Blog Tags: Plastic
Plastic debris has become as ubiquitous to U.S. beaches as sand, surf, and shells. Every year, cleanup crews through the country collect millions of pounds of plastic trash from beaches and coastal waterways, with the most coming from California’s 1,100-mile coastline.
In an apparent guerilla stunt, a wildlife sculpture in downtown Vancouver has been "caught" in a giant plastic 6-pack ring. The sculpture, located at the corner of Georgia and Thurlow Streets, depicts two dolphins, whose necks are now caught in the giant plastic rings marked with the "PlasticPollutionCoalition.org" web address.
This stunt is a large-scale reminder of the dangers of litter, particularly plastics, in our ocean. Approximately 75-80 million tons of plastics are used every year to produce the world's food packaging alone, and a large proportion of these plastics inevitably end up in our oceans. Almost 80% of the garbage found in the ocean comes from land-based sources, with the majority being packaging and food containers like the ubiquitous 6-pack ring featured in this guerilla demonstration. This garbage kills sea creatures by strangling them, drowning them through entanglement, or even starving them through malnutrition when ingested debris in the creatures' stomachs prevents them from getting the food and nutrients that they require.
How do you like your oysters? Probably not with a side of fishing line or a plastic bag.
This video, created by Katrin Peters for SOS Plastic, shows a couple on a seemingly romantic date. It’s less appealing, though, when you see what accompanies their dinner:
Part of a global campaign to raise awareness and unite international groups against marine plastic pollution, SOS Plastic aims to show how plastics in the oceans affect the entire world.
Every year we use millions of tons of plastic in packaging, water bottles, single-use bags, fishing line and more. The qualities that are so useful to humans – its durability, light weight, and lack of decomposition – make plastic a dangerous material once it gets into the oceans. Polymers can last for decades, if not centuries, which leads to an enormous accumulation of plastic in the oceans.
In 1992, the EPA found that the majority of the world’s beaches showed some sort of plastic accumulation. You might have seen bottles, bags, or fishing nets washed up on the shore, but the real danger lies in what you can’t see.
When exposed to the sun and water, plastics break apart into tiny pieces, called microplastics. These little bits of trash don’t decompose in the water; instead, they get eaten by plankton then travel up through the food chain. Microplastics carry chemicals at extreme levels that can cause illness in both marine animals and humans when we eat seafood.
Many states and counties are starting to limit or ban plastic bags, like Carmel-by-the-Sea in California. You can help by reducing your plastic use – bring reusable bags to the grocery store or farmer’s market, carry a drink in a stainless steel water bottle, and make sure that when you do use plastics you recycle. Sign the Plastics Pledge today to prevent the ocean from getting trashed.
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.
Over the weekend I attended ScienceOnline2010, a raucous gathering (if conferences can be raucous) of scientists and journalists. I met some great folks, including Miriam Goldstein -- one of my favorite ocean bloggers -- of Oyster's Garter fame. (She also recently joined the salty bloggers over at Deep Sea News.)
Miriam was the chief scientist for last summer's Scripps SEAPLEX expedition to the Pacific garbage patch. As if being chief scientist weren't enough, she also blogged and tweeted the journey. And as she hilariously illustrates in this story from one of the first days of the expedition in the California Current, sometimes science doesn't like to be live. (Apologies in advance for my, um, budding video skills.)
The SEAPLEX expedition received a ton of press attention. So after the session, I asked her, "Has the media overblown the pacific garbage patch?" She said, "Well, yes, in a way. There is no 'island' of trash -- the ocean is homogeneous. But it is also way, way worse than we thought."
Look out for the results of the SEAPLEX expedition later on in 2010.