Imagine you’re in a dimly lit Italian restaurant. Famished, you take the first bite of a juicy eggplant parmesan dinner, and it turns out to be a big hunk of plastic. (Yuk.)
That’s the reality for fish in an area of the ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where fish are mistaking their food sources with a growing amount of floating trash.
Two graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Pete Davison and Rebecca Asch, joined the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, or SEAPLEX, where they found evidence of plastic waste in more than 9 percent of the stomachs of fish collected during their voyage to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The mid-water fishes contained plastic debris, primarily broken-down bits smaller than a human fingernail.
"That is an underestimate of the true ingestion rate because a fish may regurgitate or pass a plastic item, or even die from eating it. We didn't measure those rates, so our 9 percent figure is too low by an unknown amount," said Davison.
Based on these rates of ingestion, they estimate that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons per year, but the real number could be much higher.
Earlier in the week we heard from 2009 Ocean Hero finalist Emily Goldstein, and today, a fun update on Sara Bayles, a 2010 finalist whose near-daily beach cleanup efforts are documented on her blog, The Daily Ocean.
Now Sara and her husband, Dr. Garen Baghdasarian, have a new and exciting adventure on the horizon. This spring, the ocean conservation power couple will join The 5 Gyres Institute on a 4,680-mile research expedition across the South Pacific from Chile to Tahiti to study the effects of plastic micro-pollutants on plankton. They will, of course, be blogging the trip as they collect water samples and other crucial data.
It’s the last day to vote for your favorite finalist to receive this year’s Ocean Hero award!
All of this year’s adult and junior finalists are stellar -- if you checked out any of the profiles I wrote on the blog this month I’m sure you agree. From young shark and sea turtle activists to a sustainable seafood power couple and an ocean trash blogger, all of our finalists deserve plaudits.
We’ll announce the winners on the fast-approaching World Oceans Day, June 8.
This year’s winners (one adult and one junior) will each receive a $200 gift card and Raiatea binoculars from West Marine, a $500 gift card from Nautica, and a trip to the World Oceans Day with Nautica and GQ party in Los Angeles on June 8.
This is the fifth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.
Today’s featured finalist, Sara Bayles, is the author of The Daily Ocean blog, which documents her experiment to see how much debris she can collect from her local beach in 365 non-consecutive days.
For 20 minutes at a time she has removed more than 450 pounds of trash from a beach in Santa Monica in just over 110 days. On The Daily Ocean, Sara exposes our dependence on single-use plastic while challenging her readers to make small shifts in their own lives.