Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Have We Done?

We've spent a lot of time lately discussing the oil spill and the effect it is having on not just the land and the environment, but on the animals and sea life as well.   We are paying a high price for our addiction to oil and petroleum products, but that cost is much more than just what we see gushing into the gulf every day due to the negligence of BP in their desire to ignore safety for speed and greed.  Another effect that isn't being talked about as much at this time is the petroleum products we use based on our never ending craving for oil.

We are damaging our environment and our wild & sea life additionally by the products derived from the oil industry.  Plastics.  Convenient, and easily disposed of without a second thought as to what happens to it after we toss it into the trash.  I've been as guilty as any other for this behavior and I have tried to change that behavior, especially after seeing what our plastics and trash are doing to our world.  When I started looking into it, I was brokenhearted at what I found and one question kept ringing in my head........

What have we done to our world? 

What price are the creatures and our planet paying for our insatiable desire for convenience and our thoughtless treatment of the world we live in?

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents,who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged,or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.

Chris Jordon

Seeing these pictures turned my stomach, and I could not "click away" from the page fast enough, but then I stopped and thought about it. Leaving the page so quickly is what a lot of people like myself would do, after all who wants to view these kinds of pictures? It is much more fun to see pictures of cuddly and warm fuzzy animals rather than seeing the death and destruction we humans have brought down upon the creatures of our planet.

Yes OUR planet. We all live here. We, who are the most intelligent species on this planet have a responsibility to take care of it and we have been sorely lacking in that responsibility.

Scientists had previously thought plastics broke down only at very high temperatures and over hundreds of years.

The researchers behind a new study, however, found that plastic breaks down at cooler temperatures than expected, and within a year of the trash hitting the water.

The Japan-based team collected samples in waters from the U.S., Europe, India, Japan, and elsewhere, lead researcher Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy at Nihon University in Japan, said via email.

All the water samples were found to contain derivatives of polystyrene, a common plastic used in disposable cutlery, Styrofoam, and DVD cases, among other things, said Saido, who presented the findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., today.

Plastic, he said, should be considered a new source of chemical pollution in the ocean.

About 44 percent of all seabirds eat plastic, apparently by mistake, sometimes with fatal effects. And 267 marine species are affected by plastic garbage—animals are known to swallow plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish in mid-ocean, for example—according to a 2008 study in the journal Environmental Research by oceanographer and chemist Charles Moore, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Just plastic bags:

Giant Ocean-Trash Vortex Attracts Explorers

n t he broad expanse of the northern Pacific Ocean, there exists the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a slowly moving, clockwise spiral of currents created by a high-pressure system of air currents. The area is an oceanic desert, filled with tiny phytoplankton but few big fish or mammals. Due to its lack of large fish and gentle breezes, fishermen and  s ailors rarely travel through the gyre. But the area is filled with something besides plankton: trash, millions of pounds of it, most of it plastic. It's the largest landfillin the world, and it floats in the middle of the ocean.
The gyre has actually given birth to two large masses of ever-accumulating trash, known as theWestern and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches, sometimes collectively called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Eastern Garbage Patch floats between Hawaii and California; scientists estimate its size as two times bigger than Texas [source: LA Times]. The Western Garbage Patch forms east ofJapan and west of Hawaii. Each swirling mass of refuse is massive and collects trash from all over the world. The patches are connected by a thin 6,000-mile long current called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. Research flights showed that significant amounts of trash also accumulate in the Convergence Zone.
**In the vast area of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, jellyfish and other filter feeders frequently consume or become tangled in floating trash.**
The garbage patches present numerous hazards to marine life, fishing and tourism. But before we discuss those, it's important to look at the role of plastic. Plastic constitutes 90 percent of all trash floating in the world's oceans [source: LA Times]. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic [source: UN Environment Program]. In some areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one. Of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean [source: Greenpeace]. Seventy percent of that eventually sinks, damaging life on the ocean floor [source: Greenpeace]. The rest floats; much of it ends up in gyres and the massive garbage patches that form there, with some plastic eventually washing up on a distant shore.

How Stuff Works; The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

What have we done?

Study finds plastic 'diet' in leatherback turtles
Necropsy reports show a third of specimens had it in their digestive system

Leatherback turtles are critically endangered and highly charismatic creatures. They are big, weighing 1,000 pounds or more, with shells that can measure more than 6 feet across. These peaceful creatures have had the same basic body plan for 150 million years.

Leatherbacks are also popular for what they eat: namely, large quantities of jellyfish. The problem is that plastic bags look a lot like jellyfish, and plastic often ends up in the oceans, piling up in areas where currents -- and turtles -- converge. That led James to wonder how much often the turtles were swallowing plastic in their hunt for yummy jellyfish.

The researchers ended up with a sample size of 408 turtles, stranded at some point during the last 125 years. Of those, 138 -- or 34 percent -- contained plastic. Alongside the rise in plastic production, there has been a sharp rise in plastic-containing turtles since the 1950s.

Plastic can block a turtle's gut, causing bloating, interfering with digestion, and leading to a slow, painful death. "I can't imagine it's very comfortable," he said. "Their guts weren't designed to digest plastic."

Leatherback turtles are ancient creatures with a modern problem: Plastic.

Is anyone trying to do anything other than those "pesky" environmentalists who are consistently demonized in the media and by some politicians?

Date: Sept. 19, 2008
Contacts: Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer
Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail



WASHINGTON -- Current measures to prevent and reduce marine debris are inadequate, and the problem will likely worsen, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council. The United States and the international maritime community should adopt a goal of "zero discharge" of waste into the marine environment, and a system to assess the effectiveness of existing and future marine debris prevention and reduction actions should be implemented. In addition, better leadership, coordination, and integration of mandates and resources are needed, as responsibilities for preventing and mitigating marine debris are scattered across federal organizations and management regimes.

"The committee found that despite all the regulations and limitations over the last 20 years, there are still large quantities of waste and litter in the oceans," said Keith Criddle, chair of the committee that wrote the report and the Ted Stevens Distinguished Professor of Marine Policy at the Juneau Center for Fisheries and Ocean Science, University of Alaska, Fairbanks. "We concluded that the United States must take the lead and coordinate with other coastal countries, as well as with local and state governments, to better manage marine debris and try to achieve zero discharge."

A National Research Council committee was convened at the request of Congress to assess the effectiveness of international and national measures to prevent and reduce marine debris and its impact. Marine debris, man-made materials that intentionally or accidentally enter and pollute the ocean, can cause significant harm. For instance, birds, fish, and marine mammals ingest debris, especially plastics, which can lead to digestive problems and uptake of toxic compounds. Animals can also suffer injuries or die after becoming entangled in fishing-related debris such as plastic net fragments, rope, and packing straps. Marine debris also poses a health and safety hazard to beachgoers and divers, and could impact coastal recreation and tourism revenue. While marine debris comes from sources both on land and at sea, the committee focused on debris discharged at sea for the purposes of this report.

Although Congress previously called for federal interagency coordination to address the marine debris problem, leadership and governance remain inefficient and current mitigation efforts are episodic and crisis driven, the committee found. A national framework to identify priorities for dealing with marine debris and its removal efforts should be established. Additionally, Congress should designate a lead agency to expand programs to comprehensively address the problem, including land-based marine litter, derelict fishing gear, shipborne waste, and abandoned vessels.

The rest of the Press Release can be read here which also provides a link to the full report itself (it is in book form at it is well over 200 pages long).

What can we do?

  • Some centers require you to wash items or remove labels or lids. Find out what your center requires before making the trip.
  • Try to avoid making special trips in your car to recycle, as you will be using fuel unnecessarily. Combine it with a trip you are making anyway.
  • If you are in school or at work where you use a lot of paper and then throw it away, try having a recycling bin under your desk, or a recycling pocket in your file. Make a mental note to put all recyclable paper in there each time you feel like heading for the normal trash bin.
  • Don't just think of the normal items you can recycle, do some research and expand it. Some things you might be able to recycle easily are:

    • Batteries (very important)- car batteries, equipment batteries, flashlight
    • Beer and wine bottles, jars, other glass items
    • Paper and plastic bags (reuse first if possible)
    • Magazines, newspapers, phone-books
    • Plastic bottles, plastic containers
    • Packing peanuts (plastic loose fill) can often be recycled at local postal services. You can locate one at
    • Cans and tins
    • Juice/soup/milk cartons
    • Any items with recycle symbol on them
    • Cell phones
    • Old televisions
    • Old computers
  • It is vital to separate the magazines glass cardboard etc and it is especially good to recycle styrofoam because it is one of the things that take FOREVER to decompose
Wikihow Tips On How & What To Recycle

Do what you can, for every little bit helps, and we need to start paying attention to what we are doing to this planet and all of the others who inhabit it besides "man".  They have as much right to live here as we do, and  we need to ensure that we are not causing their destructions simply as a matter of convenience for ourselves.  We will reach a point of no return and we need to stop this before it gets to that breaking point for ourselves as well as the planet and its other inhabitants.


  1. Again, great information! I lived on the beach on Guam in the 70s and 80s. I saw firsthand what shows up on a daily basis. What we are doing to our oceans just makes me sick.

  2. When you start looking into how much trash we just dump and where it ends up and what kind of damage it causes, well, if it doesn't break your heart then I consider you a lost cause.

    I've seen too many people who just can't be bothered to even take the time to do a few little things, and it makes me wonder what kind of world they think they are leaving for our future generations.

  3. The problem with most reusable bags is that they will only perpetuate the problem. They aren't accepted at most recycling centers and most are supposed to be hand wash in cold only if they're the nonwoven polypropylene kind. I created CRESBI crates to replace plastic and reusable bags and they are also dishwasher safe. Plus you can open them up when you go into the store, put your items in with the barcodes up and if the checker has a handheld scanner they can just scan it all without taking it out of the crates and then just hand the whole crate back to you! They truly last forever and hopefully can make a small dent in all this waste.