Saturday, October 15, 2011

Solutions

This image gives a whole new meaning to Green Stamps.  When I was a kid, our parents would be given paper green stamps, when buying groceries, that would allow them to get free stuff when they collect a gazillion.  They had to buy food anyway and when they filled about 6 books of stamps they could get some pretty cool free stuff.  Today these green stamps offer another savings and perhaps more important FREE stuff, like using less gives us more down the road.  I got these stamps from my friend Kurt Lieber who is a musician and an ocean activist. Check out his website http://www.oceandefenders.org/.

I've been blogging for three years now and today, finally, I had the chance to add another feature page to my blog.  It's called Solutions.  Each week I'm going to add another idea from the book Do one Green Thing - written by Mindy Pennybacker.  Change happens when each of us make simple adjustments in what we do whether it's TV shows we watch, things that we buy, food and beverages that we consume, or actions such as recycling or deciding not to throw trash on the ground (including cigarette butts).

Change happens when we make the old way of doing thing obsolete.  By bringing bags to the grocery store makes plastic bags obsolete.  Getting involved in groups that are trying to create change is another way to not only facilitate change, but connect with people that share the same values.  Surfrider, for example, is all about making change while having a good time. So be a part of the solution.  Change a simple habit, join a local chapter of Surfrider or an organization that doesn't have a profit gain as the focal point.  Be a part of something that matters - Change will do ya good.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bored? Creative Ways to Spend Your Day and Money

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Yesterday I attended an event that I would not have known about if it were not for Danielle Richardet,  and Sean Ahlum, Surfrider.  My job at the event called, Life Rolls On, (put on by a consortium of Surfrider, Odysea, and Ocean Cure) was to create a sand sculpture using plastics lift on Wrightsville Beach and kindly picked up by Ginger and John Taylor.  Danielle thought it be a good idea to make it into a foot print as in "What's your plastic footprint?"    video
When I got to the beach, I found a carpet of wooden panels that led to the shore line with a parade of enthusiastic, physically challenged, surfers being wheeled to the beach.  Several of them had very little use of any of their limbs.  Ginger, Danielle, and I, along with Danielle's three munchkins, quickly constructed the sculpture and then one by one we took turns going to the shore line.  Tears rolled down cheeks as cheers of joy filled the air while the surfers guided the newfound surfers into the waves and gently rode them into shore.  Smiles everywhere.

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I thought to myself, how many of us go shopping when we're bored.  We go to see something new, to find something that makes us feel good about ourselves.  We go meandering aimlessly looking at THINGS that we can buy to look at that may or may not have meaning.  Imagine if instead we looked in the newspaper to see what local groups are doing.  Maybe we could find that something of meaning at local schools or fundraisers for cancer victims.  Maybe we would be so moved by others efforts that we would buy a tee shirt from that event knowing that the money we gave would go toward something bigger than ourselves.  And maybe when we put that tee shirt on, it would take us back to a time and place that held so much more meaning than a shirt that advertises for big businesses like Abercrombie and Fitch, Nike, or Burberry.
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Yesterdays tee shirts were $10, not much to pay for something that makes a difference for the things that matter instead funding big business.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tree Growing Plastic Fruit?

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The last time I was in Hawaii, I was told to go to the windward side of the island, there I would find the plastic debris floating in like seaweed.  I knew I found my destination when I saw the Plastic Fruit Tree.  Someone went to great pains to create this work of plastic art.  I studied it from every angle then began looking further down the coastline.  Sure enough, as I walked, I watched the plastic roll in like dead seaweed.

This past week in the C&EN  Magazine - Chemical and Engineering News published by the American Chemical Society, had an article titled, "Perserving Plastic Art." Ironically, plastics designed to be "everlasting," do not keep well in museums.  Apparently, the best place to "get rid of plastic" is in art museums.   "Oxygen, light, and water in the air" cause the plastics to breakdown. and while doing so, "Sometimes the breakdown molecules float over to nearby artifacts, inciting corrosion, staining, or degradation."   If plastic is doing this in museums, what is it doing sitting in our food closets?  Where are the chemicals leaching, into our food, into us?  Could the chemical "corrosion" be another factor to why "1 of 2 men; 1 of 3 women will develop some type of cancer in their lifetime," according to American Cancer Society.  The more I learn about plastic, the more I am convinced that our food should NOT be touching it or even near it. 



After learning this, it also made me think  of how we typically dispose of plastic.  Most of it we bury in landfills where it has none of the  necessary elements for it to breakdown. (Of course breaking down does NOT mean going away). And then there is a large portion of it in our oceans where clearly there is plenty of O2, water, and light to break it down.  The ocean, were this very processes is wreaking havoc on our marine life. 


This only confirms my push to not use plastic.  If we must use it, then recycle or burn it for energy.   We should refrain from DRINKing and EATing things in plastic.  Buy local foods at farmers markets and Co-Ops.  Buy in bulk food sections.  Lots of times you can  bring your own glass, steel, or ceramic containers to fill, and you will eat better.  I know how difficult it is to not buy food in plastic but by taking this one step you won't need to be on a diet.  Furthermore, reducing your use of plastics will most definitely reduce the chemical load on your body because most foods packaged in plastic contain ingredients you cannot even read.  And what you don't know can hurt you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Solutions to Plastic Pollution

Trash that would be buried and useless
Plastic, paper, and cans recycled instead of landfilled
Kathy Russell from TFC Recycling is one of the many people trying to make good on one time use plastic, paper, cans, and cardboard.  Her work is on the other end of the spectrum from Algalita's, 5Gyres, Jennifer O'Keefe, Danielle Richardet and what I’ve been doing over the past few years.  While we have been researching the breadth of plastic pollution and educating people on the problems with one-time use plastics, the people of TFC Recycling have been taking on this issue from another angle.  They’re giving trash value and I’m a firm believer once we give trash value, we’ll make sure it goes where it belongs, like putting money in a bank.  We don’t just throw money on the ground – that would be silly.  So is it to throw trash on the ground. 

Trash that is burned to create steam energy
The materials collected from "trash" generate dollars for this business.  These items end up going back into more products instead of sitting on the floor of a landfill while we cut down more trees, drill for more oil and gas, and extract aluminum from the earth.  Of course the companies that do that work don’t like recycling.  These businesses lose out even though their some of the richest companies in the world.   How do we fight big business?  Use less plastic and one time use items and recycle the ones you do. 

Because of Kathy’s connections we, the Richardet family and me, were also able to visit the Hampton/NASA Steam Plant.  Here they take garbage and burn it to create steam for our government lab research.  The emissions are of critical concern and of course one of my most pressing questions.  According to our tour guide, the plant surpasses  government standards of emissions meaning they burn cleaner than legal requirements while reducing the demand for petroleum, coal, and natural gas.  And other than trucking it around (we have to with petroleum, coal, and gas anyway) it is free energy.  Makes more sense than drilling miles off shore and a mile deep into the ocean floor.  Not that there aren't risks but it is much easier to put a fire out on land than it is to contain millions of barrels of oil sprawled 1000s of miles across the ocean or getting chemicals out of drinking water from fracking for natural gas.  Think about it. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dr.'s Orders - No Plastic Toys, Balls, Bowls

My dear friend Butch, an electrician, was working at a friend's house when he noticed this very tender rash on this dog's mouth.  When he asked what it was, the owner explained that these sores around the dog's mouth are a mystery.  The vet has been treating this condition for some time and came to the conclusion that it is a reaction to plastic.  "No more plastic toys, bowls, or balls for this dog."  The vet is convinced it has to do with something in the plastic.

I gave a talk at the Wilmington Audubon Society meeting in January and described research that has been connecting some health problems to plastic additives such as BPA and phthalates.  Afterward an older man walked up to me and thanked me.  He said, "I had a cat that loved to lick plastic bags.  It died of jaw cancer. I never made the connection."  

We need to make these connections.  According to laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group, 9 out of 10 Babies' Umbilical Cords Tested Positive with BPA.  Studies I've read done by the chemical companies report that BPA is flushed out of the body within two hours of ingestion and doesn't bio accumulate.  So how do they account for finding it in the lifeline to unborn children?  

BPA is not found in glass so to avoid one of the ways of getting BPA in our bodies, try not to eat or drink out of plastic containers.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where is the Human Interest?

Roz Savage is having a time.  She rowed the first 350 nm across the Indian Ocean when her single-woman rowboat was "a-salted."  She wasn't stranded, or in need of rescue, rather she was playing it smart by doubling back in order to fix her leaky hatch that allowed salt water to drip down on her desalinater that caused it to break.  Salt water is benign in most cases except when you have to sit in it for long periods of time (I experienced that in the South Atlantic-ouch), or if it gets into electrical/metal equipment.  As she was being towed in (taking a free ride - who wouldn't) the press was hovering like turkey vultures over fresh roadkill. She wrote,"Why do they focus on the “human interest” stories when the really big news is, I suppose, the ultimate “human interest” story – what should we be doing in the best interests of the entire human race?" Roz posted this in her blog frustrated because the real story is our ocean in crisis.  Between over fishing, acidification, plastic pollution, oil spills, chemical pollutants, and cover-ups, it is in sad state of affairs.  Roz has taken matters into her own hands, literally, by rowing around the world to bring awareness to the problems facing our world's ocean.

Roz is among some of my favorite ocean warriors like Charlie Moore - Algalita Marine Research Foundation, Kurt Lieber - Ocean Defenders Alliance, Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummings - 5Gyres.  I've had the privilege of working along side these groups.  But most recently, I have been given the opportunity to talk about my work with Algalita and 5Gyres Saturday April 30th at a reception with Chris Aguilar, a lifelong surfer, fundraiser, and filmmaker.  Chris is involved in a film project illustrating Jenny Kalmbach and Morgan Hoesterey, paddle boarders, and activists who paddled the Hawaiian Islands raising awareness to plastic pollution and money for Algalita Marine Research Foundation.  He is also raising money for victims of the Japan tsunami and is touring with his movie project.

More later,

Bonnie Over the Ocen

Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's Been A While . . .

Since my last post, I have been in Hawaii for the International Marine Debris Conference, returned to Kamilo Beach (one of the dirtiest uninhabited beaches in the world), defended The Plastic Ocean Project for my Masters, and connected with old friends as well as met some new ones.  So where do I start?

Because one of the highlights over the past few weeks was meeting Roz Savage, I'll start with her. Roz has already rowed a one-woman row boat across two oceans and is on her third at this very moment.  She is rowing across the Indian Ocean.  One of the most dangerous oceans due to pirating.   I admire her for her efforts in bringing attention to the global issue of plastic marine pollution by taking on such feats.  Not only that, she has written a book about her experiences and it came in handy when dealing with a rash from sea water I experienced while out in the South Atlantic.  I'm keeping an eye on Roz as she blogs from sea!

Jean-Michel Cousteau is yet another ocean celeb I got to meet.  What wonderful stories he had to share about his father Jacques.   Since Jean-Michel has been on and in the ocean since he was a small child and in many different parts of the world, he has witnessed the SEA change/destruction.   He shared with us in a personal interview how fish are being replaced with plastic.  I paraphrase - These days, chances are better seeing plastic than seeing marine life.

    While at Kamilo Beach with Ron and Noni Sanford, I stood on the shoreline watching the plastic roll in.  Fragmented plastics that are much more difficult to pick up than the large items they once were.  Another good reason not to let plastic get into the ocean.  Imagine swimming in floating toothbrush parts!

I also got to see some of my favorite people while in Hawaii, besides Ron and Noni Sanford, like Chelsea Rochman, and Jo Ruxton.  Jo is the producer of a full -length documentary on the problems and solutions of plastic pollution.

Returning from Hawaii, I slept an average of 4 hours a night finishing up my GLS Final Project paper as well as putting my defense together.  I defended on my birthday April 15 since The Plastic Ocean Project started on that very day three years ago when I gave a thank you speech in front of 250 people.

Danielle Richardet and Gabrielle Steele
The largest audience I presented in front of was on my birthday a year ago at Terre Theatre.  Amazingly enough, my defense had a record number of people show up for a GLS defense.  The reason?  Not because I'm a wonderful speaker, it's because of the topic.  Just as I became curious about plastics accumulating 100s of miles away from land, it affects others the same way.  I attribute it to the fact that we live on an "Ocean Planet" and we are "Ocean Beings."  Seventy percent of the earth is covered with water and about the same percentage of oxygen comes from the sea.  We are born out of ocean-like water.  We cry ocean tears, even our blood shares the same elements.  I'm glad to be done with the degree, but I will never be done trying to get people to change their plastic use.  And that includes me.


Shirley Holden and me
Yesterday, I joined Danielle Richardet, her family, and Gabrielle Steele from the American Lung Association, to do a 20 minute beach clean-up at Wrightsville Beach.  I brought my 83-year-old mother and she helped.   She's a testiment that we can all help whether we are the ones who create  litter or not.

More later.

Bonnie Over the Ocean

Friday, March 25, 2011

Turtle Tasting Plastic

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I've been meeting some very impressive people while here in Hawaii including a hawksbill sea turtle who was so curious about my plastic underwater housing he tried to taste it.  Here is the actual footage.

I'm on the run to the next event.

More later on the fantastic people here at the International Marine Debris Conference, revisiting Kamilo Beach, and much, much more.

Bonnie

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Texas Teens Take on Plastic Marine Pollution

Coyle Middle School's science teacher Jim Manley was selected to be a team member for lead scientist Maureen Conte, the Ocean Flux Program. He earned this experience via the TXESS Revolution through the University of Texas at Austin. What he didn't foresee was meeting the Plastic Ocean Crew while learning about the Ocean Flux Program off the coast of Bermuda.  Together the two teams of researchers steamed around the North Atlantic for five days last summer.  What Mr. Manley learned from his experience he took back to the classroom. 

The Ocean Flux Program studies sediments on the ocean floor and is the longest open-ocean sediment research - roughly 40 years.  Plastic pollution in the marine environment has over 450 scientific peered reviewed papers published and started about the same time.  Our findings last summer revealed plastic fragments in every sample.   Witnessing this first hand, (literally countless hours of handpicking plastic from sargassum) motivated Mr. Manley to educate his 7th grade students on this issue.  As a group project, Mr Manley encouraged each of his seven science classes to research the problems with plastic in the marine environement.

I had the privilege to Skype to each class telling them about my research and then answer their excellent questions.  Here are the results of their research and their unique way of communicating their findings.

1st period
Group1- Rylie Wreyford, Ashton Simons,and Summer Alonzo do a great job at answering questions related to plastic pollution AND their website will JUMP out at you.
http://marinepollution4science.webs.com/

2nd period
Group 1-Jessica Davis ,Ashlie Byland, Diana Torres, Kangwa Chisanga. This link gets my "seal" of approval! (I mean sea lion)
http://plasticproblem.yolasite.com/

Group 2- Michael Guerrero, Lance Key, Alyssa Buller, Allison Hood.We hope our website is able to provide plenty of information to all who would like to learn and study the plastic ocean thank you for everything- Michael Guerrero!

www.Wix.com
The email is cowboysfreak97@yahoo.com the password is 4617@m


Group 3- vance,blake,malik,ka’juan,angel. This website makes a huge splash! Great design.
http://plastickillstheocean.webs.com/

4th period
1st group
AUBRIE MCINTOSH ,NICOLE JONES,MELISSA HARE,MIA JOHNSON  Simply stated "Pick up that plastic!"  It really is that simple! Great use of color!
 http://pnk20110304125441-7706777.webstarts.com/index.html


5th period
1st group  These students put some time into this one - "Teens of today's generation are the ones who make a difference in today's world."  And you, Kayla Trzupek, Renee Kermes, Morgan Cater, and Gabby Maldonado are doing just that!. Check it out!
www.plasticoceanawareness.webs.com


2nd group
"Its very important for our generation to turn this around and fix it!" Great line students! Go to http://marineecos101.webs.com/  to learn more.  Way to go Courtney Pryor, Lindsey Pikulinski, Cody Richards, Hunter Rollins
4th Group
Umul Lalee, Auqustina Omenihu, Abigail, Catera Farlough - this is probably the coolest website I've ever seen- you guys rock!  Sound and cool transitions are sweet.  www.wix.com/brunettes_beauty/savingmarinelife

5th Group
Facebook Page Name (The Plastic Oceans) These students came up with the idea of Questions and Answers as a way to educate.  Brilliant!  http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Plastic-Ocean-Project/183747538335706?sk=wall&filter=2#!/pages/The-Plastic-Oceans/193144610719078
By Logan Bonner, Paige Carrera, Rene Cristales, Leah Nguyen, Aundre Glenn
 
7th period
Team1
Rachel Conachen,Melanie velazquez, sarah honza, Abigail Osborn - Factual and full of info - awesome way to educate people on the problems with plastic (I have a special place in my heart for the name too!)
Facebook : The Plastic Ocean Project  http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Plastic-Ocean-Project/183747538335706?sk=wall&filter=2

Team 2
www.wix.com/itich3/plastic-polluters
Though there is some creative spelling, the message is not lost in translation.  You'll get some insight into the problems with plastic with this link.
by : Leelise Hiticha, Mariah Alaniz, Victoria Patterson, Alden Gartrell


Team 3
Go to this site and VOTE if you think plastic is a problem in the ocean!
Go to- http://www.deathbyplastic.weebly.com/
Team members: Caleb Darnell, Bailey Aleo, Ronny Herrera, Jack Conely, Luke Pearson

Team 4
http://theplasticproject.webs.com/  Learn how the abiota and biota are affected by plastic.
Team members: Will Plunk, Ryan Tayara, Danny Clegg, Blake Allen

Team 5
"Helping get rid of the plastic is VERY easy. All you have to do is once a day pick up ONE piece of trash ANYWHERE" to read more good quotes like this one go to:
http://teamnarwhal.weebly.com/
Team Narwhal Members: Lauren Morrow, Kiara Bess, Savannah Shults, Allison Judd

Team 6
"The ocean covers 72% (and rising) of this small planet and is home to most of the globe's biomass, or living matter, and biodiversity" and this is reason enough to protect our oceans - good stuff Team 6!
http://cleanoceans.weebly.com/
Team Members- Rebeca Volosen , Delyla Halil ,Thuy Nguyen, Denxel Briones, Alante Montgomery

Team 7
Last but not least - the quotes on this website say so much about human impacts on many levels.  But my favorite is "If each of us did just one thing to help the environment, we could change the world.” Jean Beasley—Sea Turtle Hospital
http://theperilsofpollution.webs.com/
Team Members: Jocelyn Sanchez, Hayle Mackey, Amanda Lo, Tori Goodwin

Of all the posts I've ever done, this one is filled with hope of the future for our planet.  Thank you Jim Manley and all your students who contributed to this page.
Best,
Bonnie

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Plastic in the Ocean Sucks for Marine Life

A little over a year ago, I reported on my witnessing a sea lion who was nearing decapitation from one strand of fishing line.  It took her 6  months to heal and will forever be scarred.  She was released in March '09  and I found this picture on SeaWeb Photobank and I'm confident its her in the wild judging by the huge scar around her neck and large scar patch above her left flipper.  She's a success story.  See how thin she was in a video from a previous post. http://theplasticocean.blogspot.com/2009/11/more-on-segway-sea-lion-fishing-line.html

James Dean in recovery from eye wound

Check out her and James Dean's, her boyfriend, in the linked below.  James Dean was another victim to fishing line only he lost one of his eyes.  See how thin they got and how well they regrained their size thanks to the awesome team at the Pacific Marine Mammal Program in Southern California.  Check out the link below of their release.  They will move you. 
          
James Dean, Segway, and friend being released back to the sea.









Here is another story of a rescue and how litter has become a death trap for many marine animals.

 Seal pup saved after horror injury as litter fears worsen

Feb 27 2011 Exclusive by Mike Merritt, Sunday Mail

AN injured seal has had a miracle recovery as experts warn they are under threat because of a rising tide of litter off the Scottish coast. Specialist vets say they are shocked at the increasing number of life-threatening injuries caused by balloons, discarded fishing gear and plastic bags.

In the latest incident an eight-week-old seal pup narrowly escaped death after his neck became tangled in a discarded fishing line. The pup - nicknamed Ringo by staff at the Highland Seal Hospital in John O'Groats- suffered the injury as he ventured inshore looking for fish.

Hospital manager Jamie Dyer said: "Marine litter and discarded fishing tackle is a real problem. Balloons are also now a big issue as well - we've found a lot in seals' stomachs."Discarded plastic bags are a growing problem - turtles eat them thinking they are squid or jellyfish.

"We save about 30 seals a year and some have terrible injuries. Ringo is lucky to have his head still on.

"We are hopeful he can pull through. In addition to the neck wound, which is healing, he also has liver and gall bladder problems. He'll be with us for while."  Ringo was found exhausted and close to death by ferry terminal worker Marion Jack at Gills Bay in Caithness.

He had a gaping 14in wound, 2in wide and nearly 2in deep, just a fraction from his spine.  He was given his name by hospital staff because of the almost circular wound around his neck.  Ringo has been given ultrasound scans, antibiotics and pain-killing injections to help him survive.

Jamie added: "He's very lucky - the wound was close to severing the tendon by his spine. He then would have lost motor control and the ability to keep his head out of the water.

"I have never seen such injuries before where a young seal has survived. The fishing line almost decapitated him.  "But he is making steady progress. The wound is very nasty but hopefully he will recover fully."


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ginger Taylor named Town of Wrightsville Beach volunteer of the year

Staff photo by Joshua Curry

Most of the time, it's what you get passionate about is what makes you feel alive.  I mean that from the simplest sense.  Caring about things outside of yourself can be the most rewarding, and sometimes those rewards come back.  I have met Ginger Taylor a few times and was thrilled to see that she has been acknowledged for your passion.  Like Danielle Richardet, a local person who has been taking plastic pollution head on and earned her a film in the recent Sundance Film Festival, Ginger is equally committed.  Below is her story in the local Lumina News and is a feel good story from my blog for a change.

by Marimar McNaughton
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Nancy Faye Craig is a tough act to follow any day of the week. Since 2003 when the Town of Wrightsville Beach named its Volunteer of the Year award in Craig’s honor, many individuals have followed in her footsteps.
This year’s recipient, Ginger Taylor, Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project volunteer and author of the seasonal weekly blog-style newsletter, "Trashy Talking Turtlers," was the board of aldermen’s unanimous choice.

Taylor, taken by surprise, was presented with a plaque at the Feb. 10 meeting of the BOA.

"I certainly feel so appreciative of receiving this award and just had no idea that I would ever be considered—a true honor to be associated with Nancy Faye Craig," Taylor said.

"I want to share this award with all of the other volunteers who have worked so tirelessly in keeping our beach clean and raising awareness. These volunteers include the WBSTP and the Cleaner Greener Committee and others who often work with no recognition whatsoever. I really feel I have been carried on the backs of the WBSTP volunteers and others because without their work, input and enthusiasm I would have never been able to do all that I have."

Taylor said she also appreciated the board of aldermen for being willing to hear her thoughts and express her opinions and for giving issues like litter awareness its consideration.

"I am proud that WB is working toward improving on what most would describe as an already beautiful beach," Taylor said.

You deserve it Ginger and thank you for all that you do.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Greenpeace Visits Wilmington North Carolina

“They’ll figure it out.” My friend said to me after we visited the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, this past Saturday downtown Wilmington, NC. “They, who’s they?” I retorted. I wanted my friend to come to hear what Greenpeace had to say about the destructive entities of coal. He grew up in North Carolina and devoured the slogan “Clean Coal” like a McDonald’s Big Mac. It looks good, it smells good, it tastes good, but far from being good for you. He, like many of us (including me not long ago) believes that the government will figure it out -that they have the Americans best interest at stake. And they do, except they have to answer to big business first.

Why would I be mentioning this in my Plastic Ocean blog? Like the plastics industry, coal, gas, petroleum and chemical companies are among the richest and strongest companies in the world. Our government knows we need them for jobs and we need the energy they provide along with other perks. In regards to subsidizing oil, Obama said tonight in his State of the Union Address, ”We (our government) need to stop giving millions of dollars to oil companies. I don’t know if you noticed but they’re doing all right on their own.” There was no applause after that statment, but I was cheering from the couch.  But yet, he still pushed “clean coal.”
It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. Corporate interests have far more influence on our government policies, so really you’re just choosing which financial backer happens to be holding the strings. That said, how we spend our money affects corporations. OUR money does the voting. We need to all start thinking in terms of how we vote with our money.

I told my friend that if he wanted to help promote the change necessary to “figuring it out” he could stop turning on every light in his place when he wakes up at 6am. Read labels and buy products that are made out of and packaged in recycled materials. Drive less, walk more, eat local foods, don’t take the free mint if it’s wrapped in plastic, bring your own bag, cup, eco ware, refuse single-sized servings, don’t drink bottled water. Reducing the use of heat, air, gas, and plastic will impact the industries that market them and they will be forced to change what they offer. It really is that simple. Vote with your dollar for change. And support non-profits like Greenpeace who doesn't take a penny from industry or government. People committed to clean air, land, and water and to the health of all living things. Thank you David Pinsky for getting UNCW fired up about this past weekend event.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Questions Concerning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A recent survey done by an Oregon State University assistant professor Angelicque "Angel" White concluded that commonly quoted estimate of the North Pacific Garbage Patch is "grossly exaggerated." And its true, an island of trash a thousand miles away from land is not accurate, nor saying its twice the size of Texas is accurate either.  Its actually worse.  Because if it were, we could clean it up far more easily.  Here is a photo of what her research found out there.  The sample below it is what we found in the general area.   We had a bottle cap in nearly every one of the 54 samples and sometimes more than one. We weren't the only ones collecting them. Bottle caps are the #2 item found on beaches next to cigarette butts (incidentally, made of plastic not cotton).

Sample of the N. Pacific Garbage Patch, Oregon State 2010
  
Sample I witnessed with AMRF 2009

The problem is by the time most of the plastic reaches this location, its broken down into small pieces.  Nice bite size fragments for surface feeding fish.  We agree that this is what the said Garbage Patch looks like and we agree that fish are eating it.   What I don't agree with is publicly degrading the work of another researcher. And It is poor science if a scientist degrades the work of another verbally without conducting the same experiment and coming up with a different conclusion regarding the 6-1 plastics to zooplankton.





The original expression was that plastic is accumulating in an area twice the size of Texas and then it manifested to an island of plastic twice the size of Texas.  The original claim is correct.  That was the size of the area sampled by Charles Moore and plastic was found in every sample.  It has been the media that has gotten it wrong. Mind you sampling is done with a trawl with an opening less than a meter across and less than a 1/2 meter deep.  Its like sampling just a few inches of one thread on a quilt 4 miles in diameter.  To find any quantity of plastic 2000 miles away from any land mass is not be undermined as trivial which is a tone conveyed in this article.

After being in both the North Pacific and Atlantic as well as South Atlantic, I would say on average what we pulled out of the Garbage Patch had far higher concentrations.  Our surface tows average 1 hour.  So the comment " A recent trawl (singular) White conducted in a remote section of water between Easter Island and Chile pulled in no plastic at all." First of all was only one sample and second I would have to ask, how long was your tow?  It could be comparing apples to oranges.  The problem with assessing the scale of this problem is, like the article says, "plastic is not evenly dispersed" so they could easily missed accumulations of plastic by running short timed samples.

I've been to 3 of the 5 gyres and regardless of size, plastic is everywhere.  I haven't seen one sample come back that hasn't had plastic - 54 samples in the N. Pacific, 19 samples in the N. Atlantic, and 64 in the S. Atlantic.  Lastly, it has been the media that has taken liberty in hyperbole.  The first thing Captain Moore said to me when I met him for the first time was, "it isn't an island of trash out there. That has been journalistic liberties."


Though I agree the hyperbole has created an illusion of an island, the problem is much larger than an island of trash.  Below is Marcus Eriksen's rebuttal and far more eloquent. 


Beyond the absurdity of a “Texas-sized Garbage Patch” lies a larger menace of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans

Media is sometimes the tail that wags the dog of science.  One oceanographer described finding plastic in his relatively tiny Texas-size study area of the North Pacific Ocean, while another began describing these areas of concentration as “garbage patches”.  A mis-information frenzie birthed a mis-conception of an island of trash.  Hurry, someone plant a flag - sell real estate!  Disappointing to the entrepreneurial spirit that aimed to fix it for a fee, there are no such islands.  They do not exist.  Having traveled 20,000 miles across 4 of the 5 subtropical gyres, returning from crossing the South Atlantic Gyre in December 2010, I assure you that reality is much worse.

It’s a patchy patch.  In 1999 Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation based in Long Beach, CA, published an observed 6:1 weight ratio of plastic to plankton in the swirling center of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.  I joined him in 2005 and 2008 to the same region.  In this decade of research, the foundation was heavily criticized by other oceanographers for quantifying plastic this way.  What was hidden in this criticism was the fact that the science of Oceanography was caught off guard.  No one knew of this plastic plague on the world’s oceans, until a Long Beach surfer/sailor turned scientist made it known.  It is true that plankton is extremely variable, and can bloom and dissipate with the season, temperature, moonlight, and a dozen other variables, therefore the margin of error is huge.  But the plastic/plankton ratio serves a good anecdote for relative abundance of plastic to available food for scavenging fish and filter feeders, like from jellies to baleen whales.  So, it’s important to describe plastic to plankton ratios as an anecdote, but not worth quantifying. 

1999 was not the first time scientist studied plastic pollution in the ocean.  Thor Heyerdal observed plastic in 1969 crossing the North Atlantic on Ra I.  Two years later Edward Carpenter, from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, netted pellets and fragments of plastic pollution between the east coast and Bermuda. Plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre was first described by Robert Day in 1989 near the coast of Japan, and in the South Atlantic Gyre near Cape Town, South Africa in 1980 by Robert Morris of the Institute of Oceanographic Science in the UK.  It was a quiet, poorly-understood menace that palled in significance and interest to oceanographers.  Then the story broke about an island of plastic, with sensationalized accounts beyond science, mythological masses of synthetic detritus, an illusive terra aqua.

“Somebody do something,” cried the ocean advocates, artists, celebrities and politicians.  And the scientists followed.  Media called them to action.  But not before the industrialists.  A problem precedes a solution ready to sell.  Groups with little or no experience at sea rose to the occasion with fanciful technofixes, contraptions of grandeur, robotic vagabonds to sieve the sea in solitude and bring the trash back to land, or parachutes that spin sickle-shaped islands that net plastic pollution in their path.  All have failed, realizing that going to the ocean to remove floating plastic particles is like standing on the top of a skyscraper with a vacuum cleaner to remove air pollution.  It’s not impossible, just impractical.  There is no island to retrieve.  We have run expeditions across the North Pacific Gyre, North Atlantic Gyre, Indian Ocean Gyre, and in December 2010 we crossed the South Atlantic Gyre.  We found plastic in every surface trawl, in varying concentrations.  Imagine a handful of degraded plastic confetti spread across a football field of the ocean surface. That’s as thick as it gets, but it’s everywhere.  It’s a think plastic soup over 2/3rds of the earth’s surface.  So far the 5 Gyres Institute has traveled to 4 of the 5 subtropical gyres in the world, conducting over 400 surface trawls, with plastic in every one.   That is the menace of plastic pollution.  It’s everywhere, thinly distributed, and extremely impractical to clean up at sea.

But if no one cleans it up, will the garbage patches keep growing?  No.  Studies in the North Atlantic Gyre and North Pacific Gyre have been repeated with interesting results.  There’s no massive trend in plastic accumulation over time. Kara Lavender Law, of Sea Education, compiled data from 22 years of data from the North Atlantic Gyre, the same area that Carpenter studied 3 ½ decades earlier.   “We observed no strong temporal trends in plastic concentration…”  Last week we returned from 31 days crossing the South Atlantic Gyre.  As we sailed into Cape Town we revisited half of the locations that Morris studied 3 decades ago and repeated his exact methods.  Though our samples have not been analyzed yet, I can anecdotally report that the samples do not appear to show a tremendous trend in plastic accumulation over this time.  Sure, there’s more, but the increase does not parallel the rapid increase in plastic production and consumption on land.  So where does it go?  We believe some sinks as absorbed chemicals, like PCBs, PAHs and other persistent pollutants, and bio fouling make smaller and smaller particles more dense than seawater.  Much of it washes ashore on islands in the gyres, like Hawaii and Bermuda, or is kicked out of the gyres onto mainland beaches as the gyre’s center wobbles east and west.  Then there’s still room for unknown answers.  What we now know is that if we stop adding more plastic to the ocean, in time the gyres will kick out the plastic pollution they currently hold.  If you want to clean the gyre, clean your beach. 

We want to know a few things.  How much plastic is out there, what is the fate of plastic in the ocean, what is the impact of plastic pollution on fish, including fisheries we harvest to feed the world, and how do we end the plague of plastic in the ocean?  The 5 Gyres Institute will sail across the South Pacific Gyre in the Spring of 2011 from Valdivia, Chile to Easter Island.  You can follow this expedition on 5gyres.org.  In January and February 2011, at the moment I’m writing this paper, we are crossing the South Atlantic Gyre again.  The South Pacific will be our 5th gyre, and provide a snapshot of the global distribution of plastic pollution.  We will also be freezing fish to look for toxins in tissues, which we are currently doing with fish collected from South Atlantic Expedition.  Other expeditions conducted by SCRIPPS, NOAA and Sea Education, are contributing answers to these questions with rigorous science.  All of this will be shared by colleagues in March 2011 in Hawaii during the 5th International Marine Debris Conference.

In the recent decade of rogue-science, media spun mis-information, a new revitalized science of synthetic pollution at sea has emerged, replacing confusion with clarity and commitment by many to solve the problem.  The idea of cleanup at sea is no longer a sensible option, knowing that an island twice the size of Texas is actually a thin soup 2/3rds the surface of the planet.  Sensible solutions now focus on preventing the flow of waste to waves in the first place.