One word for you: Plastics
Did you know that there is a “garbage patch” in the eastern Pacific Ocean, where currents tend to deposit floating material? Did you know that it’s mostly plastics?
Did you know it’s at least twice the size of Texas?
Captain Charles Moore has been there. Sailed right through the Garbage Patch, about 1,000 nautical miles, on his research catamaran Alguita.
“I often struggle to find words that will communicate the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to people who have never been to sea. Day after day, Alguita was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic,” Moore wrote in Natural History in 2003.
[T]he scale of the phenomenon is astounding. I now believe plastic debris to be the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans. Because 40 percent of the oceans are classified as subtropical gyres, a fourth of the planet’s surface area has become an accumulator of floating plastic debris. What can be done with this new class of products made specifically to defeat natural recycling?
There is now so much trash plastic in the world that it is re-entering the food chain; plastic only breaks down to a certain extent:
[T]he plastic polymers commonly used in consumer products, even as single molecules of plastic, are indigestible by any known organism. Even those single molecules must be further degraded by sunlight or slow oxidative breakdown before their constituents can be recycled into the building blocks of life. There is no data on how long such recycling takes in the ocean–some ecologists have made estimates of 500 years or more.
And then what happens?
Ebbesmeyer [a retired oceanographer] is not an optimist. He’s seen too many studies that never went anywhere.
“If you could fast forward 10,000 years and do an archeological dig, a core sample down through the beach, you’d find a little line of plastic,” he says. “What happened to those people? Well, they ate their own plastic and disrupted their genetic structure and weren’t able to reproduce. They didn’t last very long because they killed themselves. . .
“Mother Nature is writing to us, and she writes to us on the beach,” he says. “The ocean is warning us, and if we don’t listen, it’s very easy for her to get rid of us.”