When we look at the good, the bad and the ugly of plastic pollution in our oceans, we unfortunately, find much more bad and ugly than good news. Like the ancient mariner who uttered “Until my Ghastly Tale is Told, This Heart Within Me Burns” we’re going to tell the tale of marine animals that have felt the deadly impact of plastic pollution, stay with us, this could not be more important.
Whale Dead – Overdosed On Plastic
Greenpeace in the Philippines came up with a creative and powerful artwork to catch the public’s attention and encourage a recycling campaign. A life-sized, 15 meter, whale constructed entirely from plastic waste brings the issue of wasteful plastic consumption before the public. The artwork is uncomfortable and depressing to see, which is exactly what is needed.
“Listen to the dead whale’s wake-up call, look closer and see what plastic pollution does to the ocean,” Greenpeace Philippines stated during the campaign.
Art Imitating Life and Death
Unfortunately art often imitates life, and we had a good example of that reality when a whale washed ashore in Spain last week. Plastic bags, fishing nets, nylon ropes and a drum were removed from the stomach of the young sperm whale that was discovered off the Mediterranean coast of southern Spain. In total 64 pounds of plastic trash were removed from the whale’s digestive system. (photo – cnn.com)
An autopsy determined that the marine animal had died from peritonitis, an inability to digest or evacuate the trash.
The “presence of plastics in seas and oceans is one of the biggest threats to the conservation of wildlife in the world” said Consuelo Rosauro, Murcia’s director-general for the natural environment and prompted calls to launch a campaign against ocean waste, as was reported in the huffingtonpost.
Each year approximately eight million tons of plastic enter the oceans in addition to the 150 million tons already there. A report released last month, stated that 70% of ocean litter is non-biodegradable plastic and unless dramatic steps are taken to avert this looming catastrophe that figure is expected to triple within the next decade.
Mantas in Plastic Pollution Paradise???
There is probably nothing more beautiful under water than the grace of a swimming Manta Ray. And once upon a time there was no island paradise more beautiful than Bali, but put the two together, today and you have something very different as this video from globalnews.ca captures.
Just within the last two weeks we reported on the plastic pollution engulfing Bali; the mass tourism overload at Maya Bay in Thailand and the “cesspool” pollution on Boracay Island in the Philippines. Three paradises that are international tourism hotspots making headlines because of Asia’s overwhelming and uncontrolled tourism issues.
Plastic Threatens Endangered Marine Animals
The most comprehensive study in nearly twenty years found that many of the world’s most endangered marine species have been seriously impacted by plastic pollution in the ocean.
“Hawaiian monk seals, North Atlantic right whales, African penguins and loggerhead turtles have all become caught up in fishing lines, choked on plastic bags or swallowed bottle tops,” as reported in the dailymail.
Good News for North Atlantic Right Whales
The Canadian government has taken concrete steps to save the endangered North Atlantic Right Whales after a devastating year during which an unprecedented number were lost to collisions and fishing net entanglements in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada’s busy maritime passage into the North Atlantic. These incidents have reduced the population to approximately 450, including only 100 females of breeding age.
Actions taken include curtailing the snow crab fishery to minimize the danger of fishing gear entanglements and imposing a mandatory speed restriction for all large vessels to lessen the possibility of collisions. Speed restrictions are in force between April 28 and November 15, and all snow crab fishing gear will be removed by June 30, two weeks earlier than normal. These actions and others are taken to prevent further harm to the whales while they are feeding in the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Where does all the garbage go?
The ocean’s floating plastic garbage is carried by ocean currents that eventually congregate this debris into five giant, rotating gyres. Over the last 35 years these ocean currents have been tracked by a worldwide distribution of floating buoys put in place and monitored by NASA. (photo – earth.com)
Using this data NASA recently created a time-lapse animation that traces the paths of these buoys over that period of time. One each of these gyres are located in the north and south Pacific, one in the Indian Ocean and one each in the north and south Atlantic.
Researchers of course have known of these five gyres since the 90’s but this is the first time that the patterns of accumulated waste and where it is transported have been depicted. See this and more in the dailymail.
Midway, remote but not to trash
Midway island is about as far away as you can get, from anywhere, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent. Midway is famous as the site of a pivotal Second World War naval battle that saw the destruction of the Japanese fleet. The atoll is approximately halfway between Japan and North America and smack in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest of the five ocean gyres. CNN’s reporter Nick Paton Walsh recently reported from Midway and the toll that plastic pollution is taking on the area’s marine life. Be forewarned that some of these images are graphic.
Another take on Midway Island
Many of us have seen the disturbing image of the albatross chick that died with a stomach full of plastic debris. That was Chris Jordan’s photo and this video is his entire story. Chris has been filming on Midway Island, a remote island paradise, home to countless thousands of seabirds but also located in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Dump. If ever there are heartrending images of the horrendous effects of plastic pollution on wildlife it has to be from here.
Jordan begins his film with a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
“Until my Ghastly Tale is Told, This Heart Within Me Burns”
A Smog Of Plastic
The Huffpost reported on the breakdown of floating ocean plastic into smaller and smaller pieces that eventually become a “smog of plastic.” “At last estimate, there were some 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash floating along the surface of the ocean. Waves, salt and UV radiation from the sun will eventually break down these items into microplastic particles, each less than 5 millimeters long. If you tried to account for not just the large pieces of plastic bobbing about, but also the particles, you’d be looking at a number close to 51 trillion, or “500 times more than the stars in our galaxy,” according to the United Nations Environment Program.”
“It’s on every beach, found in sediment worldwide, a small particulate that’s diffuse throughout the water column,” Eriksen said. “It’s a plastic smog throughout the world’s ocean.” See the entire article on Huffpost and find out about the ten things that you can do to curb plastic pollution.
A Caribbean Sea of Plastic
We know about the five floating gyres of plastic waste, in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean, but it seems that we need to add another and this one is closer to home. It’s been named the “floating island of Roatan” because it is located near Roatan Island in Honduras and carries debris from Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and the Caribbean Islands. Watch this video that calls for “the end of the Era of Plastic.”
Sea Turtles Return to a Mumbai Beach
So far we have not found much Good in the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly in Plastic Pollution”, so after some pretty depressing news, I am returning to our recent story on the world’s largest beach cleanup in Mumbai, India that had the fantastic result of bringing back, after two decades, sea turtles to once more nest on the beach. We hope you didn’t miss this inspiring story, but if you did, here’s a second chance, see: Rare Turtles Return After World’s Largest Beach Clean-up.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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