The conversation in Melbourne, with Captain Charles Moore was filled with shocking images and data on the state of our Oceans. After dedicating the past 15 years of his life to the study of Plastic Pollution in our Oceans, he has gathered indisputable knowledge on the subject. Since Plastics became common in our daily life, within the last 5 decades, we have been dumping this material either accidentally or just plain carelessly into our oceans. Captain Moore estimates up to 100 million tonnes of plastic has entered the world’s oceans in the five decades between 1950 and 2000.
Captain Moore has concentrated his studies on the North Pacific Gyre. A gyre is a large system of ocean currents in the oceans. They tend to form near the equator due to the warm air and pressure, the huge mountain of air circulating create a kind of toilet bowl effect on the ocean waters. The plastic that ends up in the oceans last longer than in land where they slowly degrade under the effects of the sun and waves into smaller and smaller fragments. But plastic does not biodegrade, it only breaks into smaller and smaller particles and tends to navigate and gathers in these gyres. The problem is not an easy one to clean up considering the size of our oceans just the Pacific alone would be like trying to vacuum tiny Plastic particles of the whole earth surface of our planet.
Millions of wildlife species are consuming plastics because they resemble their natural food in size, shape and texture. Debris forensic can even link the bite marks on a piece of plastic to marine species that bite into it. The result is that Sea Birds, Fish, Sharks and Turtle are all consuming plastics. Especially disturbing was the analysis made on the Lantern fish. These small fish only come up to the surface at night to feed on the zooplankton, but they are also ingesting the plastic particles floating on the ocean surface. Making up 50% of the oceans fish biomass, these lantern fish are at the vary bottom of the food chain. They are the primary food of the albatross, turtles and even the baleen whale! Besides being the primary food of many fish in the ocean, they are also consumed by Salmon, Tuna and Mahi Mahi. This is not good news considering that plastics are hydrophobic chemical sponges, meaning they repel water but are oil-loving. Petroleum-derivative toxins are sticking to these plastics, delivering this chemical cocktail to marine creatures from the very base to the top of the food chain.
As captain Moore says plastic is not only a prey for wildlife it can also be a predator, killing millions by entanglement. It was heartbreaking to see many images of how the use of plastics in the fishing Industry has caused havoc in the oceans, from ghost fishing nets and lines, Styrofoam’s used to breed oysters to some “devilish” plastic devises used to catch eels in Asian aquaculture. The size of the fishing industry and the impact of it’s plastic footprint is disturbing to say the least.
At the end of the talk during the questions and answer period someone asked about bio plastics and biodegradable plastics. I think so many people get confused and have this question on their mind. Here is his answer: Bio degradable plastic only degrade under strict controlled environmental conditions (temperature, light and Ph). None of these conditions are present in salt water so if the bag ends up in the ocean it has the same fate as regular plastic bags. With regards to bio plastics unfortunately even though the primary material can be plant based they still contain additives that are undeniably synthetic.
The talk with Captain Moore is a big wake up call, we should clone him and have him visit every coastal town and city of the world, but since that not possible we can get informed and share his message. We have the responsibility to Reduce our individual Plastic Footprint. There is not one Solution to this problem but some of the changes that our societies must make involve producers, designers and manufactures following a cradle-to-cradle philosophy when making goods. We have to stop the production of cheap products that don’t last! We have to shift our societies towards local resilient economies. By supporting local producers we can eliminate unnecessary packaging. Recycling and refund schemes for plastics containers can dramatically decrease the amounts of plastic ending up in the waterways, while generating money for many people in need.
I highly recommend his new book Plastic Ocean it narrates his journey on the high Sea’s as well as on land gathering and sharing his shocking discoveries. His passion is obvious as well as his determination to gather indisputable scientific evidence to prove that this “The Plastic Age” as he calls it, is an environmental problem of huge proportions.
The conversation with Captain Moore is fuel for my passion. I gave him one of my turtles (made from veggies bags, plastic bags and balloons). He loved it so much he asked me to sew it on to his Plarn hat. He continues to travel the world sharing his message with my a little piece of me on his head! As you can see in the picture our encounter was an instant mutual linking, we both share a passion: The love for the Oceans and all it’s inhabitants! If you are reading this you probably do too, so let’s multiply this message Refuse, Reduce and Reuse!