How Plastic is Devastating our Ecosystems
What causes the death of one million seabirds and one hundred thousand marine animals yearly?
What causes over 13 BILLION dollars in damage EVERY year to the fishing, shipping, beaches, tourism, and other industries?
What causes contamination and pollution to fish that is not only consumed by other fish – but by humans as well? (Pollutants linked to cancers, malformation and impaired reproductive systems)
Plastic and other garbage enter our oceans through rivers and waterways and also through our storm and sewer systems – especially when they overflow. Imagine the places that have NO systems in place. About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. Part of this accumulates in 5 areas where currents converge: the gyres (areas in oceans where currents meet. These act as traps for garbage.) At least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently in the oceans , a third of all garbage is concentrated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch located between Hawaii and California. Each of these gyres is several MILLION square kilometers in size. Just to put this into perspective for you, 1 million square kilometers equals 386102.159 square miles. That is the size of Egypt, Tanzania, or Nigeria. That’s one BIG GIANT GARBAGE PILE!
Every week the volume of two Empire State Buildings worth of plastic floats into the oceans, where it damages ecosystems, damages economies and enters the food chain, thereby potentially damaging us humans. Plastic pollution is not only disgusting, but it harbors and spreads many invasive species from one area to the next as it travels. It comes from a variety of sources including fishing nets, tampons, diapers, bottles, syringes, my gosh – so many things are made of plastic – just imagine how long this list is! It is truly a destructive force on our environment. Plastic’s devastating effect on marine mammals was first observed in the late 1970s, when scientists from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory concluded that plastic entanglement was killing up to 40,000 seals a year.
Plastic soda rings, “baggies,” styrofoam particles and plastic pellets are often mistaken by sea turtles as authentic food. Clogging their intestines, and missing out on vital nutrients, the turtles starve to death. Seabirds undergo a similar ordeal, mistaking the pellets for fish eggs, small crab and other prey, sometimes even feeding the pellets to their young. Despite the fact that only 0.05% of plastic pieces from surface waters are pellets, they comprise about 70% of the plastic eaten by seabirds. These small plastic particles have been found in the stomachs of 63 of the world’s approximately 250 species of seabirds.
A recent research study examined the guts of 504 individual fish of ten species caught in the English Channel. More than a third of the fish were found to contain microplastics. (Microplastics are smaller fragments of plastics that have degraded over time – they used to be big pieces of plastics – like water bottles, etc.)
Ten species of fish were examined – 5 that were bottom feeders and 5 from higher up in the water column. These plastics were found in the bellies of all species.
One group is taking on this environmental fiasco and actually doing something constructive to fix it. The Ocean CleanUp believes that instead of going after the plastic using boats and nets, it is far more productive to develop a network of long floating barriers, which would allow the ocean currents to passively gather the plastic. Once the plastic is concentrated at a central point, it can be collected for recycling.
The Ocean Cleanup’s feasibility study indicates that a single 100 kilometer-long cleanup array could remove 42% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over a period of 10 years.
There is a definate urgency to The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to clean it up, according to CEO and founder Boyan Slat: “The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up. It really is a ticking time bomb.”
Salesforce chairman, CEO and founder Marc Benioff says, “Protecting the oceans should be a priority for all of Earth’s citizens. The Ocean Cleanup is taking an innovative approach to preserving one of our most critical resources and raising visibility of this global challenge.”
The Ocean Cleanup will be deploying a 100 meter-long barrier segment in the second quarter of 2016 in the North Sea, off the coast of The Netherlands. It will be the first time their barrier design will be put to the test in open waters.
The main objective of the North Sea test is to monitor the effects of real-life sea conditions, with a focus on waves and currents. The motions of the barrier and the loads on the system will be monitored by cameras and sensors. The North Sea test will be helping to ensure the effectiveness and durability of their technology and all systems seem a-go for deploying these systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2020.
Why it’s important to get all this plastic pollution out of our oceans:
For the reasons stated at the beginning of this article, to name a few. Also, plastics do break down over time. Leaving them sit there in the water only further degrades the chemicals in their make up. For example, a big piece of plastic degrades over time into many small pieces of plastic which are much harder to retrieve from open waters. Not only that, but as they degrade, marine life ingests these poisons, toxins, and contaminated material as food. They transfer persistent toxins into the food chain – which – happens to include humans.
Plastics entering our oceans through a river generally stays in our oceans for months before it’s washed up on a beach somewhere to infect life on land. Now, when that plastic finds it’s way into one of the gyres – it can remain there for years – even decades – and pollute our water and marine life for a hundred years.
- So as we tackle the feat of cleaning up our oceans from years of well – just being really neglectful and stupid – we should also adopt a brand-new attitude pretty darn quick too.
- RECYCLE properly and ALWAYS.
- If you see trash lying about – just pick it up!
- Properly dispose of your spent items
- Um – try to use LESS plastic!
- Think of things that can get entangled by your mess when you discard it. Take measures to nip that in the bud – for instance cut apart your plastic bottle carriers so that birds and small animals won’t get their heads caught in them.
- The next time you’re at the beach – look around and clean up some trash.
- Just be conscious of what you are buying, consuming, and how you are discarding your products.
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