Volvo Ocean Race Research Finds Microplastics In Remote Areas

February 13, 2018 by  
Filed under Plastic

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Research

Published on February 12th, 2018
by Steve Hanley

 

February 12th, 2018 by


The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the most grueling sporting contests in the world. The teams race a total of 46,000 miles over a period of 9 months. Each leg is roughly 6,000 miles long and takes up to 3 weeks to complete — three weeks in which the sailors often get by on a few hours of sleep a day and eat reconstituted freeze dried food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For a brief introduction to what they experience out on the water, where wind speeds can exceed 50 miles per hour, check out the video below.

 

The theme of this year’s race is raising awareness of about the massive amounts of plastic debris that is floating in the ocean’s of the world. Leaving Hong Kong last week, one team got its keel tangled up with some plastic sheeting and had to sail backward briefly to get rid of it. One of the seven teams in the competition is called Turn The Tide On Plastic and is sponsored by the Mirpuri Foundation, a nonprofit foundation based in Portugal that is deeply involved in ocean plastic research.

Microplastics Found In Remote Areas

The course this year included a stopover in Cape Town, South Africa before heading across the South Indian Ocean to Melbourne, Australia. Turn The Tide On Plastic used special equipment along the way to take samples of the ocean water it was travelling through. When it reached Melbourne, those samples were flown to the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research located in Kiel, Germany. There they were analyzed.

Researcher Sören Gutekunst reports the samples taken from the South Indian Ocean — an area of the world that is devoid of most human activity, showed 42 particles of plastic per cubic meter — an unexpectedly high number given the remoteness of the area.

“Data on microplastics has not been taken from this extremely remote area before and what we found was relatively high levels,” Gutekunst tells The Guardian. “There are places in the ocean which are not being observed and that is why it is so special for us to be doing this. It is amazing that we have the opportunity and this could lead to much further knowledge about what is happening with microplastics in the ocean.”

Other samples collected during the race showed the highest microplastic levels around Europe’s north Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, ranging from 180 to 307 particles per cubic meter. High levels were also recorded off the coast of Cape Town — 152 per cubic meter — and the Australian coast — 115 particles per cubic meter.

Plastics Found 6 Miles Down In The Marianas Trench

Perhaps the most startling news about contamination in the ocean was reported a year ago by researchers at the University of Newcastle in the UK. Small crustaceans that live at the bottom of the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean — the deepest part of the ocean known —  were harvested by a robotic underwater research vessel. They were found to have 50 times more toxic chemicals in their bodies than crabs that live in polluted waterways in China..

“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” said Alan Jamieson, who led the research. “The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet.”

Some people, many of whom are now employed in the Trump administration, pooh pooh such concerns. They believe the earth, the atmosphere, and the oceans are so enormous that no amount of human activity could possible have an effect on them. They are wrong. Using the planet we live on as a communal cesspool is simply arrogant and unbelievably stupid. The fact that corporations have been doing so for so long in the pursuit of profits is criminally negligent. Cleaning up the mess humanity has made will take centuries and hundreds of trillions of dollars. But the implications of not doing so are simply unthinkable.

 


 

 

About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

Researcher Compares Garbage Patch In Pacific Ocean To Floating ‘Landfill’

August 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Plastic

LONG BEACH (CBSLA.com) — A massive patch of garbage floating in the ocean between California and Hawaii continues to grow and have an adverse impact on the ecosystem, researchers announced Friday.

KNX 1070’s Bob Brill reports Capt. Charles Moore and his research team are returning to their home base in Long Beach after nearly two months at sea studying the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

Researchers Compare Garbage Patch In Pacific Ocean To Floating ‘Landfill’

Moore was part of a crew of scientists assembled by the Algalita Marine Research Institute who lived for 30 days in July amid the debris to evaluate long-term trends and changes in the Gyre by merging data collected over the past 15 years with new 2014 data.

But after spending nearly two months at sea studying to display samples of plastic pollution and to transfer fish samples to area research labs for testing to determine the extent of toxic infiltration into the ecosystem, Moore said the garbage patch appears to be getting worse.

Moore, who has studied the debris patch known as the Pacific Gyre for over 15 years, said the amount of pollution in the North Pacific Ocean has grown exponentially from plastic and trash washed into the sea by tsunamis, storms and other disasters.

“My mind is blown,” said Moore. “It’s like an landfill got inundated with water and all the stuff in the landfill started floating.”

As many as hundreds of miles of concentrated floating plastic in the North Pacific is visible to the naked eye, according to Moore.

The vast majority of the garbage usually hits well north and south of Southern California because of natural barriers such as wind and currents, but plastics could alter endocrine systems that are vital to the health of both fish and humans, said Moore.

“Enlarged and discolored livers in the fish, we’re looking at hormone disruption, the kind of things that we see in fish that are impacted by plastics in rivers,” Moore said. “We already know that many fish that are male have been feminized living downstream from places where there are chemical pollutants.”

Scientists say the primary risk with synthetic plastic debris is it can be easily confused with natural food due to its small sizes and lower-than-seawater density.

Moore and his crew are scheduled to dock at Alamitos Bay Landing in Long Beach around 4 p.m., according to officials.

Plane Search Raises Questions About Sea of Floating Junk

March 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Plastic

By


HT malaysia map search plane ml 140328 16x9 608 Plane Search Raises Questions About Sea of Floating Junk

The search area for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been shifted nearly 700 miles northeast, March 28, 2014. (Australian Maritime Safety Authority)

The search for debris from missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has not turned up any evidence of a crash, but it has trained the world’s gaze on thousands of pieces of junk floating on the ocean’s surface.

Much of that debris could be made up of plastics, old appliances or parts of homes that have washed away from fragile communities, and cargo containers from ships, according to ocean advocacy group One World One Ocean.

Check out some of the facts about what’s really floating in our oceans:

The Pacific Garbage Patches: The most heavily-researched and well-known example of plastic pollution in the ocean is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, made up of some 3.5 million tons of plastic beverage bottles, grocery bags, and plastic goods that have been pushed together by water currents that circulate between the west coast of North America and the east coast of China and Russia.

The Five Ocean Gyres: Pollutions can easily get caught in one of the five “gyres” of the ocean: the northern and southern Atlantic gyres, the Indian Ocean gyre, and the northern and southern Pacific gyres. The term describes water that moves in a circular, rotational current over a vast space in the ocean, pulling in stray plastics as it moves until they collide and merge with one another.  Because these gyres are trafficked heavily by cargo ships, the garbage patches contain large objects that have gone overboard from ships, including entire cargo containers.

Indian Ocean’s Plastic Problem: Researchers only began focusing on plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean in recent years, and in 2010 discovered garbage patches much like the famous Pacific Garbage Patch, according to Coastal Cares, another clean ocean advocacy group.

Plastic Breaks Down: As the garbage floats into the gyres it is broken down by salt and UV rays and begins releasing chemical properties into the water that then enter the food system, according to the Scripps Institute at the University of California San Diego. The plastics also fall into smaller pieces that can make them difficult to clean up.

Plastic Bag Bans Are Not Enough

November 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Plastic

2013-11-07-marinelitter.jpg

By Ashley Verhines

Plastic bag bans are not enough to save the oceans from a growing tide of plastic pollution. Local efforts are crucial, but a concerted global approach is necessary, say the authors of a new report from the UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment and UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

The report, “Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter: A Global Action Agenda,” lays out the sources and impacts of marine litter–all human-generated, artificial, often petroleum-based, solid materials that are discarded or lost in the ocean and remain there–and it recommends domestic and global policy recommendations to combat the scourge.

Ultimately, the authors conclude, a global treaty likely will be required to stop the estimated 20 million tons of plastic bags, food packaging, balloons, and other plastic debris that enter the oceans annually. With a 5 percent increase in non-biodegradable plastic production each year, the world’s oceans are filling at a rate that is wreaking devastating effects on marine wildlife, coastal economies, fisheries, and human health. Degraded coral reefs, damaged vessels, lost tourism, diminished fishery revenues and other symptoms of plastic-littered marine ecosystems equate to billions of dollars of losses worldwide each year.

Current policies fail to fully address the problem as many of the main sources of the litter fall outside the jurisdiction of any single nation and existing international agreements lack enforceable standards.

“Plastic marine litter is a growing global environmental threat imposing major economic costs on industry and government. Marine plastic pollution slowly degrades and has spread to every corner of the world’s oceans from remote islands to the ocean floor. Voluntary half measures are not preventing the global devastating impacts to marine life, the economy and public health,” said report coauthor Mark Gold, associate director of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “Although there is no one panacea, we have identified the top ten plastic pollution prevention actions that can be implemented now to begin drastically reducing plastic marine litter.”

“Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter” reviews the current studies, policies and international agreements surrounding plastic marine litter, and proposes a “Top 10” list of recommended actions–actions the authors recommend implementing by 2025–to dramatically reduce current rates of plastic marine disposal.

Authors of the report call on the global community to develop a new international treaty and amend existing international and regional laws to include more aggressive monitoring and enforcement actions. This would include prompt banning of the most damaging and common types of plastic marine litter. The report also recommends the implementation of an “ocean friendly” certification program for all plastic products, better infrastructure for waste management, development and expansion of marine litter education and awareness, and establishment of funding sources for comprehensive clean-up efforts.

“Because global mismanagement of plastic is fueling the growing marine litter problem, policy responses are needed at all levels, from the international community of nations down to national and local communities,” said report coauthor Cara Horowitz, executive director of the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law School. “We can act now to rapidly scale up effective policies and programs to address plastic marine litter. And hopefully, international collaboration to reduce plastic litter will lay a foundation for broader cooperation on other significant issues affecting the health of our oceans.”

“Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter: A Global Action Agenda” is the most recent Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Brief, made possible through funding from the charitable Pritzker Group.


Follow UCLA Inst. of the Environment and Sustainability on Twitter:

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UCLA Report: Top 10 Solutions to Global Ocean Plastic Pollution

November 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Plastic

Leila Monroe, Staff Attorney, Oceans Program, San Francisco

A new report released recently identifies the best solutions to tackle the urgent problem of an estimated 20 million tons of plastic litter entering the ocean each year. Plastic pollution is a daunting crisis for the marine environment, one that demands action.

With input from NRDC and other top ocean and waste experts, authors from UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment and UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability have jointly released a comprehensive Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Brief: “Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter: A Global Action Agenda”. 

This report documents the devastating effects of plastic marine litter, detailing how plastic forms a large portion of our waste stream and typically does not biodegrade in the marine environment. Plastic marine litter has a wide range of adverse environmental and economic impacts, from wildlife deaths and degraded coral reefs to billions of dollars in cleanup costs (see NRDC’s report on the cost to California communities HERE), damage to vessels, and lost tourism and fisheries revenues. The brief calls on the global community to develop a new international treaty while also urging immediate action to implement regional and local solutions.

Report co-author Cara Horowitz, Executive Director of the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment, expressed in the report’s release:

“Because global mismanagement of plastic is fueling the growing marine litter problem, policy responses are needed at all levels, from the international community of nations down to national and local communities. We can act now to rapidly scale up effective policies and programs to address plastic marine litter. And hopefully, international collaboration to reduce plastic litter will lay a foundation for broader cooperation on other significant issues affecting the health of our oceans.”

Among the Top-10 list of recommended solutions are priority actions that are already the focus for NRDC’s work to combat marine plastic pollution:

  • Extended producer-responsibility programs for plastic packaging;
  • Advancing domestic and local regulatory actions, such as bans of the most common and damaging types of plastic litter; and
  • Expanding the use of “zero-trash” Total Maximum Daily Loads or similar requirements in urban coastal watersheds. 

Other creative solutions in line with NRDC’s work are the creation of an “ocean friendly” certification program for plastic products and the introduction of a new international treaty with strong monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

For more information on NRDC’s work to stop plastic pollution, follow us on Twitter @EndPlasticTrash and like us on facebook.com/StopPlasticPollution. And you can also get involved in our efforts to promoting solutions to keep our waterways, beaches and oceans plastic free by joining at StopPlasticTrash.org.

Trash in Ballona Creek LA, Stiv Wilson.jpg

Trash in Ballona Creek, California, by Stiv Wilson, 5 Gyres Institute.

Cool, interactive site shows you how ocean currents carry flotsam around the globe

September 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean


Drop a message-in-a-bottle into the Gulf of Mexico, somewhere near New Orleans, and, 10 years later, your missive has a high likelihood of ending up near Cuba — or northern France. The website Adrift uses data from a global system of floating buoys to show you how ocean currents carry things like plastic debris around the planet.

Adrift Screenshot

Scientists study ‘plastisphere,’ its role in ocean

July 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Scientists have probed the diversity of life in all sorts of ecosystems, from the insides of our guts to the sediments beneath the ocean floor. Now, a small group of Massachusetts scientists is eyeing a new frontier: the flotilla of tiny pieces of plastic adrift on ocean surf.

A new study describes the “plastisphere” — the microbial communities that hitch rides on the confetti-sized bits of plastic that litter ocean waters. The authors discovered a thriving, miniature world aboard the microplastic “reefs,” where communities of bacteria and other microbes create energy from sunlight, reproduce, and prey on one another.

Researchers at three Woods Hole-based institutions worked together to try to better understand what role these tiny bits of plastic play in the larger ocean ecosystem.

Among their discoveries, reported in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is the surprising finding that the microbial communities are distinctly different from the ones in nearby ocean water.

And at least one kind of plastic was dominated by a member of a group of bacteria commonly associated with various diseases, including cholera. They could not tell exactly which species was present and plan to do further studies to try to hone in on its identity.

“The thing that impressed me the most is that it is a little world unto itself,” said Linda Amaral-Zettler, an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a research institution based in Woods Hole. “How does it ultimately affect organisms eating it — and ultimately us? We eat shellfish and fish. . . . I think there’s a much broader issue here that’s come to our attention.”

Scientists took two cruises: one that set out eastward from Bermuda in 2010 and another that departed St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and sailed to Woods Hole in 2012. They threw a net to skim the ocean’s surface and retrieve hundreds of tiny bits of plastic. They performed DNA analysis and used an electron microscope to analyze the life on the plastic, and used a kind of analysis called spectroscopy to figure out the chemical composition of the plastic.

The scientists hope that the study can begin to shed light on how plastic contributes to the ocean ecosystem. Plastic has particular properties that make it an interesting ocean substrate — microbes can stick to its surface, and it tends to originate and spend time in coastal waters where runoff and waste enter the ocean.

That, combined with the fact that it sticks around in the environment, means that it might be playing an ecologically significant role in ferrying bacteria around the ocean.

The scientists are now trying to understand exactly which pathogens dwell on sea plastic, and what role, if any, these microbes could play in marine and human health.

“Plastic is the major form of debris in the ocean,” said Erik Zettler, associate dean of the Sea Education Association, a nonprofit focused on ocean education based in Woods Hole and one of the authors of the paper.

“It has a very long lifespan, not like a piece of wood or a feather that degrades over months and disappears — plastic persists for years, perhaps decades.”

The researchers are also trying to find out how plastic caught in ocean currents gained its unexpected “plastisphere” in the first place. They are tethering bits of plastic in coastal waters to see what kinds of microbes take up residence on the surface of plastic.

Calif. plastic ocean debris bill dies in committee

May 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Water Quality


A California bill that would have required manufacturers to figure out how to keep the most common plastic junk out of state waterways died in the state Assembly without a vote Friday.

Assembly Bill 521 was before the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, and the panel failed to act on it, effectively killing the legislation for the session. It had previously passed the Assembly Natural Resource Committee.

State Assemblyman Mark Stone, a D-Monterey Bay, one of the proposal’s sponsors, was disappointed by the outcome.

“Plastic pollution will continue to harm our oceans and coastline, so Assembly member Stone is committed to working on this problem,” said Arianna Smith, Stone’s legislative and communications director.

Once in the ocean, plastic takes ages to decompose. The manmade junk either collects into floating trash islands called “garbage patches,” or it breaks into smaller pieces that harm and kill sea creatures throughout the food chain.

It’s a complex problem with no easy fix, but some European countries have already implemented “extended producer responsibility” laws with some success.

AB521 would have required manufacturers to figure out how to reduce 95 percent of plastic pollution along the state’s coastline by 2024. It carried financial penalties for companies that did not comply: up to $10,000 per day for the worst violations.

Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, said during Friday’s Appropriations Committee meeting that he opposed the measure in part because it singled out one industry as the source of ocean pollution.

“I agree that cleaning up our oceans should be something that’s very, very important to us, but this bill places the burden of compliance directly on the producers instead of the violators, the people who are littering,” Linder said.

The regulation was just the latest California legislative attempt to address some of the world’s toughest environmental problems, often at the expense of private business, critics say.

The state’s large economy and population has already influenced automakers to produce cleaner burning cars, forced warning labels for toxic chemicals on a range of consumer products and put a price on heat-trapping carbon emissions from industrial sources.

“With nearly 40 million people in the state, what happens here matters whether it is cap-and-trade and renewable energy portfolio standards, solid waste reduction, water conservation,” said Mark Gold, associate director of the University of California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“What happens in California matters both nationally and globally,” he added.

Gold said legislation won’t solve the plastic pollution problem, but could have a wide-ranging effect. The failed proposal could have been the first significant legislation in the U.S. to try to reduce the amount of plastic junk in the ocean that makes up trash formations such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, known as the world’s largest landfill.

The plastic industry, California Chamber of Commerce and other business interests opposed the bill, saying they already fund recycling and other programs to reduce marine plastic pollution. Plus, they say, the bill asks manufacturers to develop new products or other ways to reduce trash, but it doesn’t say how.

Extended producer responsibility laws have already taken root in more than two dozen European countries.

In France, nearly 90 percent of consumer products are part of the “Green Dot” program, requiring manufacturers to pay into a program that recovers and recycles packaging materials. It has successfully influenced manufacturers there to cut down on packaging or use alternative materials.

Stone’s office said the assemblyman is unsure if he will reintroduce the bill next year. He is “weighing his options for how to continue to work to address this problem in the future,” Smith said.

Laura Olson contributed to this story from Sacramento.

19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans Read more: 19-Year-Old Student Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans

May 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Water Quality

Comments Off on 19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans Read more: 19-Year-Old Student Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans

19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.

At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.

Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels.

It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches. On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometres. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging.” To find out more about the project and to contribute, click here.

Read more: 19-Year-Old Student Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

For ocean critters, plastic packs double whammy

January 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Products made from the particular plastic used to make water bottles (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) might have fewer detrimental chemical impacts than products made from other types of plastic, according to the study, published online in Environmental Science Technology.

The research, conducted for 12 months at five locations in San Diego Bay, was the first controlled, long-term field experiment measuring the absorption of contaminants by the five most common plastics:

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): Recycling symbol #1, like water bottles.
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE): Recycling symbol #2, like detergent bottles.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Recycling symbol #3, like clear food packaging.
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE): Recycling symbol #4, like plastic shopping bags.
  • Polypropylene (PP): Recycling symbol #5, like yogurt containers, bottle caps.

The researchers deployed pellets of each plastic type in mesh bags tied to a dock at each study site. They retrieved them periodically to measure the plastics’ absorption of persistent organic pollutants.

“Consistently in our study, we found polyethylene [HDPE and LDPE] and polypropylene [PP] absorbed much greater concentrations of contaminants than PET or PVC, and those are the most commonly mass produced and consumed plastics,” says Chelsea Rochman, a doctoral student in ecology at University of California, Davis and San Diego State University. ”They are also the most commonly recovered as marine debris.”

In 2007, HDPE, LDPE, and PP accounted for 62 percent of all plastics produced globally, while PVC and PET represented only 19 percent and 7 percent, the study says.

The data imply that products made from HDPE, LDPE, and PP may pose a greater chemical risk to marine animals that ingest plastics than products made from PET and PVC. The study notes that, although PVC did not absorb as many contaminants as did other plastics, vinyl chloride is classified as carcinogenic and toxic.

Rochman expected the pellets would absorb an increasing amount of pollutants for the first several months of the study before reaching equilibrium—the point at which they could not absorb further toxic substances.

However, Rochman found that HDPE and LDPE continued to absorb contaminants throughout the 12 months. The study estimates that, at the Shelter Island study site, it would take 44 months for HDPE and 19 months for LDPE to stop absorbing toxic substances.

“It surprised us that even after a year, some plastics would continue to take up contaminants,” Rochman says. “As the plastic continues to degrade, it’s potentially getting more and more hazardous to organisms as they absorb more and more contaminants.”

The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program funded the study, as did the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the San Diego State University Research Foundation, and the Padi Foundation.

Source: UC Davis

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