We commonly think of throwing something AWAY and it is gone. But being really far away like Hendeson Island in the south Pacific Ocean, is not far enough to escape plastic garbage.
5000 kilometers is not far enough!
Henderson Island (part of the Pitcairn Islands) is an uninhabited atoll, 5000 kilometers from the nearest population center. Although remote, Henderson now has the distinction of being the repository of the world’s highest density of plastic debris. The island, only six miles long, is littered with nearly 38 million pieces of plastic.
For an uninhabited island that has been designated a World Heritage Site, how can this be?
It’s the neighborhood of course! Henderson Island is located near the center of the South Pacific Gyre, one of five, enormous confluences of ocean currents that concentrate floating debris.
The South Pacific Gyre
The South Pacific Gyre is not the largest, that distinction belongs to the North Pacific Gyre located between California and Japan. Most of the plastic pollution that ends up on Henderson Island originates in South America or from fishing boats.
The latest research team to visit Henderson Island led by Dr. Jennifer Lavers of RSPB, determined that there was an average of 671 trash items per square meter on the island’s beaches, the highest density ever recorded.
“What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans,” Dr Lavers said.
“Far from being the pristine ‘deserted island’ that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale.” See the entire article in sciencedaily.
We Can’t see All the Debris
The reality is that the plastic pollution recorded on Henderson Island might not be finding everything. A majority of the debris, (estimated at 68%) is not visible, because it is buried under the sand and as plastic breaks apart it forms small microplastics that are much harder to record.
As we would expect, much of the plastic originally had a life as everyday consumer items; plastic bottles, grocery bags and flip flops, yes flip flops, see our post: Flip Flop Facts.
Also see a report published in Ocean Currents from UC Santa Barbara. “An Ocean of Plastic”
Plastics are a Toxic Time-bomb
Theguardian.com, just published a call to action, for individuals, communities and governments to act, now. Read: Toxic timebomb: why we must fight back against the world’s plague of plastic as theguardian reports that plastic pollution is everywhere from the Arctic to the deepest waters of the Mariana Trench. 12 million tons of plastic debris enter into our oceans every year and once there it can float around for decades, travel thousands of miles and threaten seabirds, marine mammals, fish and us. Since plastic does not biodegrade, but breaks into smaller pieces, it can enter the world’s seafood chain, where it directly threatens millions of humans.
The Oceans Are Drowning In Plastic — And No One’s Paying Attention
The Huffington Post is publishing a series of articles on ocean plastics, this is from the lastest in that series. (photo – Greenland trash dump, Getty)
The articles asks us to imagine an area that is 34 times the size of Manhattan, covered ankle-deep in plastic waste — grocery bags, soft drink bottles and takeout food containers, seen to the horizon. That totals to about 19 billion pounds of garbage and according to the best estimates, is the amount of plastic garbage that ends in the ocean every year..
“We’re being overwhelmed by our waste,” is what Jenna Jambeck said. Jambeck is an environmental engineer who led the 2015 study that determined the enormous amount of annual plastic waste described above. An amount she cautions, that can double by 2025 unless something is done, swiftly and globally, to stem the tide of garbage.
Some of this ocean plastic waste comes from ships, especially fishing boats infamous for discarded fishing nets. (see below). However, in excess of 80 percent enters the oceans from land, where unsustainable activities include the deliberate dumping of garbage into waterways and Mismanaged waste disposal appear to be the primary culprits. (photo – Manila bay, Erik De Castro/Reuters)
Mismanaged Waste Management
According to Jambeck’s research, in 2010, over 50% of waste in more than 60 countries worldwide was inadequately managed. A lack of waste management infrastructure, combined with an exploding population, outstrips government’s ability or desire to cope with this problem. China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines ― were identified in a 2015 Ocean Conservancy report as the the world’s five top plastic polluting countries. See our post: Could 5 countries solve 50% of the world’s Ocean Plastic Pollution?
The developed world also bears responsibility for plastic pollution. Since the population of the United States produces and uses so much more plastic than developing countries, single-use packaging and litter represents an enormous part of the problem. Illustrating this point volunteers in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup collected in a single day; nearly 1 million plastic beverage bottles, over 800,000 bottle caps and nearly 500,000 plastic bags and drinking straws.
Prince Charles says Its Time to Solve the “Human Disaster” of Plastics in our oceans.
1, The Circular Design Challenge asks for new ideas to avoid the generation of small-format plastic packaging waste, Small products that are hardly ever recycled and create a massive pollution problem.
2. the Circular Materials Challenge seeks innovations to find alternatives to plastic packaging that are recyclable.
“Unlike so many challenges that now confront us, there is a solution readily to hand and, speaking as a grandfather with a new grandchild … I think we probably owe it to everyone else’s grandchildren to grasp that solution,” he said.
Ghost Gear Keeps on Fishing
Britannica.com reports that the oceans are littered with what’s known as “ghost fishing gear” lost, abandoned, or discarded fishing nets, traps, and lines. According to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, there can be many reasons why fishing gear goes ghost, including: fishing in poor weather; gear getting snagged on seafloor obstructions like shipwrecks; or simply overused and poorly maintained gear. (photo – plastic junknets-hawaii)
It is now estimated that 640,000 tons of ghost fishing gear is added to the floating debris in the world’s oceans, each year and we have seen the results, endless, painful images of marine mammals and seabirds entangledin fishing gear. If a trapped animal doesn’t die from injuries sustained during the entanglement, it will drown or starve. An entire coral reef can be destroyed by a “ghost” fishing net, killing some animals and wiping out the habitat of others.
Ghost gear has not always been the problem that it is today, A century ago, a discarded fishing nets would eventually degrade. Unfortunately, todays’ fishing nets are made of very durable, nylon and polypropylene that can persist in the ocean for up to 600 years. They float on the surface, exposed to sunlight that eventually causes them to break into smaller bits of plastic, micro plastics that can then enter into the food chain
Recycle Plastic Fishing Nets
As we have reported, there have been some very imaginative products that are now produced from plastic “ghost” fishing nets recovered from the sea. See our recent posts on the running shoes and swimwear that Adidas is producing from recycled, discarded fishing gear recovered from the Indian Ocean. See In the Swim with Plastics Recovered from the Sea and Your Next Pair of Running Shoes can be made of Recycled Ocean Plastics.
How Do We Rid the World’s Oceans of Plastic?
The Ocean Cleanup aims to take a bite out of ocean plastic. The Dutch foundation announced that it’s newest clean-up design will be deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in early 2018, two years ahead of schedule. The 22-year old founder of Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat said that a “technological breakthrough” has made the project cheaper and more effective than originally expected.
Original estimates suggested that 42% of the trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch would be removed over a 10 year period at a cost of $320 million. Now Siat suggests that 50% of the trash can be removed within five years at a cost “significantly lower” than the original $320 million. Slat has already raised over $20 million that has allowed him to deploy prototypes in the North Sea. The original design called for a gigantic floating boom, possibly 60 kilometers in length. That design has now been replaced with multiple, smaller units better able to withstand the rigors of exposure to ocean storms and currents. See our earlier post on the Ocean Cleanup project: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Taking Out the Trash.
Pest Potentially Provides Solution to Plastic Pollution Problem
Could a tiny caterpillar hold hope for cleaning up our plastic ocean pollution. The caterpillars of the greater wax moth seem to have an appetite for plastic, especially Polyethylene that is used in trillions of plastic shopping bags, worldwide. Polyethylene is a product that is nearly impossible to biodegrade and once in the ocean is a death trap for seabirds and marine mammals. Find out more with this recent post:
See Related Blue Ocean Posts on Ocean Plastics:
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