According to the United Nations Environment Program, every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic and of all the trash floating in the world’s oceans and in the Central Pacific, there are up to 6 pounds of marine litter to every pound of plankton.
Of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, 10 percent ends up in the ocean. 70% of that eventually sinks, doing damage to ocean floor life. The rest floats.
A vast amount of garbage has accumulated in The North Pacific Gyre, which is a slow moving clockwise spiral of currents that spawned the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–the largest “landfill” in the world. It’s actually two large masses: the Western and Eastern Garbage Patches which are connected by a thin 6,000-mile long current called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. The Eastern Patch floats between Hawaii and California and is estimated as two times bigger than Texas. The Western patch forms east of Japan and west of Hawaii. This “plastic soup” extends 100 feet below the surface.
The biggest concern is that plastic does not biodegrade. It photodegrades–breaking into smaller and smaller bits of plastic. Click here to watch an msnbc.com video about this garbage patch and what they call a “toilet bowl of plastics”.
More than a million birds and marine animals die each year from consuming or becoming caught in plastic or other debris. The tiny particles become “food” to filter feeders, damaging their bodies. Fifty species of fish and many turtles eat these filter feeders regularly. Other marine animals mistake plastic for food and end up poisened or dead. Plastic in the intestines of sea turtles make them float so they cannot dive underwater for food. Albatrosses, which roam the northern Pacific Ocean, grab food wherever they can find it and many die from eating plastic and other trash. On Midway Island, which comes into contact with the Eastern Garbage Patch, albatrosses give birth to 500,000 chicks every year. 200,000 chicks die, many from consuming plastic and other debris. When scientists studied the carcasses of Layson Albatross chicks, they found that 90% contained plastic.
Plastic sand on Hawaiian beaches. Massive amounts of trash from the gyres find their way to the 19 islands of Hawaiian archipelago, including Midway Island. Some beaches are buried under 5-10 feet of trash. Others have “plastic sand”, millions of grain-like pieces of plastic that are virtually impossible to clean up.
80% of plastic in the ocean comes from land activities. People leaving trash on the beach… manufacturers allowing their waste to end up in waterways, plastic bags that blow away find their way to the streams and oceans. And eventually they make their way to the North Pacific Gyre.
What we can do…
- Join the environmental cleanup coalition–they need people with skills ranging from the office to the field, people who want to contribute to the effort to create a sustainable and healthy ocean. You can also make a tax deductible donation to their North Pacific Gyre Clean-Up to help them in their mission to restore health to our oceans.
- Click here to sign the Care2 Petition to Clean Up the North Pacific here.
- Reduce consumption of products with excessive plastic packaging or be sure the packaging is at least recyclable–and recycle it.
- Say no to plastic grocery bags and disposable water bottles. We toss enough disposable water bottles in the US to circle the equator every 2.9 days and only 15% of that is recycled!
- sign the global petition to BAN THE PLASTIC BAG! It’s quick and easy… just click here.
- Spread the word to your family and network of friends!
IMPORTANT SIDE (OR NOT SO SIDE) NOTE: BPA–a danger lurking in many plastics.
Bisphenol-a (BPA) is the building block of polycarbonate plastic and a component of epoxy resins… used in thousands of consumer products, including food packaging. With plastic as part of the marine food chain (and, no doubt, land-based animals are injesting it as well), does this mean that every time I cook up a salmon fillet, I’m also feeding my family BPA? Just when I thought I was limiting my bpa exposure by switching to non-plastic reusable water bottles and limiting my consumption of canned foods! I buy wild fish, but who’s to say they’re any better at differentiating plastic from food than other fish?
BPA behaves like the hormone estrogen once it enters the body and disturbs the normal working of certain genes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that bpa is present in the urine of 93% of Americans and other studies have shown it damages development in fetuses and young children. Some studies have linked BPA to brain and mood disorders in monkeys.
Research suggests that BPA exposure may contribute to the epidemic of breast cancer and animal studies implicate bpa in childhood obesity, which raises the risk of early puberty, a known risk factor for breast cancer. (source: breastcancerfund.org)
Other studies suggest BPA is more dangerous to the unborn and developing child, and that the FDA’s current safety level is too high. Last year, the National Institutes of Health reported it was concerned that BPA could affect the development of fetuses and young children, and their brains in particular.