for your planned voyage (boats frequently have notoriously inaccurate fuel gauges). Will you check the oil dip-stick, or do you assume that the marina personnel does that for you? Note they won’t unless you ask them to. Are all your oil, water, fuel and water filters clean and can you change-out a clogged filter? Water cooling sea cocks open? Can you troubleshoot easy problems and do you have the essential tools for such work? Most aspects of inboard and outboard motors can be handled by a layman with a little study. A quick course on troubleshooting your power plant by the marina mechanic can really payoff. Don’t forget that emergency “road side” help from Sea Tow or Boat US can save the day.

Paddle craft safety is of growing concern to the Coast Guard, with over 20 million Americans enjoying the sport. According to industry figures, some 100,000 canoes, 350,000 kayaks and an increasingly large number of stand-up paddlers are sold annually. A tragic consequence of these large numbers is that as of 2015, 29 percent of boating deaths were related to paddle craft. In response, the USCG has generated a Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check, which is administered free by a USCG-approved vessel examiner, such as Coast Guard auxiliary personnel. Paddle crafters should wear PFDs and have a sound producing device, such as a whistle.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

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A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

The Port Jefferson flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has been designated flotilla of the year. This is an award presented to the flotilla by the auxiliary’s 22nd Division of the 1st Southern Region of the Auxiliary. The 22 Division includes the auxiliary’s seven flotillas on Long Island, all of which report to the Coast Guard station at Eaton’s Neck.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, created by an act of Congress in 1939, is an all-volunteer civilian branch of the Coast Guard, acting as a “force multiplier,” where auxiliary members, both men and women, frequently aid the Coast Guard in wide-ranging activities. At Coast Guard stations around the country, auxiliary members carry out watch standing, that is, they will engage in communication management for a Coast Guard station. Frequently, they work in the stations’ kitchens, helping in food preparation and service. 

Many auxiliary members are talented craftspeople and will frequently work to support and improve Coast Guard station facilities.

Some 28,000 auxiliary members contribute more than 4.5 million hours of service each year and complete nearly 500,000 boating safety patrol missions to support the Coast Guard. Every year auxiliarists help to save some 500 lives, assist 15,000 distressed boaters, and provide boater safety instruction to more than 500,000 students, adults and children alike. In total, the Coast Guard Auxiliary saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The Port Jefferson USCG Auxiliary Flotilla, 1st Southern District 14, Division 22, Flotilla 06, was founded in 2003 and now has 29 members. Since its founding, the flotilla has been active in boater education and in patrols within the Long Island Sound and in the Port Jefferson Harbor and Mount Sinai areas. Additionally, in this era of deep concern about terrorism, the flotilla engages in a program to inspect the marine-related facilities and the Port Jefferson Harbor infrastructure in order to discover and to report to the Coast Guard any vulnerability in the marine area. The Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry is of particular interest to the Coast Guard and to the auxiliary. 

The Port Jefferson flotilla, as well as the other six flotillas in Division 22 on Long Island, is actively recruiting men and women of all ages who want to serve their community and country in this unique way. Interested parties are invited to attend meetings, which are held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club on Surf Road at Port Jefferson Harbor. Doors open at 7 p.m. and call to order is at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the activities of the Port Jefferson Flotilla visit www.cgapj.org, email info@cgapj.org or call 631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

A paddleboard race takes off in Port Jefferson Harbor during the annual Boater's Maritime Festival on June 6, 2015. File photo by Bob Savage

By Herb Herman

There is something special about being in a paddle boat quietly gliding along in the water without disturbing wildlife and taking the opportunity to think about nature.

Additionally, paddling represents a great opportunity to exercise the arms and the upper body. However, all of this growth in paddle sports has a dark side. Unlike power boats, with the growth in paddle craft, the number of fatalities has gone up. In 2015, 29 percent of boating deaths were paddle craft related. In 2016, fatalities climbed even higher. The Coast Guard Auxiliary Strategic Plan for 2018 focuses efforts on addressing the problem by extending information to the paddle craft community.  Additionally, the USCG has generated a Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check, which is administered by a USCG approved vessel examiner, such as Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel.

USCG vessels. File Photo

The problem with paddle boat safety starts at the retailer from which the crafts are purchased. In sales of power and sailboats, a safety package is commonly included with a new boat purchase, and there are, more likely than not, state’s boating regulations requiring boaters to take state sanctioned courses. This is certainly true of New York state. This has led to more knowledgeable boaters on the water.

In the case of paddle boating, crafts can be purchased online or at big box stores where little or no concern is given to handling and safety on the water.

“Safety equipment offered for sale may be generic rather than specific to location, and the sales personnel may or may not be knowledgeable about local needs,” said Don Goff, the national commodore’s senior advisor for paddle craft. “Many retailers do not have safety equipment specific to paddlers, including distress flags, floatable marine radios, personal locator beacons, and deck lines.”

Paddle craft boating is especially dangerous in a crowded mooring field, where all sorts of craft are maneuvering, and the paddle boater can be surprised by a power boat leaving or seeking a mooring. This problem can also occur in areas that are popular for anchoring. Channels used by ferries can present special challenges for paddlers, due to the limitations in maneuverability of large crafts. It should be remembered by paddlers and small boat operators generally that sailboats underway have limitations in their ability to maneuver and this can lead to collisions. Small fishing boats are frequently overloaded and positioned in the vicinity of harbor entrances and channels, where there is considerable boating traffic. Dangers exist for such boats to be overwhelmed by passing power boats. Of course, all small crafts are particularly vulnerable to changeable weather conditions, and just as any boater should, one must exercise extreme caution in developing bad weather conditions.

“Safety equipment offered for sale may be generic rather than specific to location, and the sales personnel may or may not be knowledgeable about local needs.”

— Don Goff

To alleviate many problems faced in these small craft, users should at least wear personal flotation devices and have a sound-producing device, such as a whistle. Among other requirements, each paddler 13 years of age or older must have a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V personal flotation device. It doesn’t have to be worn, although that’s certainly the wisest plan and one that is strongly recommended. A child 12 years old or younger must wear a USCG-approved personal flotation device. The jacket must be in “serviceable condition,” without rips, tears or deterioration that will diminish its performance. A Type V jacket can be used as long as it’s USCG-approved and applicable for the activity. Belt pouch-type inflatable personal flotation devices, must be worn on the person to meet the life jacket regulation.

Those on the water after sunset need to have a flashlight, or similar lighting device, to warn other boaters. As the operator of a vessel, you need to follow the navigation rules. Boaters are also required to report any boating accident or injury to the local reporting authority, either the USCG or other agency that has been delegated that authority.

Above all, when you’re on the water in any kind of craft, be alert and exercise awareness of your environment. Boating can be a highly pleasurable activity when common sense rules are adhered to.

To have your vessel inspected by an Auxiliary member contact the Port Jefferson flotilla by email at info@cgapj.org or by calling 631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the Flotilla Staff Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Southern District of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.