WASHINGTON: Something should have been done by previous administrations, but they ignored it. The problem of plastic in our oceans has been left to fester to unmanageable effect. Saying that over eight millions tons of garbage, plastic, is dumped into our oceans, the President says Save our Seas is an effort to clean the plastic out. No other political leader, not in the U.S. or any other country, is willing to stand up for the oceans.
The Save Our Seas Act, an important bill which reauthorizes and amends the Marine Debris Act, will act to promote international action to reduce marine debris. We can only hope this is more than a bill and that President Trump will get behind this important effort to clean our environment, not just the oceans, of plastic.
Millions of tons of single-use plastic in the environment
It is staggering to realize that more than two million tons of single-use (use once and throw away) plastic soft drinks bottles are sold each year. The number of those bottles made from recycled materials, about 6.6%, is very limited. A Greenpeace survey found that five of six global soft drinks firms sold single-use plastic bottles. These numbers do not include data from the Coca-Cola Co., who declined to provide researchers with their plastic usage data.
Single-use drinks bottles are a visible part of the problem of plastics pollution in the world’s oceans. Single-use drink bottles are the most common type of plastic packaging found washed up on shorelines globally, Greenpeace tells the Guardian newspaper.
All those millions of tons of plastics swirling around in the South Pacific Gyre and the oceans will take centuries to break down. In the process of that plastic breaking down, smaller particulates are broken down, ingested by sea and bird life.
Plastics in our oceans and waterways will not only kill the oceans and the animals that call it home, but they also destroy a food chain that feeds millions.
“Approximately three billion people in the world rely on both wild-caught and farmed seafood as their primary source of protein.” WWF Sustainable Seafood (link below)
Millions of tons of plastics are ending up in the ocean every year, harming marine wildlife, taking centuries to break down and spreading toxic chemicals. And the spread is beyond the pollution found in the ocean, to pollution found in the air.
In the National Geo article, Nearly Every Seabird on Earth Is Eating Plastic the impact on plastic on seabirds who are ingesting the plastic or eating fish that have eaten plastic are a cautionary tale for humans.
“So much plastic trash is flowing into the oceans that 90 percent of seabirds eat it now and virtually everyone will be consuming it by 2050. That finding revealed in a new study published this week, tracks for the first time how widespread plastics have become inside seabirds around the world.
“That was shocking,” says Chris Wilcox, a research scientist with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and lead author of the study. “Essentially, the number of species and number of individuals within species that you find plastic in is going up fairly rapidly by a couple percent every year.”
Plastic found inside birds includes bags, bottle caps, synthetic fibers from clothing, and tiny rice-sized bits.
The Blue Planets Life Blood
The ocean covers more than 70 percent of our planet. It is our biggest feature. The ocean is what gives us life. Without the seas, our land becomes desert, and other than cacti and cold-blooded lizards, that is not a promising future.
However, humans are stupidly are choking the oceans. Destroying the very thing that gives earth its name, The Blue Planet.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating patch of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. The plastics that make up this patch, or gyre, comes from a variety of sources. However, the gyres are like giant trash magnets that are collecting waterborne plastic in the Eastern Garbage Patch off the coast of California between the coast and Hawaii.
The Subtropical Convergence Zone that floats between Northern California and Japan and the Western Garbage Patch, off the southern coast of Japan.
Where the trash comes from
About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. Other sources of this trash are boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or loose debris directly into the water.
About 79,000 tons of this trash is fishing nets. A huge danger to the seas and the animals within in. The following video shows a humpback whale who is dying. His tail fin is wrapped in fishing nets, line and garbage, dragging him down underwater.
A Chilean family jumped in to save the animal.
Following is another example of how ocean pollution is killing our giants:
And our Sea Lions:
Pollution is affecting the health of the seas and the animals within
Granny, the oldest known orca whale, died at the estimated age of 105. Granny was the matriarch of a group of wild orcas that live near Vancouver, Washington. The pod’s numbers are just 71 now, depleted by the capture-kings, marine traffic, and pollution. Granny’s death foretells a bleak future for these great beasts.
Britain’s resident orca clan hasn’t sired a calf for 20 years: scientists blame pollution for this infertility.
History teaches us that first, the great beasts disappear until eventually nothing remains.
Shipping Containers add to the problem
Consumer goods like computer monitors and LEGOs fall overboard from shipping freighters. The container drops from the ship during high seas events or accidents, the container, itself an environmental worry, eventually open, with contents floating into the water.
- In 1990, five shipping containers of Nike sneakers and work boots were lost to the Pacific in a storm. People in Washington and Oregon snatched up the shoes on shore, holding swap meets to find matched pairs to wear or sell.
- In 1992, rubber duckies floated in the Pacific when a ship lost tens of thousands of bathtub toys. The ducks were accompanied by turtles, beavers, and frogs.
- In 1994, a ship lost 34,000 pieces of hockey gear, including gloves, chest protectors, and shin guards.
However, those container shippers moving through international waters are not being a ccountable for the damage they are causing by not securing the cargo that ends up in our oceans. For the shippers, it is an insurance loss not an environmental nightmare.
The implosion of plastic
Travelers to Central America, Coastal Mexico, Africa, and Asia will see trash, not litter but trash, in bags, littering the beaches and the waters edge. The problem is that in the last thirty years, these areas are more and more reliant on plastic. Unfortunately, they do not have the trash infrastructure in which to appropriately dispose of, much less, recycle that trash. Prior to the plastic explosion of the 1960s, trash was natural. Bags were woven or cloth. Food was feed to farm animals or composted.
All rivers flow to the sea
The eight million metric tons of plastic that find their ways into the oceans could be flowing down just 10 rivers, eight of them in Asia, according to Scientific American: Stemming the Plastic Tide: 10 Rivers Contribute Most of the Plastic in the Oceans.
“Rivers carry trash over long distances and connect nearly all land surfaces with the oceans,” making them a major battleground in the fight against sea pollution, explains Christian Schmidt, a hydrogeologist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany.
Christian Schmidt and his colleagues dug up published data on the plastic concentration in 57 rivers of various sizes around the world. These measurements included bottles and bags, as well as microscopic fibers and beads. The researchers multiplied these concentrations by the rivers’ water discharge to calculate the total weight of plastic flowing into the sea. They then fed these data into a model that compared them with the estimated weight of plastic litter generated per person per day along each river.
The results, published last November in Environmental Science & Technology, show that rivers collectively dump anywhere from 0.47 million to 2.75 million metric tons of plastic into the seas every year, depending on the data used in the models. The 10 rivers that carry 93 percent of that trash are the Yangtze, Yellow, Hai, Pearl, Amur, Mekong, Indus and Ganges Delta in Asia, and the Niger and Nile in Africa. The Yangtze alone dumps up to an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of plastic waste into the Yellow Sea. (Scientific American)
The Nile River
There is an old proverb that “those that drink from the Nile will return to the Nile. However, pollution levels of the four thousand plus mile long river are adding to the diminishing water of the river. Today no one would drink from the Nile. The Nile river canals and the river banks are full of trash bags and plastics, affecting the health of the Nile River and the Mediterranian Sea, to which it flows.
The Yellow River
The Yellow River is the second-longest waterway in China after the Yangtze River. At 3,398 miles in length, it is the sixth-longest in the world. The Yellow River is important to Chinese culture and survival. It is the source of fresh water for the country.
Rivers flow to the seas, and originating in the mountains around the Tibetan plateau at Qinghai, the Yellow River, and its trash empties out into the Bohai Sea on China’s East coast.
Wherever it comes from the gyres are growing
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The Great Pacific Patch combines the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California.
These areas of spinning debris link together with the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. This convergence zone is where warm water from the South Pacific meets up with cooler water from the Arctic creating a “highway” that the debris moves from one patch to the next.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a system of circular ocean currents. Those currents form due to the planet’s rotation and wind patterns. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is the result of the California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro, and North Pacific currents that move in a clockwise direction around an area of 20 million square kilometers (7.7 million square miles).
Like the eye of a hurricane, the area in the center of a gyre is calm. Therefore, the circular motions of the currents trap garbage. No one really knows how deep, like an iceberg, they reach.
A plastic bottle leaves the coast of California
To better explain the gyre movements, consider a plastic water bottle discarded off the coast of California, travels the California Current south toward Mexico. The North Equatorial Current, which crosses the vast Pacific, may pick that bottle up moving it toward the coast of Japan and the Kuroshiro Current.
Finally, the bottle travels westward on the North Pacific Current where the vortexes of the Eastern and Western Garbage Patches gradually draw in the bottle. The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces. Those tinier and tinier pieces are ingested by fish, making its way to your dinner plate.
Within the garbage patches, are the tiny piece of microplastics. They are invisible to the naked eye, but make the water appear cloudy. Those microplastics intermix with slowly deteriorating items like fishing gear and nets dangerous to our marine animals. Also in the gyres are toys, shoes, and bags.
While we can all imagine ways that we can clean up floating trash, the seafloor beneath the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may also be an underwater trash heap. Oceanographers are saying that 70% of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Images of plastic bags and other trash in the oceans deepest areas, the Mariana Trench, as deep as Mt. Everest is high, are making the rounds of social media.
No one knows how much debris makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Not all trash floats on the surface. Denser debris can sink centimeters or even several meters beneath the surface, making the vortex’s area nearly impossible to measure.
Plastics make up the majority of marine debris. We rely on plastic for its low cost and a wide range of use in consumer and industrial product. Which means there is just too much plastic in use for no other reason than its convenience and cost.
However, plastic does not biodegrade. The fact that it breaks down into smaller pieces (photodegradation) is causing destruction not just to the environment, but the animals that call it home.
Scientists have collected up to 750,000 bits of microplastic in a single square kilometer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In simpler terms that is about 1.9 million bits per square mile. Most of this debris comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and Styrofoam cups.
These dangers include that plastics both leach out and absorb harmful pollutants. As plastics break down through photodegradation, they leach out colorants and chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA). These chemicals link to environmental and health problems.
President Trump takes on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is in international waters. Therefore, no nation will take responsibility or provide the funding to clean it up. Charles Moore, the man who discovered the vortex, says cleaning up the garbage patch would “bankrupt any country”.
However, many individuals and international organizations, however, are preventing the patch from growing if not cleaning it up.
As individuals, we can learn to reduce our dependency on plastic by using clothing shopping bags and reusable water bottles. Walking down the street, through the park, or along the beach, stop. Then bend down and pick up the plastic and styrofoam trash you see.
Following are a few efforts being made on larger scale: