Sailing in a Plastic Sea

David de Rothschild's catamaran, Plastiki

A couple of years ago I drove around Oahu, the main island in Hawaii and I noticed something very disturbing.  All around the island there were plastic bag trees growing. The trees, which grew on the edge of cliffs overlooking the ocean on all sides of the island,  were covered with billowing plastic bags.

From time to time I’d stop the car and try to grab at the bags but it was not easy as the trees were often in precipitous positions.

I couldn’t help but wonder where the bags would wind up.  Surely there must be thousands flying off these trees annually.

Another sight I won’t forget is seeing plastic bags floating in the harbour of Ushuaia – the southern most port of South America. Those bags have a one way trip to Antarctica.

I’ve also discovered the destination of the Hawaiian plastic bags.

I have copied the following from the website http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-worlds-rubbish-dump-a-garbage-tip-that-stretches-from-hawaii-to-japan-778016.html . The article is titled, The World’s Rubbish Dump: A tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan by Kathy Marks and Daniel Howden.

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. 

Map of the Plastic Soup Area from http://yachtpals.com/plastiki-9041

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.”

The United Nations estimates that there are more than 13,000 pieces of plastic in every square kilometre of ocean surface. They also estimate that the above floating garbage dump is about six times the size of England and that it kills a million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish every year.

I noticed that powerful beverage companies are bemoaning huge losses of profits because of bans against plastic bottles – notably the banning of bottled water in Bundanoon, Australia. Bundanoon was the first town in the world to replace plastic bottles with free public bubblers and drew world wide attention for their stance. As profits declined substantially, the beverage industry retaliated by producing Facebook, You Tube and Twitter items that mocked the residents of Bundanoon.

But Bundanoon is not alone its stand. The NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change has stopped having bottled water delivered to its offices and discourages staff from buying new bottles. Other councils in New South Wales have also taken a stand against plastic water bottles and have installed water bubblers.

I wrote a book, the Doofuzz Dudes and the Babbling Bottles, to highlight the problems caused by disposable drinking bottles.

Doing the same thing is a very interesting man, David de Rothschild, who is the Rothschild banking heir and a committed environmentalist and adventurer.  

David de Rothschild

Sailing in his catamaran, Plastiki, David set out from San Francisco in March this year on a voyage to prove that plastic bottles can withstand the harsh conditions of the ocean. Plastiki is kept afloat by 12,500 plastic bottles. His mission is to draw attention to the fact that plastic never degrades and that every bit of plastic ever produced is still somewhere in the planet, with much of it choking the oceans and inside fish and birds after being broken into small particles by sunlight. (Read about the journey on http://www.theplastiki.com/). So sorry, but that means that your tasty dish of fish also comes with an extra serve of plastic.

Whilst on his voyage, David noted many plastic bags, bottles, lids and styrofoam containers floating past.

To take an excerpt from http://yachtpals.com/plastiki-9041

If the plastic is inert and stable, who cares? Well, recently, scientists have noticed that some very nasty chemicals, like PCB’s for example (banned in the US for over 30 years), are somehow finding their way into fish caught far out at sea. PCB’s don’t dissolve well in sea water, and they are notably heavier, so it was long thought that any PCB’s that made it to the ocean would sink out of the way (or at least become some future generation’s problem to deal with). Thus, scientists had been perplexed as to where the PCB’s are coming from. But then a new theory was put forth, and suddenly it all made sense.  

Many persistent organic pollutants like PCB’s have a high lipid solubility – meaning they’re oily, or at least can be dissolved in oily materials. If you’ve ever tried to clean spaghetti sauce or any kind of grease off of a plastic container, then you know exactly what’s going on. It seems things like the PCB’s literally stick to the porous surface of the plastics, much like stubborn cooking grease. So, instead of falling to the depths, some of the most persistent toxins man has introduced to the world are staying glued to some of the most persistent garbage we’ve ever produced, and being introduced right back into our own food chain. Put simply: Our chickens of the sea are coming home to roost! 

The way the toxins like PCB’s get into the food chain is via those plastic bits. Small fish tend to eat everything that fits into their mouths (which worked out well for hundreds of millions of years), so they eat the poisoned plastic pieces. Digestive juices and processes then break the physical bond between the PCB’s and the plastic, and introduce the PCB’s into the fish’s fatty tissues. Then the small fish are eaten by bigger fish, until the toxins from all the plastics that all those little fish ate, end up concentrated on the Mahi Mahi platter at your local restaurant. 

Don’t eat fish? Well, fish byproducts are used in livestock feed. Organic vegan? Fish emulsion is a common “natural” fertilizer. By now, you’re getting the picture: That problem way out there in the middle of the ocean is now in your refrigerator. And remember, we only looked at one kind of plastic, and one kind of toxin. It’s a big, big mess out there, and getting bigger. But the message isn’t that the sky is falling. Though we can’t yet solve the problem, we can slow its progress while we figure it out. The first step is to get the word out, and as noted: Plastiki is an attempt to do that.

David noted something else that also is of great concern –  there were hardly any fish in the sea and no marine animals. One wonders if this is because of the seas being overfished or because plastic is killing marine life. Either way, if there’s not enough fish to go around then penguins, whales, bears and birds will all be starving. Even served with a side dish of plastic, it’s still better than eating nothing!

A sea of fishing boats in Kerala, India

I also noticed when I was in Antarctica that there were not the huge numbers of marine animals passing that I had expected. I saw just one whale and no seals. All I saw were penguins and when we visited penguin breeding grounds we were told that each year their numbers had diminished.

After this year. cruise ships carrying more than 500 people will be banned from Antarctic waters. This is to avoid the possibility of oil spills but I would also feel that it would be beneficial to the penguins as surely they can’t enjoy the endless parade of gawking passersby.

But back to plastic. Fortunately, more and more supermarkets have stopped supplying plastic bags for groceries. However, how will we clean up the dreadful mess in the ocean?

Oh I know! We should find another planet with water and start again. What a shame that it seems that we were given the very best piece of real estate within cooee of our solar system and guess what? We blew it!

FACING SHARKS

The Sydney Aquarium has launched a program known as Shark IQ in an effort to diminish people’s fears about sharks.

New tracking technology, a hatchery and shark nursery have been unveiled at Darling Harbour. The NSW government and the CSIRO will track the movement of bull sharks and great white sharks along the east coast of Australia.

They are anxious to protect the grey nurse shark and the speartooth shark which are both critically endangered in Australian waters.

Maybe if there are hardly any fish left in the sea as observed by David de Rothschild, then they are all dying of starvation. That is, if they can escape the Chinese fishermen who hack off their fins for shark fin soup.

CADBURYS RETHINKS PALM OIL DECISION

I wonder if Swiss Chocolatiers would approve of palm oil as an ingredient in chocolate? I think not.  I love the way Cadbury is trying to persuade people that they made the substitute, not as a financial consideration, but with the taste buds of the consumer in mind. Ha!

It seems that chocolate lovers weren’t impressed.  It’s probably too late for the poor orangutans and other jungle dwelling animals that have already lost their homes but at least that’s one less customer for palm oil.

The following item was copied from an article on www.news.com.au

CADBURY has caved in to pressure from outraged chocolate fanatics and pledged to remove palm oil from its Tasmanian-made blocks.

The company had tried to persuade Cadbury lovers its new recipe, replacing some cocoa butter with palm oil, would make its chocolate smoother, The Mercury reports.

But consumers were not convinced and Cadbury has been forced to apologise and revert to the original recipe, after being flooded with complaints.

“We are removing palm oil and returning to a cocoa butter only recipe for Cadbury’s entire moulded block chocolate range, including our flagship Cadbury Dairy Milk brand and product lines such as Old Gold and Dream,” Cadbury Australia managing director Mark Callaghan said yesterday.

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/business/cadbury-removes-palm-oil/story-e6frfm1i-1225764168405#ixzz0yh2wFwar

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One response to “Sailing in a Plastic Sea

  1. Pingback: Help! Where is the closest rubbish dump planet? « Roslyn Motter – Children's Author

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