Good morning, Quartz readers!
Today is World Oceans Day, an international affair to celebrate the seas and sing their blues. Observed since 2002, the occasion is marked by conservation events around the globe. This year’s sad theme is plastic pollution.
Just as scientists are starting to make sense of the mysteries of the oceans’ depths—we recently discovered what makes the deep-sea dragonfish’s teeth transparent—the world’s waters are under serious threat. Rising temperatures are melting ice caps and pushing sea levels up globally, but there’s more. Human trash is everywhere, making its way into the bellies of beasts even in the oceans’ nether reaches.
Take Monterey Bay in California. It seems clean, but the pollution levels are profound. Researchers recently found the concentration of microplastics in the bay’s depths rival the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s filthiest stretch of ocean.
Located between Hawaii and California, the patch is a shifting mass of trash covering about 618,000 sq miles (1.6 million sq km). That’s roughly three times the size of France.
Every year 8 million metric tons of plastic—which can take decades or centuries to decompose—enter the oceans, adding to the estimated 150 million metric tons already circulating. As the Ocean Conservancy notes, “That’s like dumping one New York City garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year.”
This waste travels to places human divers can’t access. The Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific—where the deepest fish in the sea reside at 26,600 ft (about 8,100 m)—is considered the lowest place on Earth. But it too has a plastics problem. A recent study of the six deepest trenches in the Pacific Rim found contaminants in 72% of the 90 creatures examined.
The most helpful thing would be for industries to change their destructive habits. Still, personal actions do matter. The World Oceans Day website offers ample motivation, explaining, “A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival…It generates most of the oxygen we breathe, helps feed us, regulates our climate, cleans the water we drink, offers a pharmacopoeia of medicines, [and] provides limitless inspiration.” —Ephrat Livni
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Camel milk could be the next superfood—thanks to East Africa. Nations like Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia have some of the world’s largest camel populations. The creature’s milk, low in fat yet rich in iron and vitamins B and C, is prized for its medicinal and nutritional value. Abdi Latif Dahir reports on the slew of entrepreneurs who want to popularize the “white gold” and export it worldwide.
Extinguishing burnout. No profession is immune to burnout, but modern healthcare seems almost designed to invite it. More than half of US doctors say they are physically or emotionally exhausted by their work. But a Boston-based nonprofit has identified a treatment for the condition that’s noninvasive, inexpensive, and has few discernible side effects. Corinne Purtill examines Schwartz Center Rounds, a program helping doctors heal each other.
The ascendance of athletic shoes. Sneakers are such a dominant force in fashion today that it’s easy to forget how they got that way. Marc Bain charts their evolution (membership), from the early versions marketed to tennis players in the 1800s to the Air Jordan 1 of 1985, which kicked off the modern era of sneakers as status symbols—and helped Nike become the world’s top seller of footwear, period.
Disease spreads in ICE detention. Building from a private spreadsheet compiled by immigration experts, Heather Timmons and Justin Rohrlich investigated how US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is struggling to control mumps outbreaks among its over 50,000 detainees in a dozen states around the US. Trump policies funnel asylum-seekers into detention centers that often have little oversight from local health authorities. There are no federal vaccination rules for many detention centers, where in some cases mumps has spread to employees.
The body treats pregnancy like an extreme sport. Doing an Ironman, completing the Tour de France, and carrying a baby to term all tax the body in similar ways, explain Katherine Ellen Foley and Daniel Wolfe. The key is the metabolic rate, researchers found, which adapts to the level of exertion in both endurance athletes and expectant mothers. Pregnancy, it turns out, is one of the most awesome feats of humanity.
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Icebergs to the rescue. Last year, drought-stricken Cape Town was in danger of running out of municipal water. It avoided catastrophe but remains at risk. As it happens, Cape Town is also the most conveniently located city for a pioneer iceberg tow, which some believe will become a common way for governments to supply citizens with fresh water. For Bloomberg Businessweek, Caroline Winter reports on the “Southern Ice Project” and the marine salvage expert behind it (paywall).
A ransomware pandemic. Five years ago, ransomware attacks focused on home computers. Today, hackers increasingly go after bigger targets—like local governments. In March, Georgia’s Jackson County paid hackers $400,000 in bitcoin in order to regain its data, and Baltimore is still recovering from a recent attack. For the Wall Street Journal, Scott Calvert and Jon Kamp describe the travails of municipalities (paywall) ill-versed in cybersecurity.
Death by crocodile in East Timor. Two Australian biologists are trying to figure out why crocodile attacks have spiked in the Southeast Asian nation, mostly among subsistence fishers. Cracking the riddle has the researchers testing a working theory by employing the services of a crocodile whisperer and wading into swamps in the dark of night to gather croc DNA samples with needles bolted onto aluminum rods, explains Matthew Abbott in text and photos in the New York Times (paywall).
Radio silence for rural America. Having already lost their local newspapers, many small towns in the US are also losing their radio stations, which are struggling with dwindling ad revenue. In something akin to a land grab, conglomerates are buying the frequencies of stations forced to sell, and selling them in more affluent markets. For the Guardian, Debbie Weingarten describes the impact on communities, and profiles the workers struggling to keep independent radio alive.
Wasting time online unites the world. The next billion people to come online, via mobile phones, will be drawn by the leisure economy as much as anything else, according to The Economist (paywall). While connecting the poor is couched in terms of development, companies are scrambling to come up with services that are less about letting farmers look up grain prices, and more about chat, games, and videos for large populations who don’t speak English or Mandarin.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, maternity activewear, and camel-milk cappuccinos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.