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Envirocation

Green Activities Onboard the OSV Bold

As much as possible, as the OSV Bold is operating it is working to support EPA's mission to protect ocean and coastal environments. Staff and crew are dedicated to operating the vessel in the most environmentally sustainable manner. The latest technologies and highest standards are used to ensure that the ship is not degrading the resources that we seek to protect.

No Discharge Practices

The discharge of untreated or partially treated human waste from ships can contribute to high bacteria levels and increased human health risks. This is especially true in lakes, slow-moving rivers, marinas, and other bodies of water with low flushing rates. Black-water (sewage) and gray-water (wastewater from showers, sinks, laundries, and kitchens) are kept in holding tanks on the OSV Bold. The waste in the holding tanks is usually pumped to an on-shore facility at the end of a mission. If a holding tank fills on a voyage, a marine sanitation device treats and disinfects the waste. After treatment, that water is disposed of only beyond three nautical miles from the shoreline. In addition, all shipboard-generated garbage, cooking oils, and greases are collected and disposed of at onshore facilities. Any liquid collected in the bilge is disposed of onshore in special reception facilities. Strict rules also apply to on-land disposal of all chemicals used in ship laboratories.

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Lower Sulfur Dioxide Emissions

Sulfur dioxide is an air pollutant that ships generate from burning fuel. These emissions can travel over long distances and contribute to respiratory illness and the formation of acid rain. Whenever available, the OSV Bold uses an ultra low-sulfur fuel that significantly reduces harmful air emissions.

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Better Hull Coating

Hull coatings prevent corrosion as well as biological growth. These coatings reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency of a vessel. The hull coating on the OSV Bold does not contain organotin pesticides and information collected by EPA and the Department of Defense (DoD) indicates that the hull coating used on the OSV Bold has the lowest copper leach rate of hull coatings approved for use on DoD vessels. A lower leach rate means a lower impact to surrounding waters.

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Non-Toxic Fire-Fighting Foam

EPA uses a protein-based fire-fighting foam that can handle any possible fires on the ship that is environmentally safe.

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Ballast Water Management

Ballast water tanks temporarily hold water to provide draft (immersion depth of a vessel) and stability. This ballast water taken on in one place, transported and then discharged in another can carry invasive and foreign organisms from one waterbody to another. This is a main pathway for introducing and spreading nonnative species that can cause harm to human health, the environment, or even the economy if they deplete another species of fish or decimate part of the local food chain. Ballast water exchange (emptying and refilling ballast tanks) is done by the OSV Bold at sea to limit transfer of invasive species between ports.

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Best Management Practices

Best management practices are employed in all of the daily operations of the OSV Bold. Oil is carefully collected, and fueling of engines on rigid-hull inflatable boats is done with the utmost care to avoid spills. Special absorbent products and materials are used to collect drips of oil, grease, or fuel. In addition, EPA supports shipyards that employ creativity and innovation to make their operations more environmentally friendly.

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Ocean Environmental Issues

Red Tide

Red tide along a coastline
Red tide along a coastline

A "red tide" or "harmful algal bloom" is a natural event caused by rapid growth of microscopic, single-celled algae that makes the ocean looks red or brown. This is especially true in the summertime, and red tide can be exacerbated, or worsened, when heavy rains wash man-made nutrients from mainland activities into rivers and the sea. This toxic phytoplankton has shown up in every ocean and sea throughout history; even written about in ancient Egypt. Red tide was first discovered in New England in 1972, after Hurricane Carrie passed through the Gulf of Maine a brought phytoplankton with it that had come from a massive algal bloom in the Bay of Fundy. The counter-clockwise winds intensified the traditional water patterns and deposited red tide dinoflagellates, (also known as Alexandrium tamarense), along the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Most species of algae are harmless plants, but some naturally produce a toxin that can contaminate shellfish that eat the algae. Animals or humans who eat the contaminated shellfish can be poisoned. Local fishing areas are usually closed during major red tides to prevent harvest and sales of contaminated shellfish, and local fish advisories tell you when to avoid buying or eating shellfish.

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Dredge Disposal Site

The OSV Anderson
The OSV Anderson

Harbors help ships transport supplies (fuel, food, other goods and supplies…) to and from the United States and other places around the world. River runoff and sedimentation fill harbors over time, and shipping lanes have to be dredged to stay deep enough for effective use of these navigation channels. When harbor bottom sediment is clean, it can be dredged (or dug up) and disposed of offshore, as long as it is monitored, and done carefully. Since sedimentation brings layers of harbor sediment over time, if you were to take a cross section of a harbor bottom, you could find traces of artifacts, chemicals, and even pristine sand and clay depending on what years that sediment came to rest there. The deeper the sediment is, the more likely it is that it will be clean, as it was very likely brought by glaciers or other geologic events a long time ago, before human activities would have made an impact. The EPA works hard to ensure that the material being brought out in the ocean is clean and will not endanger human health or the marine wildlife.

Before EPA was created, there were places offshore where humans left toxic waste, garbage and polluted harbor material. The Bold's smaller and older predecessor, the OSV Anderson helped locate some of these sites, and some could be cleaned up.

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Invasive Species

Invasive species are plants and animals that are not native to an ecosystem, and their introduction will likely cause environmental or economic harm. Invasive species pose a large threat to our terrestrial, coastal and freshwater ecosystems. They can affect aquatic ecosystems directly or indirectly by affecting the land in ways that harm aquatic habitats. New species introduced to a sensitive area can sometimes be new predators that the native species are unequipped to contend with, or they can wipe out an important food source and cause severe disruptions in the food chain. For this reason, invasive species represent the second leading cause of species extinction and loss of biodiversity in aquatic environments worldwide.

Effects of invasive species in aquatic ecosystems includes decreased native species populations, modified water tables, and changes in run-off dynamics (for example if a different wetland grass takes over…) among other alterations. These ecological changes in turn impact many recreational and commercial activities dependent on aquatic ecosystems. Common causes of the introduction of aquatic invasive species include ballast water, aquaculture escapes (pet fish being let go in the wild), and accidental and/or intentional introductions.

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Marine Garbage and Debris

Marine debris on a beach
Marine debris on a beach

Marine debris is a problem in oceans, coasts and watersheds throughout the world. Similar to the garbage problems we face from trash and litter on land, there is a big problem from garbage in the oceans. The biggest difference is that less people see ocean garbage and debris, and as a result there is less public concern about it. However, that doesn't mean that serious ocean garbage problems don't exist.

The "definition" of marine debris is any persistent solid material that is directly or indirectly disposed of or abandoned into the aquatic environment. Garbage can end up in the ocean from human activities anywhere in a watershed, from an overturned trash can many miles away from the ocean, or from litter left on a beach. Marine debris can also result from ocean sources such as galley waste and other trash from ships, recreational boaters and fisherman and off shore oil and gas exploration and production facilities.

Turtle entangled in marine debris (ghost net)
Turtle entangled in
marine debris (ghost net)

Each year millions of seabirds, sea turtles, fish, sharks, and marine mammals become entangled in marine debris or ingest plastics which they have mistaken for food. As many as 30,000 northern fur seals per year get caught in abandoned fishing nets and either drown or suffocate. Whales mistake plastic bags for squid, and birds may mistake plastic pellets for fish eggs. At other times, animals accidentally eat the plastic while feeding on natural food. Humans can also be directly affected by marine debris. Swimmers and divers can become entangled in abandoned netting and fishing lines like marine organisms. Beach users can be injured by stepping on broken glass, cans, needles or other litter.

EPA has created laws and programs that prevent ocean garbage dumping, and work to control marine pollution, solid waste treatment, and wastewater management, but that isn't enough. It takes even a little bit of effort from everyone to make sure the ocean garbage problems continually get better and not worse.

Have you ever said, "By myself I don't make a difference." Well imagine letting a piece of garbage go in a parking lot and watching it blow away. That could eventually find its way to the ocean. Now imagine all of your friends, or everyone in your school doing the same thing… that's a lot of garbage! If everyone is doing the same thing, it makes a BIG difference.

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CSOs – Combined Sewer Overflows

Combined sewers are sewer systems that were designed to carry sewage and stormwater (from road runoff, driveways, parking lots. . .) in the same pipe to a sewage treatment plant. After heavy rainfall or snowmelt events, the wastewater volume is often more than the sewer system or treatment plant can handle. To prevent a catastrophic backup event at a treatment facility, these combined sewer systems were designed to overflow after rain events. However, allowing the sewers to overflow means that the excess wastewater is being let go directly into rivers, lakes and coastal areas. Usually this combined sewer wastewater contains untreated human waste and industrial wastewater, chemicals, oils from roadways, and sometimes even garbage and other debris.

CSO discharges have widespread impacts, causing beach closings and shellfishing restrictions due to high bacteria levels in the water from the untreated waste. High bacteria levels in shellfish can be extremely hazardous to human health if contaminated seafood is ingested. In some instances, CSOs discharge raw sewage into rivers that also serve as primary sources of drinking water. Exposure to viruses, bacteria, pathogens and other CSO-related pollutants or toxics is an obvious public health concern. Swimmers, canoeists, and others exposed to CSO contaminants are vulnerable to many serious health effects. Wildlife and aquatic habitats are also adversely affected by CSO pollutants which lead to higher water temperatures, increased turbidity, toxins and reduced oxygen levels in the water.

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Hypoxia

Hypoxia refers to an ecological condition that occurs in aquatic environments that experience a reduction of the dissolved oxygen concentrations that are necessary for supporting marine life. Low levels of dissolved oxygen cause significant, negative ecological effects in bottom water habitats. The primary cause of hypoxia is the presence of excess nutrients in the water. Nutrients are the chemical elements and compounds that are vital to the growth and survival of plants and animals. Sometimes these nutrients are natural, others are man made and used on land in excessive amounts allowing extra nutrients to be washed away by rainfall and into nearby bodies of water. For aquatic species, the various forms of nitrogen and phosphorus are the most important nutrients.

While certain levels of nutrients are essential for plants and animals, if nutrient levels become too high, it can disrupt the healthy balance of the ecosystem and cause an intensive growth of algae to occur. Too much algae growth will decrease the dissolved oxygen in the water. As the algae die, the dead plant material settles to the bottom and begins to decay. The bacterium that thrives on algal decomposition uses up dissolved oxygen in the process. This cycle leaves less and less dissolved oxygen for other forms of marine life, which seriously threatens their ability to survive in that area. This is how the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone has been nicknamed, "The Dead Zone."

Excessive nutrients can enter the water from river and stream runoff from a variety of sources including fertilizers used in agricultural fields, golf courses, lawns, as well as soil erosion and the discharge from sewage treatment plants.

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Coral Bleaching

Bleached Corals
Bleached Corals

As a result of consistently rising sea temperatures, and the changing acidity in ocean and coastal areas, coral bleaching is becoming a more widespread concern around the world, especially within the past two decades. The bleaching and mortality of coral causes serious ecological, social and economic impacts to both the ecosystems and surrounding communities that depend on them. Coral reefs are home to thousands of species, play a vital role in the successful functioning of aquatic ecosystems, and can be a significant eco-tourism attraction, bringing economic help to tropical areas.

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Watershed

You've probably never heard of a watershed, but if you have then you're way ahead of the game! Many people mistakenly think that they do not live in a watershed. The truth is, everyone, anywhere does. A watershed simply means the area around a body of water that collects and feeds rainwater and runoff to that water body. Think of a watershed as a huge drainage ditch that could encompass many towns at a time. All of the runoff from roads, driveways, parking lots, and water which goes down in the soil and into groundwater, flows to a nearby stream, pond, lake or river that can carry that water to the ocean.

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