By Asta Mail, Author and Educator, Literasea.ca
In the last year, I have been sponging up information about the growing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Through my work in the Great Lakes with Pangaea Explorations, I got to meet and learn from members of the 5 Gyres Institute, a leading research group studying oceanic plastic pollution, and find out how serious the plastic pollution problem really is. What I learned from them shocked and saddened me.
Did you know that our consumption of plastic products is literally turning parts of the ocean into garbage soup?
It's true. Everyday plastic products are intentionally and unintentionally discarded into our lakes, sewers, and coastal waters. As water flows downstream plastic debris is often carried out into our beautiful oceans. Many of the plastics found in the ocean float; plastics like Polypropylene and Polystyrene for example. Others, like Polycarbonate and PETE, sink under the surface. Plastic is not an organic material, and therefore will not biodegrade in ocean water- wave action and sunlight will simply break plastic products into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Some of these pieces are so small that they are known as "microplastic particles" invisible to the human eye, but tasty looking to tiny fish and other marine creatures.
These floating pieces of plastic are subject to the natural forces of the ocean: winds, currents, and tidal movement. Many of these little pieces end up congregating in areas of the ocean known as Gyres or Patches.
What is an ocean gyre?
According to National Geographic, "An ocean gyre is a circular ocean current formed by the Earth’s wind patterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet."
In these areas of the ocean, used and discarded plastic materials end up hanging out together in these natural whirlpools, creating plastic soup- a mix of seawater, plastic, microscopic species and algae.
Check this video from One World, One Ocean in which the crew from the 5 Gyres Institute discuss the issue.
What can we do about it?
We are all responsible for this problem, as I learned earlier this year through a particularly embarrassing experience on Sea Dragon.
Follow the link to my blog article for Pangaea Explorations
"Plastic Plunders: A Wake up Call at the Miami Strictly Sail"
So, its up to all of it to figure out a solution.
Follow this link to another one of my blogs where I discuss some ideas:
"How do you envision the future?"
There are two main ways that we can begin;
1) Reduce or stop our use of plastic products by creating biodegradable or functional alternatives.
2) Find a way to remove the plastic material from the ocean water without harming the natural environment.
Do those seem like challenging tasks?
Well, they are. But in my opinion, the most challenging tasks are usually the most important!
What gives me hope about accomplishing these tasks is that the world is already stepping up to the challenge. Check out the articles and resources below to learn about how we are meeting these challenges head on!!
Challenge 1: Creating Biodegradable or Functional Alternatives to Plastic:
Challenge 2: Find a way to remove the plastic material from ocean water without harming the natural environment.
This challenge is quite a bit harder, I think- how do you remove billions of tiny particles of plastic from a fluid, moving environment? How can you do so while also protecting the many different microscopic and delicate species found in ocean water and soil?
The solution hasn't been found yet, but there are people who are tackling this challenge head on. Boyan Slat of the Ocean Clean Up project is one of them. Check out his TedX talk to learn more about his ocean clean up concept:
Boyan recently spent some time on board Pangaea Exploration's sailing vessel Sea Dragon to try out his new multi-level trawl prototype!
Check out his work on Pangaea's Blog.
We're still a long way from solving our plastic soup problem, but that doesn't mean solving it is impossible! If we put our energy, time and efforts towards cleaning up our oceans, I truly feel that we can reverse the plastic soup. My hope is that you do as well.
Article by Asta Mail