| Documentaries Show Alarming Plastic
And BPA Pollution Destroying Our Oceans
Toxic Garbage Island on VBS.tv (Part 1)
Algalita Marine Research Foundation
Exactly 99 years ago, Leo Hendrik Baekeland invented the first
plastic based on a synthetic polymer - Bakelite - and ushered
in the age of plastic. From that moment onward, a new kind of
pollutant entered the sea; one that took a century or more to
Some reports estimate that there has been a 90 percent increase
in the density of litter over the past decade. More than a third
of the garbage found usually consists of fragments of melted plastic,
food wrappers, bottle lids and cotton buds.
If you should see this amazing floating pile of plastic pollution
in the Pacific Ocean, it's called "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch."
It features three million tons of plastic debris floating in an
area larger than Texas. An eye-popping 46,000 pieces of plastic
float on every square mile of ocean! Humans toss another 2.5 million
pieces into our oceans hourly.
While this trash continent is not thick enough to
be walked on, from the ocean surface to a depth of 30 feet, the
plastic is floating at a concentration six times that of its neighboring
zooplankton, the most abundant animal type of life both by number
and total weight. The plastic can reach concentrations of a million
pieces per square mile.
Most of this plastic debris originates from land as trash, being
swept out by rivers or the tide. About one fifth comes from ships'
cargo and oil platforms. Toothbrushes, cigarette lighters and
syringes have accumulated here and everything from Nike sneakers
to plastic yellow ducks has been lost from cargo ships.
Captain Paul Watson, www.seashepard.org, composed an essay, "The
Plastic Sea." He wrote a penetrating piece on humanity's desecration
of our oceans. If you ever see this plastic 'monster' as I have,
it will sicken you to the core of your soul. But the terror it
manifests sickens you further!
"We live in a plastic convenience culture; every human being
on this planet uses plastic materials directly and indirectly
every single day," Watson said. "Our babies begin life on Earth
by using some 210 million pounds of plastic diaper liners each
year; we give them plastic milk bottles, plastic toys, and buy
their food in plastic jars.
Due to undesirable wind patterns, most sailors have avoided this
area and a natural lack of nutrients in this ocean region has
given fishermen reason to look for fish elsewhere. The translucent
quality of the plastic just below the waters surface prevents
satellites from detecting it. These two factors have prevented
the sheer vastness of the garbage accumulation from being noticed
This region of the ocean is called the North Pacific Gyre. Warm
tropical air descends in a clockwise rotation over this vast area
of over 10 million square miles. These wind patterns create comparable
ocean currents which circle around a center point between California
and Japan. The nature of the North Pacific Gyre has created two
garbage patches on either side of the Hawaiian Islands. The Eastern
Pacific Garbage Patch is between California and Hawaii and is
twice the size of Texas. The Western Pacific Garbage Patch on
the other side of Hawaii is smaller, but still massive. The patches
are connected by a 6,000 mile long current which itself can accumulate
significant amounts of trash.
All debris that comes within this gyre can be caught in the rotation
and concentrated toward the center. The result: 100 million tons
of plastic circulating in the northern Pacific according to Charles
Moore, the American oceanographer who discovered the extent of
this accumulation. This is equal to all the plastic produced by
the world in one year.
Until recently, debris in this region did not accumulate because
it was easily broken down by microorganisms. However, the production
of plastics and their prolific distribution across the globe for
the last few decades has been the trump card played to the decomposers
of the ocean. Unlike wood and cotton, which can be broken down
into such things as carbon dioxide and water within months to
years, nothing in the ocean can biodegrade plastics.
The plastic from the 1950s that floated out to the ocean is still
there in pieces and will be for a long time.
In the sea, forces of the sun, the waves and collisions with
other solids break plastics into smaller pieces and eventually
into individual molecules, but this is not the same as biodegradation.
As the pieces get smaller they are still plastic and become more
harmful. They act like sponges for many chemical toxins, such
as DDT and PCBs, and concentrate the toxins up to a million times
the levels found in the surrounding water. The plastic pieces,
whether mistaken for food or so microscopic as to be unavoidable,
are consumed by seabirds and fish, which in turn make it to our
dinner plates. This can have disastrous consequences for food
webs and human health. Many of these chemicals have hormone disrupting
properties that affect both animals and humans.
The world produces at least 100 million tons of plastic each
year and about ten percent makes it to the oceans. However, the
problem lies deeper than just the surface. About 70 percent of
plastic products sink to the bottom. Of the 30 percent that floats,
most of it aggregates into patches within gyres. The greatest
percentage of plastic pollution affects wildlife the most by either
entangling creatures, and by being eaten.
Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic
pollution, and all seven of the world's turtle species are already
either endangered or threatened for a number of reasons. Turtles
get entangled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been
found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs. It is believed
they mistake these floating semi-transparent bags for jellyfish
and eat them. The turtles die from choking or from being unable
to eat. One dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific was found
to have more than 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach including
part of a comb, a toy truck wheel and nylon rope.
is great concern about the effect of plastic rubbish on marine
mammals in particular, because many of these creatures are already
under threat for a variety of other reasons e.g. whale populations
have been decimated by uncontrolled hunting. A recent US report
concluded that 100 000 marine mammals die each year in the world's
oceans by eating or becoming entangled in plastic rubbish, and
the position is worsening.When a marine mammal such as a Cape
fur seal gets caught up in a large piece of plastic, it may simply
drown, or become exhausted and die of starvation due to the greater
effort needed to swim, or the plastic may kill slowly over a period
of months or years as it bites into the animal causing wounds,
loss of blood and/or severing of limbs.
A large number of marine creatures become trapped and killed in
"ghost nets". These are pieces of gill nets which have
been lost by fishing vessels. Other pieces of fishing equipment
such as lobster pots may also keep trapping creatures.
World-wide, 75 marine bird species are known
to eat plastic articles. This includes 36 species found off South
Africa. A recent study of blue petrel chicks at South Africa's
remote Marion Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had plastic
in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidentally by their
parents. South African seabirds are among the worst affected in
the world. Plastics may remain in the stomachs, blocking digestion
and possibly causing starvation. As particular species seem to
be badly affected this may be a threat to whole populations of
There are also great quantities of the trash from these garbage
patches which are being washed daily up on shores, covering beaches
in California and especially the islands of Hawaii.
Chris Parry, a public education program manager who works for
the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco said, "At
this point, cleaning it up isn't an option. It's just going to
get bigger as our reliance on plastics continues... The long-term
solution is to stop producing as much plastic products at home
and change our consumption habits."
The solutions are tough to swallow sometimes, especially when
it could mean completely removing common and convenient plastic
products out of our lives. Moreover, cleaning up this vast quantity
of plastic and garbage would cost billions of dollars. Despite
the high price tag, the consequences of creating so much permanent
trash should be talked about.
Everyday changes can help to limit the growth of this garbage
patch. Reducing your use and purchasing of plastic products will
lower the production of plastics. Properly disposing of plastics
that you come into contact with will slow their accumulation in
What Can You Do?
At the beach dispose of plastics and other
litter in the bins provided. If these facilities are inadequate,
contact the local authority responsible and lodge a complaint.
Take your litter back home with you if there are no receptacles
on the beach. Pick up any plastic litter you may see on the
beach or in rock pools in the vicinity in which you are sitting
or walking. Encourage young children to do likewise.