One Massive Pile of Garbage Floating in the Pacific! No “Nurdles for Turtles”

For those who don’t know, there is a patch of garbage that stretches from the US to JAPAN. One massive pile of garbage, floating in the pacific, killing every animal that is unfortunate enough to get too close. This is the legacy we are leaving our children…

Did You Know?

Plastic resin pellets called “nurdles” are some of the most common bits of pollution littering the oceans. These pea-size nubs are manufactured by the billions and used as raw materials in the making of plastic goods.

That soup of plastic debris floats off the coast of California, is a testament to humanity’s reliance on plastic and the failure to dispose of it properly.

Just how big is this oceanic zone? Some say it is about the size of Quebec, or 600,000 square miles — also described as twice the size of Texas. Others say this expanse of junk swept together by currents is the size of the U.S. — 3.8 million square miles. Or, it could be twice that size.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it has been called, has become a symbol of what some say is a looming crisis over trash. But this floating mass of plastic in the Pacific Ocean is hard to measure, and few agree on how big it is or how much plastic it holds. That makes it difficult to determine what to do about it.

It did not stop activists and the media from using only the biggest estimates of the patch’s size to warn of an environmental catastrophe.

“We’ve found it really captures the public’s imagination and its focus,” says Eben Schwartz, marine-debris program manager for the California Coastal Commission, a state agency. The plastic-rich portion of the ocean is a product of swirling currents, known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, that gather and concentrate debris. It captured public attention thanks to the efforts of Charles Moore, a woodworker-turned-sea captain who sailed through the zone in 1997 and was stunned to find plastic debris hundreds of miles from land. “That set off alarm bells and made me want to monitor it, made me want to quantify it, made me want to get a better handle on it,” says Capt. Moore, a licensed merchant-marine officer.

He dedicated, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, that he had founded to studying this region of the ocean and publicizing its plastic problem. Says: Carl Bialik, from The Wall Street Journal.

“The “soup” is actually two linked areas, either side of the islands of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. About one-fifth of the junk – which includes everything from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land.

“David Karl, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii, believes the “plastic soup” may actually represent a new habitat; he plans on organizing a research expedition later this year to examine its size and nature. Plastic waste is one of the most significant sources of marine pollution: According to UNEP, plastic accounts for 90% of all debris floating in the oceans – with every square mile containing close to 46,000 pieces.

The pernicious effects of this “trash vortex” aren’t just limited to the marine ecosystem either. Every year, hundreds of millions of nurdles, tiny pieces of plastic, are dumped into or lost at sea, where they eventually make their way into the food chain by acting as sponges for a variety of anthropogenic chemicals (e.g. hydrocarbons and DDT).

 

The plastic can clog the stomachs of the marine vertebrates killing more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea turtles each year. Moreover, plastics attract chemicals like DDT and PCB poisoning any animal digesting them. Plastics leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can alter biochemical pathways within organisms. Let’s not forget petroleum usage to make a plastic bag. More importantly is the carbon dioxide pollution and petroleum used to transport bags to market.

The first impact of this is a more acidic deep sea due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Increases in greenhouse gases are also increasing the atmospheric temperature which in turn leads to a warmer ocean.

Considering we will prevent 4.185 lbs of plastic from reaching the ocean (18 people x 5 bags x .0465lbs). If we continue this for a year…234.36 lbs. Gasoline saved would equate to 0.16 gallons for the week 0.5 gallons per person annually to transport / 56 weeks x 18 people). For the entire year 8.96 gallons. Reduction in CO2 emissions equals 3.1 lbs for the week and 173.8 lbs for the year (CO2 emissions from a gallon of gasoline=19.4 pounds/gallon).

Again, marine trash, mainly plastic, is killing more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea turtles each year, said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a statement.

Plastic bags, bottle tops and polystyrene foam coffee cups are often found in the stomachs of Dead Sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles and others. The implications have many at the conference concerned. Last April, Dutch scientists released a report on litter in the North Sea and found that fulmars, a type of seagull, had an average of 30 pieces of plastic in their stomachs.

In the sea, big pieces of plastic look like jellyfish or squid, while small pieces look like fish eggs, says Bill Macdonald, vice president of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a Long Beach, California-based nonprofit environmental organization.

Macdonald, who is also an underwater filmmaker, said he has seen albatross parents fly huge distances to feed their young a deadly diet of plastic bottle caps, lighters and light sticks.

“The sheer volumes of plastic in oceans are staggering,” he said. In recent years Algalita researchers have sampled a huge area in the middle of the North Pacific, and found six pounds of plastic for every pound of algae.

About 250 billion pounds of raw plastic pellets are produced annually worldwide and turned into a tremendous variety of products, from cars and computers to packaging and pens.

Not only does plastic kill marine animals that eat it or get tangled in it and drown, but it also damages and degrades their habitat.

“Plastic hits marine creatures with a double whammy, Moore from National Geographic said. Along with the toxic chemicals released from the breakdown of plastic, animals also take in other chemicals that the plastic has accumulated from outside sources in the water.

“We knew ten years ago that plastic could be a million times more toxic than the seawater itself,” because plastic items tend to accumulate a surface layer of chemicals from seawater, Moore said. “They’re sponges.”

Moore worries about the plastic-derived chemicals’ potential damage to wildlife. The chemicals can potentially cause cancer in humans, he said, and simpler life-forms “may be more susceptible then we are.”

Pollutants also become more concentrated as animals eat other contaminated animals—which could be bad news for us, the animals at the top of the food chain. (Read National Geographic magazine’s “The Pollution Within.”)

Moore estimates plastic debris—most of it smaller than a fifth of an inch (five millimeters)—is “dispersed over millions of square miles of ocean and miles’ deep in the water column.

“The plastic soup we’ve made of the ocean is pretty universal—it’s just a matter of degree,” he said. “All these effects we’re worried about are happening throughout the ocean as a unity.”

Mr. Moore, however, is the first person to have pursued serious scientific research by sampling the garbage patch. In 1999, he dedicated the Algalita foundation to studying it. Now the foundation examines plastic debris and takes samples of polluted water off the California coast and across the Pacific Ocean. By dragging a fine mesh net behind his research vessel Alguita, a 50-foot aluminum catamaran, Mr. Moore is able to collect small plastic fragments.

Researchers measure the amount of plastic in each sample and calculate the weight of each fragment. They also test the tissues of any fish caught in the nets to measure for toxic chemicals. One rainbow runner from a previous voyage had 84 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

The research team has not tested the most recent catch for toxic chemicals, but the water samples show that the amount of plastic in the gyre and the larger Pacific is increasing. Water samples from February contained twice as much plastic as samples from a decade ago.

“Ninety percent of Laysan albatross chick carcasses and regurgitated stomach contents contain plastics. Fish and seabirds mistake plastic for food.”

Again; Plastic debris releases chemical additives and plasticizers into the ocean. Plastic also adsorbs hydrophobic pollutants like PCBs and pesticides like DDT. These pollutants bioaccumulate in the tissues of marine organisms, biomagnify up the food chain, and find their way into the foods we eat.

“This is not the garbage patch I knew in 1999,” Mr. Moore said. “This is a totally different animal.”

For the captain’s first mate, Jeffery Ernst, the patch was “just a reminder that there’s nowhere that isn’t affected by humanity.”

“It’s just dawning on people that the oceans are in deep trouble.”

 

 

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