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The Plastic Sea – Islands of Plastic Debris Litter our Oceans

We use plastic every day; there is no getting around it. From the cars we drive to the food we eat, plastic materials dominate our lives. Plastics have simplified our lives so much over the past century it would be virtually impossible to reduce our use. The problem with plastics is the inability to biodegrade. Plastics break down over time, but only into smaller pieces.

For years we have been told to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It is hard to calculate, but many believe that only 70% of Americans recycle and only 28% of the waste produced by Americans is actually recycled. Americans produced an estimated 246 million tons of trash in 2005, it is estimated that only 32% of this trash was recycled. That is a lot of trash that is thrown into landfills or worse in our waterways.

The oceans are littered from corner to corner with all types of trash. Aluminum cans, plastics, a glass bottles make up a majority of the pollution. However, raw sewage, chemicals, pesticides, and other synthetic products are dumped each and every day adding to the problem. My focus remains only on the plastic, due to the growing problem in the Pacific Ocean.

In the Pacific Ocean, there are large areas of trash floating around, the majority of this trash is plastic and is growing by the day. Where is all of this trash coming from and why is it collecting in the Pacific Ocean? Some have described the floating mass as the size of Texas; others claim that it stretches from nearly the west coast of the United States to Asia. Islands throughout the Pacific are littered with debris. Locations such as the northern most islands of Hawaii, which are uninhabited, are covered with garbage, along with birds and other animals that are killed from consuming plastic. Birds have been found with stomachs filled of bottle caps, rope, and other debris. The birds either consumes the pieces thinking that it is food or from consuming fish that have already eaten the plastic. It’s a tragedy that many are not aware of and one that needs immediate action.

The garbage is trapped due to the North Pacific Gyre, which is the current that circulates clockwise around the North Pacific. The floating debris gets caught up in this circulation and continues to build in depth and area. It is a fact that Cargo ships and barges dump barrels of garbage into the ocean, with the assumption it will sink to the bottom, never to be seen again. We know this is never the case. Cruise ships are just as bad, dumping their garbage in International waters, so they do not have to pay to get rid of the waste when they make it to their destination. Then there is just every day littering that takes place. Add all of these factors and more, the problem grows each and every day.

Unfortunately, there is no quick solution due to the size of the polluted area. The massive cost to cleanup would most likely soar into the billions of dollars, taking years to even make a dent in the trash. My recommendation is to think about where that soda bottle or plastic straw that you use will end up. Recycle everything that you can, and when something is not recyclable, make sure it ends up in the right place. It’s not just the Pacific Ocean suffering; it’s your nearby stream, river, or lake, along with all of the organisms found within. This planet is connected in every way, so what you do at home makes a difference around the world.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is currently researching how the plastic is impacting marine life and how much plastic is really out there.



One comment

  1. avatar

    Great post to raise awareness of what we can all do to limit our own footprint on the environment.

    “Recycle everything that you can” – I second that!

About Cory Shank

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Cory is one of our Staff Marine Biologists and has been with the company since 1999. He has always had an interest in fish and inverts started soon after his employment began, and laid the path for him to earn his Marine Bio degree From Millersville University just a couple of years ago. Since graduation, Cory has been propagating many different corals including LPS and SPS and maintaining both his own reef aquaria and several at our retail store. His interests besides propagation include snorkeling, environmentalism, travel, and anything relating to reefs and oceans.