Plastic crap – now the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans

I’m trying to save the trees
I saw it on TV
They cut the forest down
To build a piece of crap

I went back to the store
They gave me four more
The guy told me at the door
It’s a piece of crap

Piece of Crap, Neil Young, Sleeps with Angels

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conversation during our Arctic trip often turned to the environment. During one such interesting discussion, our skipper, Mark, voiced his concern that the attention focused on global warming was overshadowing the equally grave issue of global pollution. Those whose lives are closely aligned with the sea perhaps have a greater awareness of the extent to which humanity has fouled its abode.

I am reading the thought-provoking book, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. In the chapter entitled “Polymers are Forever”, referring to a study of beach samples by the University of Plymouth, it states,

“About one third turn out to be natural fibers such as seaweed, another third are plastic, and another third are unknown – meaning that they haven’t found a match in their polymer database, or that the particle has been in the water so long its color has degraded, or that it’s too small for their machine which analyzes fragments only to 20 microns – slightly thinner than a human hair.”

“This means we’re underestimating the amount of plastic that we’re finding. The true answer is we just don’t know how much is out there.”

“When they get as small as powder, even zooplankton will swallow them.””

It is with incredulity that we then learn that many cosmetic/toiletry products contain “exfoliants” which are actually plastic beads.

“”They’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean. Bite-sized pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea creatures.””

And what of the bigger pieces of plastic such as those to be found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

“During his first 1,000 mile crossing of the gyre, Moore calculated half a pound for every 100 square meters of debris on the surface and arrived at 3 million tons of plastic. His estimate, it turned out, was corroborated by US Navy calculations. It was the first of many staggering figures he would encounter. And it only represented visible plastic: an indeterminate amount of larger fragments get fouled by enough algae and barnacles to sink. In 1998, Moore returned with a trawling device … and found, incredibly, more plastic by weight than plankton on the ocean’s surface.

In fact, it wasn’t even close: six times as much.”

“Plastic debris, Moore believed, was now the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans.”

From plastic bags to cotton buds to toys to plastic kayaks to plastic powder, it can all be found in the ocean where it is presently being consumed by seabirds, turtles, fish, plankton, jellyfish and every other critter who lives there, or nearby. And, as it goes up the food chain, that would ultimately include humanity.

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