More plastic than plankton

Plastic bottles washed up on the beach

We use plastic for a variety of functions because it is cheap and easy to use. The problem is how much of that plastic that we use every day is not handled responsibly and recycled. We have reached the point where pollution from plastics waste is having a severe effect on the environment. I am not talking about landfills, though there is definitely an argument to be made for the work we have to do there. What I wanted to talk about today is the accumulation of plastic in the ocean. Researchers, like Captain Charles Moore and his team, have discovered that plastic are polluting our oceans in a big way.

Ever take a trip down to the beach? Did it look like this image? Let’s hope it did not, but more and more beaches are becoming receptacles for plastic water bottles and other trash that are thrown into lakes and rivers and eventually find their way into the ocean. What many people do not realize is that plastic is forever. It cannot be dissolved or used up and instead is merely broken down into smaller pieces. While plastic waste on beaches is certainly not something we want to see the issue that Captain Moore and the researchers at the Algalita Marine Foundation are focusing on is the pollution found in the oceanic gyres.

Water sample from the north pacific gyre

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? You can take a tour and get out there to see it for yourself, but it is not a popular destination. Located in the Pacific gyre, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area where oceanic tides have created a gathering point for much of the plastic waste that has found its way out to sea. Samples drawn from the gyre have revealed that there is more plastic than plankton in the water. After being buffeted around and stirred up in the ocean water much of the plastic that has made it to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been broken down into small colorful pellets. With the number of these little plastic pieces floating in the water having exceeded the amount of plankton there many fish are starting to eat the plastic. Instead of eating their natural food source, plankton, the fish are eating our trashed plastics.

The garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is not unique. Researchers have found trash build up in gyres in the North and South Atlantic, Indian, North and South Pacific oceans. Some of the most commonly discarded items are plastic water bottles. With only a small percentage of water bottles actually recycled in the U.S. there is plenty of room for each individual to make a difference. Try to drink from re-usable containers whenever possible and if you do buy a plastic bottle or other container make sure to recycle when you are finished. These are small steps, but together it can make a big difference.