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The world’s oceans are full of plastic confetti

Original version is Image:Oceanic gyres.png. T...

Original version is Image:Oceanic gyres.png. The north pacific gyre is highlighted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A marine expedition of environmentalists has confirmed the bad news it feared — the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” extends even further than previously known.

The area is part of one of the ocean’s five tropical gyres — regions where bodies of water converge, with currents delivering high concentrations of plastic debris.

Scripps Institute graduate Miriam Goldstein was chief scientist on a expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2009. According to her research, there has been a 100-fold increase in plastic garbage in the last 40 years, most of it broken down into tiny crumbs to form a concentrated soup.

The particles are so small and profuse that they can’t be dredged out. “You need a net with very fine mesh and then you’re catching baby fish, baby squid — everything,” Goldstein says. “For every gram of plastic you’re taking out, you probably take out more or less the equivalent of sea life.”
»Research ship finds the world’s oceans are ‘plasticized’

What is even more alarming than the presence, size and number of these debris patches, is the fact that as the plastic flotsam arrives in the gyre it begins to photodegrade – meaning that as the materials are exposed to sunlight, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, until they reach the microscopic scale.

The plastics in the patches, throughout their various stages of breakdown, are also known to absorb organic pollutants from seawater, like the compound polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) a common carcinogen. At various stages of breakdown to the microscopic level, plastics in the garbage patches can be ingested by local marine wildlife, not only causing toxic contamination, but providing an entryway for microscopic plastic particles and contaminants into the food chain. This unfortunate situation threatens marine ecosystems in National Park units across the Pacific, already significantly impacted by human activities.
»The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The World Wildlife Fund‘s Living Planet Report for 2012 includes a list of the world’s  top 10 polluting countries topped by Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. They’re followed by Denmark, Belgium and the United States. Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland make up the remainder.

Countries are ranked on their consumption of renewable resources versus their biocapacity, or ability to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions. Dominating the list are high-income countries, whose average ecological footprint is now five times that of low-income nations.
»Earth ‘going downhill’ as consumption rises, report says

English: This Laysan Albatross chick has been ...

English: This Laysan Albatross chick has been accidentally fed plastic by its parents and died as a result. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s certainly not N. America creating this problem, but third world countries. Blame it on lack of education or the simple realities of poverty. People who awaken on a sidewalk and use a ditch for a latrine and garbage dump are simply not so savvy about “green awareness”.

Identifying the source and creating solutions is much easier than cleaning an ocean…


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