Blog Schedule

I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

P is for A Plastic Ocean

Back to the A to Z Challenge which is taking me longer to complete than everyone else....

Plastic: Latin plasticus, from Greek plastikos, from plassein meaning to mold, form. Little did the Greeks know the word would turn into a killer.

Earth Day was the 22nd, but I say every day should be Earth Day.

Albert Schweitzer said: Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end up destroying the earth.

As some of you may know I hate plastic. Try as I might it's everywhere in my home and my life. I have posted several times about the Great Plastic Garbage Swirl in the Pacific Ocean. You can read about it here. I have since learned there are actually five (5!) garbage swirls: in the North and South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean. This article by Associated Press Writer, Mike Melia, is about the garbage swirl recently found in the Atlantic.

Read it and weep.

A 2nd garbage patch: Plastic soup seen in Atlantic
By MIKE MELIA, Associated Press Writer Mike Melia, Associated Press Writer – Thu Apr 15, 5:30 am ET

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Researchers are warning of a new blight on the ocean: a swirl of confetti-like plastic debris stretching over thousands of square miles (kilometers) in a remote expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

The floating garbage — hard to spot from the surface and spun together by a vortex of currents — was documented by two groups of scientists who trawled the sea between scenic Bermuda and Portugal's mid-Atlantic Azores islands.

The studies describe a soup of micro-particles similar to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a phenomenon discovered a decade ago between Hawaii and California that researchers say is likely to exist in other places around the globe.

"We found the great Atlantic garbage patch," said Anna Cummins, who collected plastic samples on a sailing voyage in February.

The debris is harmful for fish, sea mammals — and at the top of the food chain, potentially humans — even though much of the plastic has broken into such tiny pieces they are nearly invisible.

Since there is no realistic way of cleaning the oceans, advocates say the key is to keep more plastic out by raising awareness and, wherever possible, challenging a throwaway culture that uses non-biodegradable materials for disposable products.

"Our job now is to let people know that plastic ocean pollution is a global problem — it unfortunately is not confined to a single patch," Cummins said.

The research teams presented their findings in February at the 2010 Oceans Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon. While scientists have reported finding plastic in parts of the Atlantic since the 1970s, the researchers say they have taken important steps toward mapping the extent of the pollution.

Cummins and her husband, Marcus Eriksen, of Santa Monica, California, sailed across the Atlantic for their research project. They plan similar studies in the South Atlantic in November and the South Pacific next spring.

On the voyage from Bermuda to the Azores, they crossed the Sargasso Sea, an area bounded by ocean currents including the Gulf Stream. They took samples every 100 miles (160 kilometers) with one interruption caused by a major storm. Each time they pulled up the trawl, it was full of plastic.

A separate study by undergraduates with the Woods Hole, Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association collected more than 6,000 samples on trips between Canada and the Caribbean over two decades. The lead investigator, Kara Lavendar Law, said they found the highest concentrations of plastics between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude, an offshore patch equivalent to the area between roughly Cuba and Washington, D.C.

Long trails of seaweed, mixed with bottles, crates and other flotsam, drift in the still waters of the area, known as the North Atlantic Subtropical Convergence Zone. Cummins' team even netted a Trigger fish trapped alive inside a plastic bucket.

But the most nettlesome trash is nearly invisible: countless specks of plastic, often smaller than pencil erasers, suspended near the surface of the deep blue Atlantic.

"It's shocking to see it firsthand," Cummins said. "Nothing compares to being out there. We've managed to leave our footprint really everywhere."

Still more data are needed to assess the dimensions of the North Atlantic patch.

Charles Moore, an ocean researcher credited with discovering the Pacific garbage patch in 1997, said the Atlantic undoubtedly has comparable amounts of plastic. The east coast of the United States has more people and more rivers to funnel garbage into the sea. But since the Atlantic is stormier, debris there likely is more diffuse, he said.

Whatever the difference between the two regions, plastics are devastating the environment across the world, said Moore, whose Algalita Marine Research Foundation based in Long Beach, California, was among the sponsors for Cummins and Eriksen.

"Humanity's plastic footprint is probably more dangerous than its carbon footprint," he said.
Plastics have entangled birds and turned up in the bellies of fish: A paper cited by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says as many as 100,000 marine mammals could die trash-related deaths each year.

The plastic bits, which can be impossible for fish to distinguish from plankton, are dangerous in part because they sponge up potentially harmful chemicals that are also circulating in the ocean, said Jacqueline Savitz, a marine scientist at Oceana, an ocean conservation group based in Washington.

As much as 80 percent of marine debris comes from land, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.

The U.S. government is concerned the pollution could hurt its vital interests.

"That plastic has the potential to impact our resources and impact our economy," said Lisa DiPinto, acting director of NOAA's marine debris program. "It's great to raise awareness so the public can see the plastics we use can eventually land in the ocean."

DiPinto said the federal agency is co-sponsoring a new voyage this summer by the Sea Education Association to measure plastic pollution southeast of Bermuda. NOAA is also involved in research on the Pacific patch.

"Unfortunately, the kinds of things we use plastic for are the kinds of things we don't dispose of carefully," Savitz said. "We've got to use less of it, and if we're going to use it, we have to make sure we dispose of it well."

This is me: However you can, whenever you can, recycle, reuse and/or eliminate plastic from your lives. We depend on our oceans for life. They depend on us.


  1. Hearing about the big piles of trash we leave.. everywhere.. is so depressing! It just seems like there isn't anything we can do to reverse the damage already done, much less the stuff we're continually doing!

  2. THat's disgusting. Sometimes I am so repulsed by humans and wonder how we can be so insensitive.

    Thanks for bringing awareness to this, Bish.

  3. I was walking around a lake the other day, picking up trash (something I do from time to time). Most of it is plastic. On shore or in the water were colorful Easter eggs, bottle tops, snack bags, etc. But one of the worse is plastic bread bags. People bring the bread to feed the ducks and geese, to show the wildlife to their kids. And then they leave the bags, which float in the water and may endanger the birds. Clueless is the word that comes to mind. Even scarier is the fishing line left by fishermen. This wraps around birds and can drown or starve them. And all the garbage tossed on land, by rivers, lakes, wherever may wash eventually into the oceans where these swirls collect.
    Thanks for keeping these reminders coming, Bish.

  4. India, one thing that could be done is to do what Denmark has done and that is to build incinerators that burn garbage and in the burning produce electicity. The smoke is scrubbed so there's very little polution.

    I become misanthropic at times Talli.

    I don't get it either Tricia. Hubby patrols a stretch of road by our house. Every week he picks up trash. Makes we wonder if people throw their garbage on their livingroom and kitchen floors. It's the same principal.

  5. I remember learning about plastic, how neat it was ... and now this. The same can be said for many other technological advances.

    I think humans are ingenious enough to come up with a solution. We always have ...

  6. That's disgusting! I must say Bish you make my A to Z Blogging look bad... you're always so informative and give us a lot to think about!

  7. Oh Vijaya, I hope so.

    Jen, isn't it though? But please don't compare our blogging styles. One is neither better or worse than the other, they are just different. I think it's in my nature (particularly as I'm a bit older) to want to teach, inform, and pass on info.

  8. And that's why I work in the field of natural resources. To try and keep stuff like this from happening.
    New follower btw. Hello!

  9. Oh, that's terrible!! I've recently been using reusable bags, but admit there's times I forget them...I'll try to keep better track of them in the future.

  10. This is AWFUL. I vow to use less plastic. Thanks for posting that article. Now every time I go to toss something plastic in the trash I'll think of it swirling around in the ocean somewhere.

  11. That is such a disturbing article. Thank you for this very important post. You posted about this a while ago and I really do feel I've stepped up my recycling efforts thanks to your post.


Your Random Thoughts are most welcome!