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[GreenYes] Plastic is Drastic: World's Largest 'Landfill' is in the ...
Proof that there is no such place as away.

Richard Anthony Associates
3891 Kendall Street
San Diego CA 92109
858 272 2905 (P)
858 272 3709 (F)

  • Subject: [Gaia-members] Plastic is Drastic: World's Largest 'Landfill' is in theMiddle of the Ocean
  • From: "(Nity)anand Jayaraman" <>
  • Date: Sat, 02 Nov 2002 22:59:52 -0800

>Plastic is Drastic:
>World's Largest 'Landfill' is in the Middle of the Ocean
>CAPT. CHARLES MOORE / Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF) 1nov02
>more on this issue: 
>There is a large part of the central Pacific Ocean that no one ever visits 
>and only a few ever pass through. Sailors avoid it like the plague for it 
>lacks the wind they need to sail. Fisherman leave it alone because its 
>lack of nutrients makes it an oceanic desert. This area includes the 
>“horse latitudes,” where stock transporters in the age of sail got stuck, 
>ran out of food and water and had to jettison their horses and other 
>livestock. Surprisingly, this is the largest ocean realm on our planet, 
>being about the size of Africa- over ten million square miles. A huge 
>mountain of air, which has been heated at the equator, and then begins 
>descending in a gentle clockwise rotation as it approaches the North Pole, 
>creates this ocean realm. The circular winds produce circular ocean 
>currents which spiral into a center where there is a slight down-welling. 
>Scientists know this atmospheric phenomenon as the subtropical high, and 
>the ocean current it creates as the north Pacific central or sub-tropical gyre.
>Because of the stability of this gentle maelstrom, the largest uniform 
>climatic feature on earth is also an accumulator of the debris of 
>civilization. Anything that floats, no matter where it comes from on the 
>north Pacific Rim or ocean, ends up here, sometimes after drifting around 
>the periphery for twelve years or more. Historically, this debris did not 
>accumulate because it was eventually broken down by microorganisms into 
>carbon dioxide and water. Now, however, in our battle to store goods 
>against natural deterioration, we have created a class of products that 
>defeats even the most creative and insidious bacteria. They are plastics. 
>Plastics are now virtually everywhere in our modern society. We drink out 
>of them, eat off of them, sit on them, and even drive in them. They’re 
>durable, lightweight, cheap, and can be made into virtually anything. But 
>it is these useful properties of plastics, which make them so harmful when 
>they end up in the environment. Plastics, like diamonds, are forever!
>If plastic doesn’t biodegrade, what does it do? It “photo-degrades” – a 
>process in which it is broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller 
>pieces, all of which are still plastic polymers, eventually becoming 
>individual molecules of plastic, still too tough for anything to digest. 
>For the last fifty-odd years, every piece of plastic that has made it from 
>our shores to the Pacific Ocean, has been breaking down and accumulating 
>in the central Pacific gyre. Oceanographers like Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the 
>world’s leading flotsam expert, refer to it as the great Pacific Garbage 
>Patch. The problem is that it is not a patch, it’s the size of a 
>continent, and it’s filling up with floating plastic waste. My research 
>has documented six pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton in this 
>area. My latest 3-month round trip research voyage just completed in Santa 
>Barbara this week, (our departure was covered by SBNP) got closer to the 
>center of the Garbage Patch than before and found levels of plastic 
>fragments that were far higher for hundreds of miles. We spent weeks 
>documenting the effects of what amounts to floating plastic sand of all 
>sizes on the creatures that inhabit this area. Our photographers captured 
>images of jellyfish hopelessly entangled in frayed line, and transparent 
>filter feeding organisms with colorful plastic fragments in their bellies.
>As we drifted in the center of this system, doing underwater photography 
>day and night, we began to realize what was happening. A paper plate 
>thrown overboard just stayed with us, there was no wind or current to move 
>it away. This is where all those things that wash down rivers to the sea 
>end up. On October 10, during our return trip to Santa Barbara, we 
>discovered something never before documented-a Langmuir Windrow of plastic 
>debris. Circular ocean currents with contrary rotation create long lines 
>of material, visible from above as streaks on the ocean. Normally these 
>are formed by planktonic organisms or foam, but we discovered one made of 
>plastic. Everything from huge hawsers to tiny fragments were formed into a 
>miles long line. We picked up hundreds of pounds of netting of all types 
>bailed together in this system along with every type and size of debris 
>imaginable. Sometimes, windrows like this drift down over the Hawaiian 
>Islands. That is when Waimanalo Beach on Oahu gets coated with blue green 
>plastic sand, along with staggering amounts of larger debris. Farther to 
>the northwest, at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem 
>Reserve, monk seals, the most endangered mammal species in the United 
>States, get entangled in debris, especially cheap plastic nets lost or 
>discarded by the fishing industry. Ninety percent of Hawaiian green sea 
>turtles nest here and eat the debris, mistaking it for their natural food, 
>as do Laysan and Black Footed Albatross. Indeed, the stomach contents of 
>Laysan Albatross look like the cigarette lighter shelf at a convenience 
>store they contain so many of them.
>It’s not just entanglement and indigestion that are problems caused by 
>plastic debris, however. There is a darker side to pollution of the ocean 
>by ubiquitous plastic fragments. As these fragments float around , they 
>accumulate the poisons we manufacture for various purposes that are not 
>water-soluble. It turns out that plastic polymers are sponges for DDT, 
>PCBs and nonylphenols -oily toxics that don’t dissolve in seawater. 
>Plastic pellets have been found to accumulate up to one million times the 
>level of these poisons that are floating in the water itself. These are 
>not like heavy metal poisons which affect the animal that ingests them 
>directly. Rather, they are what might be called “second generation “ 
>toxics. Animals have evolved receptors for elaborate organic molecules 
>called hormones, which regulate brain activity and reproduction. Hormone 
>receptors cannot distinguish these toxics from the natural estrogenic 
>hormone, estradiol, and when the pollutants dock at these receptors 
>instead of the natural hormone, they have been shown to have a number of 
>negative effects in everything from birds and fish to humans. The whole 
>issue of hormone disruption is becoming one of, if not the biggest 
>environmental issue of the 21st Century. Hormone disruption has been 
>implicated in lower sperm counts and higher ratios of females to males in 
>both humans and animals. Unchecked, this trend is a dead end for any species.
>A trillion trillion vectors for our worst pollutants are being ingested by 
>the most efficient natural vacuum cleaners nature ever invented, the mucus 
>web feeding jellies and salps (chordate jellies that are the fastest 
>growing multicellular organisms on the planet) out in the middle of the 
>ocean. These organisms are in turn eaten by fish and then, certainly in 
>many cases, by humans. We can grow pesticide free organic produce, but can 
>nature still produce a pesticide free organic fish? After what I have 
>witnessed first hand in the Pacific, I have my doubts.
>I am often asked why we can’t vacuum up the particles. In fact, it would 
>be more difficult than vacuuming up every square inch of the entire United 
>States, it’s larger and the fragments are mixed below the surface down to 
>at least 30 meters. Also, untold numbers of organisms would be destroyed 
>in the process. Besides, there is no economic resource that would be 
>directly benefited by this process. We have not yet learned how to factor 
>the health of the environment into our economic paradigm. We need to get 
>to work on this calculus quickly, for a stock market crash will pale by 
>comparison to an ecological crash on an oceanic scale.
>I know that when people think of the deep blue ocean, they see images of 
>pure, clean, unpolluted water. After we sample the surface water in the 
>central Pacific, I often dive over with a snorkel and a small aquarium 
>net. I have yet to come back after a fifteen minute swim without plastic 
>fragments for my collection. I can no longer see pristine images when I 
>think of the briny deep. Neither can I imagine any “beach cleanup” type of 
>solution. Only elimination of the source of the problem can result in an 
>ocean nearly free from plastic, and the desired result will only be seen 
>by citizens of the third millennium AD. The battle to change the way we 
>produce and consume plastics has just begun, but I believe it is essential 
>that it be fought now. The levels of plastic particulates in the Pacific 
>have at least tripled in the last ten years and a tenfold increase in the 
>next decade is not unreasonable. Then, sixty times more plastic than 
>plankton will float on its surface.
>Captain Charles Moore
>Aboard Oceanographic Research Vessel, Alguita

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