An Ocean of Plastic
December 17, 2015
Images such as this appear on the Internet and in the Main Stream Media, alongside of almost every article or report about the pollution of the Earth’s oceans with plastics of all kinds. The image is usually associated with the words “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” … . The implication by association is that the image is a photograph of said ‘garbage patch’.
This clip from the Guardian shows a typical example:
(Screen capture from the Guardian)
The Guardian is atypical in that it states, in the caption, that the photo is of Manila Bay, Philippines – garbage forced by the wind into a raft near shore after a tropical storm washed all the trash from the city streets and slums into the bay. I’ve seen similar scenes in the Rio Ozama in Santo Domingo … :
There are low-lying slums upriver – tropical storms or even simple heavy rainfalls wash trash off the streets and into the river – hurricanes wash entire neighborhoods into the river. …
Here is a photo of the real Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch:
See all that plastic garbage floating around tangling up the porpoises and sea turtles and albatrosses?
Neither do I.
Don’t be surprised. In my travels at sea (1/2 of my adult lifetime on the briny deep …), my experience is that seeing something floating in the open ocean is rare – rare enough that it always calls for at least an investigation through binoculars, …
… as plastic items degrade from the UV in the sunlight, from submersion in salt water, and wave action – breaking into bits, over and over – the bits get smaller and smaller. Thus, we see a rapid doubling and redoubling of the number of bits. Until….?
Until the size gets to about 1mm – then they rapidly decrease and virtually disappear.
This is not because they can’t sieve them out of the water – they have hardily tired with smaller and smaller sieves and searching under microscopes for those littler bits. They just aren’t there.
Another Enviro-myth exploded, on two levels! Two things I appreciate about this article is that the writer does take pollution seriously, and that he looks into what happens as plastic items are broken down until they are small enough that they “disappear”.