Monday, March 5, 2012

Plastics In Our Oceans

Plastic is a serious problem in our oceans.  The photo below is not pretty.  I feel sad for posting something that looks so grotesque and offensive, but I feel readers need to know the truth.  As I hope is obvious, this bird died from a tummy ache caused by all the plastic it ate and could neither digest nor get rid of.   I hope it’s the most awful photo I ever put on my blog.   We who use (and dispose of) plastics need to know the consequences of our actions. 
dead bird plastics

When plastic gets washed, tossed, or thrown into the ocean, it drifts until it is caught into a current.  Plastic on land is bulldozed into a landfill, where it takes centuries to decompose.  Not so for plastic that winds up in the ocean.  It may take centuries to decompose, but in the meantime it drifts in the current.   One such current, the Great Pacific Gyre, is now the largest landfill in the world; scientists estimate that it’s twice the size of Texas—and 90 percent of it is plastic.” An illustration from that site shows what this floating garbage tank looks like: 

(I was unable to locate the original source for this image, which is widespread on the internet)

While the garbage collected in the Northern Pacific gyre gets the most attention, in fact the Northern Pacific current is just one of five, giant ocean current gyres in the world.  Each of the five major ocean gyres is a current that moves in a circular pattern, pushing plastics and other floating flotsam to its center.  Each one of these gyres has collected a huge mass of floating plastic. 

(Image is from HERE.)    As stated on one web site:
The use of disposable, single-use plastic items has effectively turned our oceans into plastic soup. While it is true that not all marine garbage is plastic, current peer-reviewed research clearly indicates that plastic is the dominant material littering the ocean, and its proportion consistently varies between 60% and 80% of the total garbage in the ocean.
Marine Impacts,” Plastics Free Times, (accessed March 4, 2012). 

The accumulation of plastic and other human-generated flotsam is having profound ecological consequences.  A study by graduate students at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at University of California at San Diego (HERE)  found that Nine percent of fish caught had plastics in their gut.  And, while the gyre may have attracted the most media attention, what of all the garbage that is just floating?  Who hasn’t walked on a beach and seen the human-generated garbage that gets washed up in the surf?

My husband once told me of an outing he took to a beach in China.  He was visiting Ningbo, which is just a short boat ride south of Shanghai.  The island of Putuoshan is, in historical terms, a “must see.”  It is supposedly very beautiful and home of many beaches as well as one of the famous mountains of China, Mount Putuo.   While there, he visited what was supposed to have been a beautiful beach.  There was just one problem.  The beach was completely covered with hospital waste.   Apparently some garbage ship had dumped its contents “at sea,” and the refuse had washed up on the beaches.

What can we do about this?  Well, what would you suggest?  Going beyond merely reducing, reusing, and recycling in our own lives, could we together raise awareness?   (Do you blog or tweet? Would you like to link your blog to this page, tweet about it, or mention it on Facebook?)

And going beyond giving mere lip service to the three R’s of conservation, could each of us really try to put those principles into action?  Could we actually use less plastic, use fewer disposable products?  If you are doing so, I applaud you! 

Could we insist that suppliers use environmentally friendly products?  And, in a few days, I will also talk about measures that are being taken in other countries to ensure that products are disposed of properly. 
Please leave a comment on my blog to share with others what you are doing to reduce, reuse or recycle.
I would also like to encourage young people to consider environmental studies in their future education plans.  A web page HERE describes the work of Daniel Burd, who in 2008 won an all Canada science fair competition for discovering a bacteria that decomposes plastic.  As Keinan Mick described in his guest blog post a few weeks ago, it is unfair for one generation to create troubles and then lay them at the feet of the next.  However unfair it may be, the next generation is inheriting a hefty dose of challenges.  I hope and trust that young people will be part of the answer to this problem. 

P.S. -- Yesterday in my church, it was mentioned that Lent was a time for spiritual reflection and growth. My Lenten practice this year is to write in my blog each day about one issue related to justice. The question came to my mind, perhaps I should explain why or how environmental issues are related to justice, and then how any of that relates to Lent? The simple answer is that they are all connected.  I’ll address this issue in a few days. (After all, writing 40 blog posts is quite an undertaking, and there’s plenty to write about.)  In the meantime, today’s topic was one that is easier to research and to write about. 
If you feel this blog post has been helpful, please leave a comment! 

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