Earth's Oceans In BIG Trouble - Massive Plastic Pollution
The most critical water pollution crisis of our time stands before us. Meanwhile, mainstream news media parade rich, drunk celebrities as high-priority news.
While prime-time TV booms with Hollywood gossip, vast expanses of the world’s oceans have turned into massive sewers of plastic waste. Areas of water the size of whole states are currently churning with synthetic trash that does NOT go away. Pristine seas have become quagmires of human –made garbage. The birthing pool of all life as we know it is now severely polluted.
A jar of seawater from some locations reminds you of a snow globe. When you shake the jar, plastic flakes and plastic particles swirl in high concentration—evidence of a deadly trash soup that tricks sea life into eating it. Such seawater samples offer only miniature glimpses of what goes on large-scale beneath the world’s ocean surfaces. Most shocking, a number of people have known about this for over twenty years.
Massive ocean pollution is NOT new—knowledge about it is subdued and underplayed in popular news casting. Avoidance and denial dominate. Consequently, most people still do not seem to grasp the enormity of the problem. Many people who do grasp the problem still do not seem to get it completely. The situation is grave, and it only gets graver.
Real Eyewitness Reports
In 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific Ocean in a raft, finding no sign of human presence over much of this vast expanse of water. Twenty-three years later in 1970, he completed a similar voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, finding human litter along every kilometer of his journey. [Connor and O’Dell/ENVIRONMENT/Jan-Feb 1988/vol30/issue 1/p 16]
In 1997, Charles Moore witnessed how much worse the situation had gotten after Heyerdahl. Moore vividly described his own experiences in a 2003 magazine article. [Trashed/NATURAL HISTORY/Nov 2003/vol 112/issue 9/p 46-51]
His amazement is best conveyed by his own words:
"I often struggle to find words that will communicate the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to people who have never been to sea. Day after day, Alguita [Moore’s boat] was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments."
A mere fifty years!
This is all the time it required for humankind to convert naturally clear oceanscapes into synthetically cluttered plasticscapes.
Moore’s shock over his 1997 colossal garbage discovery led him to create the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. During the year Moore wrote his article in NATURAL HISTORY (2003), an oceanographer named Curtis Ebbesmeyer estimated the area of Pacific water nearly covered with floating plastic debris to be roughly the size of Texas. A 2007 estimate put the figure at TWICE the size of Texas. [McLaughlin/AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER/Apr 2008/vol7/issue4/p 201]
I have read articles on the internet this year (2009) that report immensely larger figures—from the size of the United States to twice the size of the United States.
Sources Of Confusion
I suspect that some writers might be unclear about the SPECIFIC area of GREATEST density of plastic debris, confusing this with the WHOLE area over which plastic debris exists in VARYING densities. My understanding is that there are large ocean sinks of trash, and within these large sinks there are more concentrated patches of trash.
The whole ocean area where plastic debris tends to accumulate is called an oceanic gyre - generally the high-pressure, central, deepest-water area over which air circulates in a mammoth vortex that acts as a huge trash corral. Within this huge trash corral, more densely cluttered trash patches exist.
Charles Moore made his infamous trash discovery in a particular patch of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. He traveled across the most concentrated area of the garbage (now twice the size of Texas). Although Moore seems to concentrate his current research in this area, he confidently points out, “Half the world’s oceans are accumulators—these high-pressure gyres that bring stuff into themselves. And every single one of them is full of plastic.” [Doucette/ROLLING STONE/10-29-2009/issue 1090/p 54-57]
Basics Of Horrific Plastic
- A fourth of the Earth’s surface area has become an accumulator of floating plastic debris.
- Plastic debris accumulating in Earth’s oceans includes plastic bags, nets, ropes, bottles, beverage six-pack holders, motor-oil jugs, diapers, toys, razors, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters, packing and shipping materials, fishing gear, other convenience products, and raw plastic.
- Human beings manufacture 300 million NEW TONS of plastic EACH YEAR, much of which becomes disposable single-use products.
- Only 4% of plastics are recycled.
- In the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, for every pound of naturally occurring plankton—one of Earth’s most prolific and abundant organisms—there are six pounds of floating plastic.
- Most plastics in common use do NOT biodegrade—they merely break down into tiny pieces, then into plastic molecules, which are still impossible digest, even by the most efficient natural vacuum cleaners nature ever invented (jellyfish).
- Floating plastic fragments accumulate toxic chemicals such as DDT and PCB’s in concentrations as high as a million times greater than surrounding seawater.
- Currently there is no practical method to clean up the macroscopic or the microscopic graveyard of plastic floating in Earth’s oceans.
Plastic Contaminates And Kills
Civilization as we know it could not exist without plastic. The convenience offered by plastic makes life thrilling. Therein lies the rub—plastic is also life killing.
Plastic debris in Earth’s oceans kills millions of sea birds and tens of thousands of sea mammals every year. These animals get entangled and drown, they get snared and choke to death, or they mistake plastic debris for food and starve to death.
Sea birds voraciously eat plastic. Fish, turtles, whales and dolphins also ingest plastic.
There is something even more insidious and potentially more catastrophic than entanglement or starvation by plastic—the looming threat of micro-plastic contaminating the entire food chain. In other words, the whole web of life could become plasticized.
Consumer products use plastic polymers that are indigestible by any known organism. Even when these polymers reduce to single molecules of plastic, no living organism on Earth can digest them. Single plastic molecules must degrade further by sunlight or by slow oxidative breakdown before nature can recycle their constituents into the building blocks of life.
Five hundred years or more is the current estimate of how long plastics require to degrade in our oceans. Meanwhile, plastic degrades life itself. Even the longest lifespan cannot compete with plastic’s timeline of decay.
Considering that tiny plastic particles can concentrate and transport toxic chemicals within ocean environments, we must fear that some of the most toxic pollutants known might be making their ways into the human body through seafood. We eat sea creatures that eat our toxic plastic waste.
Without realizing it, then, human beings are eating their own shit.