Here’s something you may not know about plastic: every piece of it ever produced, since it came on the scene in the 1950s, is still with us today. And it isn’t going anywhere.
Plastic is a non-biodegradable substance. No organisms, no bio-engineered bacteria are coming to the rescue to break down the molecular make-up of any of the plastic we create. It’s here to stay. And a great deal of it is floating around a Texas-sized whirlpool called the Northern Pacific Gyre, which has become infamously known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
A research vessel called the ORV Alguita, led by Captain Charles Moore, has been analyzing this gyre. Their latest research, which concluded in late February, entailed using what they call a Manta Trawler. The trawler is basically a fine net with a tail to make it look like a manta ray, with which they trawl across the gyre and collect samples. The samples are then analyzed to discover how the plastic accumulation is disrupting the ecosystem.
Since Moore began studying the gyre in 1997, the group’s analysis shows a five-fold increase in plastic quantities. Plastic pieces even outweigh surface zooplankton — the food source of most the area’s fish and birds — by 6 to 1.
The fish and the birds continue to feed as they always have, but now the food is much different. Now the food is toxic. The plastics we set adrift upon our oceans are actually bio-toxin accumulators. The Alguita could find no area of the gyre unaffected by the plague of plastic. They found plastic debris everywhere they went. The world, in all its vastness, is not big enough to get away from the pollutants of man.
In the Central North Pacific, 90% of Laysan Albatross chick carcasses and regurgitated stomach contents contain these toxic plastics. I’m no scientist, but I know we’re not supposed to eat plastic. And I know for sure that we’re not supposed to feed it to the rest of the planet either. I like to challenge my stomach every now and again with some fast food, but I’m not eating plastic because I know I can’t digest it. But fish and birds don’t know that. They eat what’s in the water because it’s always been that way. And by changing what they eat — make no mistake about it — we are poisoning them.
This is a moral problem as much as an ecological one. Until we clean up our act, our oceans and their inhabitants don’t stand a chance.
Check out the Alquita’s blog here.