Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oceans of plastic garbage

“It has been described as the world's largest rubbish dump, or the Pacific plastic soup, and it is starting to alarm scientists. It is a vast area of plastic debris and other flotsam drifting in the northern Pacific Ocean, held there by swirling ocean currents.” Floating rubbish dump 'bigger than US’

At last we are hearing some serious discussion on climate change, but there are other areas of global environmental shame that should be on the agenda. TomCat over at Politics Plus jogged me today No Pristine Oceans Left on an issue I’ve been meaning to look at for some time.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre) is a swirling vortex of ocean currents comprising most of the northern Pacific Ocean. Apparently this story was all over the net for a while, but lets spread it some more.

According to says Dr Marcus Eriksen, research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, founded by Moore, The "patch" is in fact two massive, linked areas of circulating rubbish.

3 million tons of the floating junk

It stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the coast of California, across the northern Pacific to near the coast of Japan. About 3 million tons of the junk floating in the garbage patch is plastic. This is one of Earth’s five gyres: massive circular-current vortices between continental land masses that move debris toward the center.

A range of rubbish has come up in trawling expeditions, including;
• A drum of hazardous chemicals
• An inflated volleyball, half-covered in gooseneck barnacles
• A plastic coat hanger with a swivel hook
• A cathode-ray tube for a nineteen-inch TV
• An inflated truck tire mounted on a steel rim
• Numerous plastic, and some glass, fishing floats
• A gallon bleach bottle so brittle it crumbled when handled

North Pacific Gyre

Historically, flotsam in the gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics do not break down like other oceanic debris, meaning objects half a century old have been found in the North Pacific Gyre.

Instead the plastic slowly photodegrades, becoming brittle and disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces which enter the food chain and end up in the stomachs of birds and other animals.

Charles Moore, is the oceanographer who discovered the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch". A former sailor, he came across the sea of waste by chance in 1997, while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race.

He had steered his craft into the "North Pacific gyre" – a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems. Usually sailors avoid it.

He was astonished to find himself surrounded by rubbish, day after day, thousands of miles from land. "Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by," he said in an interview. "How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?"

I would have to ask; how can such a massive environmental disaster go unnoticed? How can we continue to ignore such massive environmental destruction?

Ban plastic shopping bags

Australia is as guilty as any other country, though not for that particular mess. We are just getting around to talking about banning plastic shopping bags and putting deposits on drink containers.

This is more a response to increasing fouled costs and beaches, of wildlife constantly killed or injured by tangling with junk. Here on the glorious sub tropics we have volunteers busy untangling pelicans and other sea birds from thoughtlessly discarded junk, including fishing line.

I hope others are as horrified by this story as I am. We talk about so many of the social failings of our governments, this environmental shame needs more than talk; it needs real, immediate action.


D.K. Raed said...

It's awful & it's getting worse. In the early 80's, I did volunteer beach clean-up in san diego. You would not believe the crud that washes up on or close to shore. Whole floating platforms of plastic attached to seaweed where seals park themselves for a sunny picnic. Seagulls strangled with those plastic soda can loops. Big ocean turtles, dolphins & whales are swimming through & eating it. And that's just what floats. What about all the toxic chemicals that end up there? And how is it ending up in the oceans, doesn't anyone question that? Big garbage barges load up, float away & return empty.

People buy products ensconced in plastic, use once & toss away, never thinking of it again. Maybe if one day that old rubber ducky lost in the beachwaves in the 50's surfaces in the president's big mac, he might sit up & pay attn. There is so much in the area of biodegradability we could do to lessen the problem.

I thank you for posting this. We should all be properly horrified.

Cart said...

thanks d.k. Big Ducky Maccas sounds good to me. The rest of their stuff is plastic anyway.
I saw some horid pictures researching this, including a sea turtle disfigured by a 2" plastic band around its middle.

abi said...

Great post, Cart. Just more evidence that we humans are pretty sad guardians of the planet.

Kvatch said...

We've bannned 'em here in Babylon by the Bay, but it was a long hard slog even to get that much.

TomCat said...

Thanks for the h/t Cart. Oregon was the first state in the US to put a deposit on drink containers, and I would love to see a bag ban.

Cart said...

Tom, I'm always pleased to acknowledge. Thank you for your article.