(This is an article about the pollution of our oceans because of the plastic we discard. We must bear in mind that plastics by and large to do not biodegrade, they simply become smaller and smaller until they reach microscopic size and are part of the “soup”of the ocean and are ingested by all marine creatures. In turn we ingest it via the fish we eat.-Dereka Ogden)
The answer to this
question of marine debris cleanup is not as simple as you may think. It is certainly not cost-effective to skim the surface of the entire ocean. Even a cleanup focusing on “garbage patches” would be a tremendous challenge. Keep in mind these points:
Marine debris concentration areas move and change throughout the year. These areas are typically very large (see below)
The marine debris is not distributed evenly within these areas.
Modes of transport and cleanup will likely require fuel of some sort.
Most of the marine debris found in these areas is small bits of plastic, so while the large pieces could perhaps be collected the smaller ones could not, because of the issues mentioned below.
This all adds up to a bigger challenge than even sifting beach sand to remove bits of marine debris. In some areas where marine debris concentrates, so does marine life
(as in the STCZ). This makes simple skimming the debris risky—more harm than good may be caused. Remember that much of our ocean life is in the microscopic size range. For example, straining ocean waters for plastics (e.g., microplastics) would capture the plankton that are the base of the marine food web and responsible for 50% of the photosynthesis on Earth… roughly equivalent to all land plants!
Also, keep in mind that our oceans are immense areas!
The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on the planet covering nearly 30% of Earth’s surface area (~96 million square miles, or ~15 times the size of the continental US). Surveying less than 1% of the North Pacific Ocean, a 3-degree swath between 30° and 35°N and 150° to 180°W, requires covering approximately 1 x 106 km2. If you traveled at 11 knots (20 km/hour), and surveyed during daylight hours (approximately 10 hours a day) the area within 100m off of each side of your ship (Mio et al., 1990), it would take 68 ships one year to cover that area! Now, add to that the fact that these areas of debris concentration have no distinct boundaries, move throughout the year, and are affected by seasons, climate, El Nino, etc.
What are the next steps on Algalita’s Agenda?
Priorities for our land-based researchers include an ongoing project examining the role of plastics in transporting persistent organic Pollutants or POPs. Biologists with AMRI are currently studying fish from the Pacific Ocean to determine the type and amount of plastic ingested and analyze both the fish and plastics consumed for contaminants. We are analyzing samples of Albatross (by-catch of the fishing industry) from the Pacific for plastic consumption and contamination. Additional work is yet to be done on the characterization of trawl samples from previous Pacific Gyre voyages, as well as future Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean voyages. Another project planned will examine the presence of plastic in coastal sediments, and potential contaminants associated with those samples.
These articles show that we are killing the species in the oceans with our indulgence in plastic of all types which is so convenient and so destructive. If you try to eliminate plastic from your life you will find it almost impossible. We should be firstly informing people of the situation and then looking for ways to remedy the situation – use the least plastic possible and seek alternatives that are not a hazard to the planet. This includes balloons that everyone loves, particularly helium balloons, which are being filled with a precious and non-renewable resource. Helium is used for, among other things, MRI scanning.
Demand from the powers that be, that plastic bags be eliminated for a start and then other things like plastic bread tags to tie the bags up up, lids that are usually not recycled and the plastic rings that creatures get caught in. Sign petitions that advocate against plastic.