Plastic pollution in our oceans

| July 15, 2019 | Leave a Comment

© Copyright Richard Humphrey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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Media Type: News / Op - Ed

Date of Publication: July 2019

Year of Publication: 2019

Author(s): Gioietta Kuo

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When a person tosses carelessly a plastic bottle into the sea, or someone with improper waste management  dumps plastic debris  from the coast, the thought is they have disposed of the object in our enormous oceans.  This is patently untrue because plastics, due to their chemical stability, do not disappear even when they disintegrate into small bits – microplastics. In time, the amount of plastics accumulate so much that today we are faced with a plastics crisis polluting our oceans – our vast ecosystem which we thought was invulnerable.

The world is now producing 300 million tons of plastics every year. More than 8 million tons of plastic is mindlessly dumped into our oceans despite governmental laws. They are truly ubiquitous and are even found along the coasts of northern Europe like Germany, Norway, Spain. Plastic grocery bags are one of the worst offenders which should be replaced by recycled paper or hemp cellulose.

Time has come for us to change our ways, to educate the public about how plastic pollution is bringing harm not only to human health and wellbeing because it is now in our food chain but to the suffering and eventual death of many precious marine creatures who co-inhabit our vast ecosystem.  To witness the pain, suffering and eventual death of our wonderful whales because of plastics ingestion is one of the saddest experiences that some of the more thoughtful humans on Earth can experience.

Here we show some more horrendous notable examples of what plastics are affecting us in unexpected areas.

  1. South Pacific Island Uninhabited For 600 Years Is Drowning In Plastic[1]

There is truly nowhere on Earth to escape the ravages of the indestructible plastics created by humans.  Remote Henderson Island in the South Pacific, a World Heritage site, is only 47 square kilometers in area. The nearest neighbor is Pitcairn, 193 km away with only a population of 56.  Henderson is more than 500 km from New Zealand and South America is even further.  It is so remote that one would expect it to be pristine and untouched by the ills of our civilization.

Dr. Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania has studied the anthropogenic debris on the beaches of Henderson inland and her findings are ugly and jarring to the eye, worse than the crowded beaches of South of France!

 

 

FIGURE 1  A beach on Henderson island

Plastic in paradise

Michael Brooke/Alamy Stock Photo

 

Lavers found an average of 239 items of human origin per square meter just at the beach surface. Almost all (99.8%) are plastic. Even worse twice as many are buried in the first 10 cm of sand.  In one sample, 672 items were found, being the highest recorded anywhere in the world.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lavers estimates that for the whole island there are 38 million pieces of plastic on it weighing 18 tonnes.  The origin of most fragments cannot be determined but there are many consumer items such as plastic cutlery and shampoo bottles.  8% come from fishing vessels tossing fishing rods.

  1. Pollution affecting marine creatures

More and more dolphins, whales, birds, and fish are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic.   A new study published in the journal Science  estimated that plastic debris washing into the ocean from 192 coastal countries reached somewhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons in 2010.[2].  This is based on data on the population size, economic status and waste management. Of course, global   overpopulation is a major cause of indiscriminate dumping of plastic in the ocean. Of the roughly 8 million of plastic dumped each year, 60% come from five countries : China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam [3] [4]

It is estimated that around 90 percent of all seabirds have ingested some amount of plastic; UNESCO estimates that 100,000 marine mammals die because of plastic pollution each year. [5]

  1. Whales with plastics in the stomach

Below we recount 3 examples of dead whales found with having ingested large amounts of plastic in the stomach.

What is extremely saddening is the pain and suffering we are causing to these wonderful harmless animals while they are struggling and eventually die.  Why do they have to suffer in the ecosystem which they have a right to  co-inhabit together with us humans?  Can we humans with good conscience do this to other creatures  in our environment?

(I)  Sperm whale found dead with 13 pounds of plastic in its stomach [6]

A dead sperm whale that washed ashore in eastern Indonesia had consumed a horrifying collection of plastic trash, including 115 drinking cups, 25 plastic bags, plastic bottles, two flip-flops and a bag containing more than 1,000 pieces of string.

In all, the plastic contents of this whale’s stomach weighed 13.2 pounds (six kilograms

The sight of this dead whale is truly saddening especially since it is classified as Endangered Species and considers as depleted under the marine Mammal Protection Act.

Indonesia, with a population of 263 million people and 34,000 miles (54,716 kilometers) of coastline, ranked second, behind China, on a list of the top 20 worst polluters of plastic trash to the world’s ocean.

It is comforting to quote  Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s minister of maritime affairs, who told the Associated Press that discovery of the whale should help raise awareness about plastic waste and the need to reduce its use. He said the government aims to reduce Indonesia’s plastic use by 70 percent by 2025. The government has urged shops to stop providing plastic bags to customers,  and has begun an educational program in schools to educate children about the problems of plastic waste.

“I’m so sad to hear this,” he told the Guardian. “It is possible that many other marine animals are contaminated with plastic waste and this is very dangerous for our lives.”

(II) DYING PILOT WHALE [7]

A small male pilot whale was found struggling, unable to swim or breathe, in a Thai canal near the Malaysia border. Rescuers fought to save the animal by deploying buoys to keep it afloat as veterinarians tended to it and propped up red umbrellas to protect its exposed skin from the sun’s rays.

The whale vomited up five plastic bags during the rescue attempt. It died five days after the attempt began.   Yes, 5 days dying of pain and suffering!

A necropsy revealed that more than 17 pounds of plastic had clogged up the whale’s stomach, making it impossible for it to ingest nutritional food. This waste was in the form of 80 shopping bags and other plastic debris.

(III)  CUVIER BEAKED WHALE [8][9]

The list of whales dying of plastics ingestion in long.  In the Davao Gulf of the Philippines it has been found that 61 whales have died out of which plastics was the cause for 45 of them. A young curvier beaked whale was found to be vomiting blood, listing badly as it swam, then died.  It had starved to death because it had 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

  1. More Microplastics in Deep Sea Than Great Pacific Garbage Patch [4][5]

As time goes on, large piece of plastics disintegrates into very small pieces of microplastics less than half centimeters large. This has infiltrated the Earth’s largest ecosystem – the deep ocean.

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) used small drone submarines to take sea-water samples from the ocean surface all the way down to the floor, at 3,200 feet [10]. They found that there were actually more microplastics 1,000 feet below sea level than there are in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [11] [12] which consists of the vast amount of plastics floating and moving around  with the currents in the vast stretches of North Pacific.  The findings come as people around the world prepare to celebrate World Oceans Day  and gives new insight into how plastics impact the entire marine environment.

It is found that the highest concentration of microplastics was between 600 and 2,000 feet below sea level. The maximum concentration discovered was 16 particles per cubic meter of water, four particles per cubic meter more than are found in the Garbage Patch [13].

“Scientists are now beginning to realize that microplastics are truly ubiquitous. They’ve been found from the seafloor to the mountain tops, in the air we breathe and in the salt we put on our meals.

What is important to note is that this microplastics are entering into our food chain through for example the crabs and larvaceans that we ingest.

Scrips Institute scientist Anela Choy has routinely found plastic caps and trash bags while studying the diet of tuna and other fish who live around 1000 feet below sea level.

What can be considered as even worse than that is the fact that the deeper the scientists look, the more trash they see? At the depth of about 11,000 meters of the Mariana Trench, the researchers were able to see microplastic in 100% of all the crustaceans that were collected. If this news isn’t alarming yet, there’s no reason what would be.

“The results of the study shows that the man-made plastics by humans are culminating in the ecosystem. It is slowly killing the species that inhabit the area,” said Alan Jamieson, a marine scientist from the New Castle press release.

So is there anywhere that is safe for humans?

  1. CONCLUSION

In this short treatise we have seen that man made plastics, through our negligence in disposal, has infiltrated to every region of our ecosystem including our vast oceans.   The effect of the plastic pollution is not only harming the economic and health of humans but also it is endangering the wellbeing and lives of many marine creatures. It is extremely sad to see the suffering and death of our beautiful whales.   Surely time has come for us to educate our population about safe plastic disposal and in particular in recycling on land projects.

Already world opinion is moving towards cleaning up of plastic pollution.  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans this week to eliminate SINGLE use plastics nationwide by 2021 – half of plastic debris come from single use which are explicitly designed for throw away use in our consumer society,

A company, 4ocean.com, founded by 2 Florida surfers [14] has removed 4.7 million pounds of trash in the water since 2017.  It has also created 300 jobs in the process (see video 4ocean.com) The business is booming and has expanded to Indonesia and Haiti.  How is 4clean.com funded?   By selling to you a recycled bracelet for $20 per the removal of one pound of trash [15].   Already they are named on the Forbes 30 ‘Under 30’ list of social entrepreneurs.  it is one of the start-op companies that is destined to grow into a million dollar business one day.   Would you join them in this noble adventure?

Does all this teach us something about the importance and urgency of not throwing plastics at sea and wise plastics disposal with massive recycling projects on land?

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Gioietta Kuo, MA at Cambridge, PhD in nuclear physics, Atlas Fellow at St Hilda’s College, Oxford and Princeton University plasma physics lab, is a research physicist. Over 70 professional articles and over 100 articles in environmental problems – in World Future Society-wfs.org, amcips.org, MAHB Stanford and other worldwide think tanks. Also in Chinese in ‘ People’s Daily’ and ‘World Environment’ – Magazine of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, and others in China. She can be reached at <kuopet@comcast.net.>

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REFERENCES

[1]  An Uninhabited South Pacific Island Is Drowning In Plastic …

www.iflscience.com/environment/south-pacific

[2]  8 Million Metric Tons of Plastic Dumped Into World … – EcoWatch

www.ecowatch.com/8-million-metric-tons-of

[3]  These 5 Countries Account for 60% of Plastic … – EcoWatch

www.ecowatch.com/these-5-countries-account-for

[4]  Five Asian Countries Dump More Plastic Into Oceans Than …

www.forbes.com/sites/hannahleung/2018/04/21/five

[5]  Facts and figures on marine pollution – UNESCO

www.unesco.org/…/facts-and-figures-on-marine-pollution

[6]  Sperm whale found dead with 13 pounds of plastic in its …

www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/

[7]  Pilot Whale Found Dead With Plastic in Stomach in Thailand

news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/06/whale-dead..

[8]  Dead Whale Washes Ashore with Shocking 88 lbs. of Plastic in …

www.livescience.com/65020-whale-with-88-pounds

[9]  This whale had more than 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach …

www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/

[10]  More Microplastics In Deep Sea Than Great Pacific Garbage Patch

https://www.EcoWatch·org

[11]  Great Pacific Garbage Patch | National Geographic Society

www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great

[12]  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch | The Ocean Cleanup

www.theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch

[13]  The Deep Ocean Harbors a Mountain of Microplastic Pollution

www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-deep

[14]  Meet the ocean cleanup company that’s removed 4.7 million …

www.cbsnews.com/news/4ocean-meet-cleanup-company

[15]  4ocean is Actively Cleaning our Oceans and Coastlines 4ocean.com

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