Monday night, researchers Dr. Marcus Ericksen and Anna Cummins from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation brought their presentation to the Marin Humane Society to share with us their findings from several trips out to the North Pacific Gyre, aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. To the left is a photo of actual objects removed from the carcasses of dead Laysan albatrosses. How a bird eats a toothbrush, I don’t know. But it truly saddens me.
Green Sangha’s Stuart Moody wrote up a terrific summary of the information presented, which I share with you here:
Waste & Recycling
Half of the plastic made every year goes to landfill. One quarter of it is “unaccounted for” (litter, blow-away, and otherwise lost). What about the 5% that gets recycled ? At Puente Hills, the nation’s largest landfill, located in LA County, all of the baled plastic gets sent to China for recycling.
Algalita estimates 2.5 million tons of plastic are circulating in the North Pacific Gyre. This gyre is one of 9 such systems on the earth’s oceans. In 1999, Algalita discovered a ratio of 6:1 plastic to zooplankton in the gyre. This year, they found 46:1. This measure, though, is an imperfect one, as zooplankton populations can vary greatly, with bloom-bust fluctuations. Surface density of plastics is a more accurate count. From 2000 to 2008 the concentration has doubled, from .002 g/m2 to .004.
Not a small matter
Particulate pollution is a special concern because although particles become invisible they still affect the ecosystem. The second most observed form of marine plastic litter is plastic sheeting, from bags or other plastic film. This suggests that plastic bags and wrappers degrading in the ocean could be one of the chief sources of plastic pollution in the food chain, as filter feeders will ingest these particles in their processing of sea water.
Networks of trash
Not all marine debris has been degraded to dust, filament, and fiber. On Hawaii’s Kamilo Beach, probably the dirtiest beach in the world, the plastic litter can be waist-high. Out on the ocean, Algalita researchers find “net boluses” — great tangles of lost or discarded fishing net sometimes as big as a van. These can weigh up to 2 tons, and entrap many creatures (as well as providing a living space!).
On the Junk’s summer voyage to Hawaii, 1/3 of 500 lantern fish sampled had plastic pieces in their bodies, averaging about 13/specimen. The record holder had 84 pieces. The lantern fish is prey for swordfish, salmon, and tuna, meaning that plastics are getting into our food supply. In total, over 267 marine animal species have been documented ingesting or getting entangled in plastic debris.
Making a clean sweep
Can’t we just trawl the ocean and pick up all the litter? The affected area, in the No. Pacific Gyre alone, is twice the size of the United States — the equivalent of about 9 million football fields. How practical can it be to drag nets across such a vast territory? Tankers, for example, get about 60 feet/gallon of fuel. Do we want to burn more fuels trying to make up for the mis-spending of fuels in the production of waste? And what would happen to all the biomass captured in such a massive sweep of the ocean’s surface? Clearly other ideas are needed.
I say, how a Plastic-free Posse?
Let’s grow a group of bloggers who care about the issue of plastics and are willing to write about it on their blogs. As I said two days ago, we need more plastic-free voices. How about starting with the folks who came to the presentation Monday night?
Katrina from Kale For Sale was there, and she has become the first member of the Plastic-free Posse. (See my right sidebar.)
Ian, aka Nolij was there too, despite a fractured foot, requiring him to get around on this ingenious scooter. What do you say, Nolij? Want to join the Posse?
So this is how it can work. You don’t have to blog about plastic all the time. If plastic is simply one part of your blogging universe, then be willing to label or tag your plastic-related posts with one word: Plastic. Check out Kale For Sale to see how it’s done. Then, let me know, and I’ll link to your plastic-labeled posts on my sidebar. That way, many more voices can be heard from folks who aren’t as singly-focused as I am.
Simply creating Plastic labels and tags can create ripples in the blogosphere which, I hope, will then make their way out into the real world. Who’s on board?