Monday, 10 January 2011

Plastic Stupidity Awareness Day

All great lobbies have an awareness day for basically everything, why shouldn't this Toxicology blog hold the same policy if the intention is to claim attention to a global event that jeopardises our lives. Straight to the point I am talking today about something that most of us are not aware about or, to some extent, wish not to be aware of - The Plastic Vortex - characterised by enormous amounts of pelagic plastics (referring to plastics surfacing on water layers far from the bottom of the oceans), chemical sludge (effluents of gaseous and liquid human/industrial waste of inorganic and organic disposal) and other types of debris entrapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre -, but not everything will be about bad news as we are simultaneously introducing you Project Kaisei and their ultimate mission that will, in time, help us save this planet, i.e., Capturing the Plastic Vortex.

I worked as a volunteer for P.O.F.A. (Program for the Observation of Fisheries in Azores; P.O.P.A. in  Portuguese) a project conducted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceanography [D.O.P., in Portuguese] (University of Azores, Portugal) concerning the dolphin safe stamp (the tuna catching), and as part of that project there was a protocol between the D.O.P. and the University of Florida for registering details of the Caretta caretta turtle. It was an amazing month for me, I was going through an emotional roller-coaster and that month at the high sea helped me to start seeing things a little bit selfish-less, to concentrate on other needs and develop personal interests (me and my friends had started MAPPA - a youth organization caring for animal rights and ecological issues back in Faro, Algarve, Portugal) supported by the vision of non-academic fisherman who were trying to cope with the difficulties of having to fish for money and food whilst trying their best to respect the environment and other life forms that are subsequently killed in parallel with the four main tuna species rambling on in the Atlantic Ocean. It was then, due to the information we were given as part of the induction all of the volunteers were to receive, that we were informed of the dangers of plastic and other kinds of rubbish thrown to sea, for many marine life forms. That was back in 2001, I was 22 years old, that was nearly 10 years ago!!!

It is now the year 2011 and the dangers of rubbish, specially plastic-type debris thrown to the ocean is still a major problem several bodies need to deal with. Amongst them we can find Project Kaisei - "a non-profit organization focused on taking you through a voyage to increase awareness of the scale of marine debris, its impact on our environment, and the solutions for both prevention and clean-up" [1]. The history of this group tells their recent start back in 2008 "by three co-founders from the San Francisco Bay Area, all with many years of ocean stewardship and activities behind them" [2]. Their first and initial concern was simply to draw attention to the amount of plastic that has been building up in our waters under our watch in the last 50 years, but Project Kaisei, "the name of the iconic brigantine vessel used in [their] expeditions, but also roughly means Ocean Planet in Japanese" [2] quickly turned into an organization that was building a global collaboration of science, industry, technology, innovation and policy to help bring about solutions to the way we treat waste in our daily lives, much of which finds its way to the sea" [2]. Well, the numbers easily spoke for themselves as "roughly ninety percent of marine litter is made from plastics, a class of pollution that is growing at a rapid rate, outpacing global recycling capacity and infrastructure, as societies around the world consume more disposable items" [2]. 

Amongst Project Kaisei's main goals and objectives one can find the upbringing of "new technologies , innovations, and capabilities that can both help us clean some of the plastic debris from our ocean, as well as prevent it from entering in the first place" [3], to educate society in terms of the value of our marine lives and their niches as well as of the environmental awareness (just what exactly this blog is up to today!). Such can be accomplished by acquiring and validating "information on the scope and status of the North Pacific Gyre (also known as the The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Pacific Trash Vortex), which can help to establish the metrics and plans needed to bring about a larger scale clean-up in the future, and finally to "bring about more focused education and research on marine debris issues, which will entail information on toxins, ecosystem impact, remediation or recycling possibilities, and new prevention options" [3].

For those who haven't recognised the problem yet, I am leaving now a brief summary of what is going on and what is trying to be raised up by Project Kaisei and their members. Then it is up to you to recognise what you can and cannot do to help. There's donations you can offer if you save at least 25 dollars for helping the environment [4], but for those sick of throwing money at projects and wanting to go straight to action by facing the sources of this huge problem, there's educational activities you can be part of, just visit their website and you'll get to know a lot more about it. For now let me just basically copy & paste info from a web blog I have found when researching this very same issue. 

For you, right now, an article from the 05th of February, 2008, by Kathy Marks, Asia-Pacific Correspondent, and Daniel Howden, extracted from the entitled,

"The world’s rubbish dump: a garbage tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan,

A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.   The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world’s largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents.

This drifting “soup” stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan. Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “trash vortex”, believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region.  Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Mr. Moore founded, said yesterday: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on.  It is not quite like that.  It is almost like a plastic soup.  It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.” Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam, has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years and compares the trash vortex to a living entity: “It moves around like a big animal without a leash.”  When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic.  “The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic,” he added. 

The “soup” is actually two linked areas, either side of the islands of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern pacific Garbage Patches.  About one-fifth of the junk – which includes everything from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms.  The rest comes from land. 

Mr. Moore, a former sailor, came across the sea of waste by chance in 1997, while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race.  He had steered his craft into the “north Pacific gyre” – a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems.  Usually sailors avoid it. He was astonished to find himself surrounded by rubbish, day after day, thousands of miles from land.  “Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by,” he said in an interview.  “How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?” Mr. Moore, the heir to a family fortune from the oil industry, subsequently sold his business interests and became an environmental activist. He warned yesterday that unless consumers cut back on their use of disposable plastics, the stew would be double in size over the next decade. 

Professor David Karl, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii, said more research was needed to establish the size and nature of the plastic soup but that there was “no reason to doubt” Algalita’s findings.  

“After all, the plastic trash is going somewhere and it is about time we get a full accounting of the distribution of plastic in the marine ecosystem and especially its fate and impact on marine ecosystems.”  Professor Karl is coordinating an expedition with Algalita in search of the garbage patch later this year and believes the expanse of junk actually represents new habitat. Historically, rubbish that ends up in oceanic gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics are so durable that objects half-a-century old have been found in the north Pacific dump. “Every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there somewhere,” said Tony Andrady, a chemist with the US-based Research Triangle Institute. 

Mr. Moore said that because the sea of rubbish is translucent and lies just below the water’s surface, it is not detectable in satellite photographs. “You only see it from the bow of ships,” he saidAccording to the UN Environment Programme, Plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food. Plastic is believed to constitute 90 percent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Dr. Eriksen said the slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too. Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles – the raw materials for the plastic industry – are lost or spilled every year, working their way into the sea. 

These pollutants act as chemical sponges attracting man-made chemicals such as hydrocarbons and the pesticide DDT. They then enter the food chain. “What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It’s that simple,” said Dr. Eriksen."

[1], last seen on  the 10th of January, 2011.

[2], last seen on the 10th of January, 2011.

[3], last seen on the 10th of January, 2011.

[4], last seen on the 10th of January, 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment