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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
ricanthony@aol.com
3891 Kendall Street
San Diego CA 92109
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WWW.RICHARDANTHONYASSOCIATES.COM



  • Subject: [Gaia-members] Plastic is Drastic: World's Largest 'Landfill' is in theMiddle of the Ocean
  • From: "(Nity)anand Jayaraman" <nity68@vsnl.com>
  • 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
><http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Ocean/Ocean-Plastic-Landfill-Algalita1nov02.htm>http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Ocean/Ocean-Plastic-Landfill-Algalita1nov02.htm
>
>more on this issue: 
><http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Sea-Of-Plastics.htm>http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Sea-Of-Plastics.htm
>
>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
><http://www.alguita.com>www.alguita.com
>www.algalita.org


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