Disposable Oceans?

Feature story - November 6, 2006
Here in the middle of the Pacific, plastic marine debris is a harsh reality that marine creatures large and small have to live with. But for those of us onboard the Esperanza, the real impact of plastic on our oceans is still unfolding. On our way to California, we've already noticed more and more plastic pollution pass us by, and we're getting a very clear picture of how our lives on land are helping to destroy life at sea.

We're continuing to move through the Trash Vortex, an area of the North Pacific where currents and winds gather plastic pollution from both sides of this peaceful ocean. We're watching in awe as pieces of trash large and small pass us by, and with our sampling and discovery efforts, we can even see how this garbage is becoming one with ocean creatures.

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Size Doesn't Matter

The problem is much worse than we could have thought. We had thought that the large bits of plastic floating by were a significant problem, but we had no idea just how many tiny pieces of plastic would turn up in our daily sampling efforts. The marine debris sampler, which we drag alongside Esperanza twice daily, skims the surface of the ocean and brings up everything in its path.

We've been getting a disturbing amount of plastic, large and small. The occasional toothbrush, netting and tubing paint a grim future for our oceans, but what is potentially more dangerous are the little pieces of plastic, worn down by years of swirling in the salt water.

These small pieces of debris, including pre-production pellets, or "nurdles," can appear to be food for fish, sea birds and even the smallest of ocean life. These may also act as a toxic sponge, absorbing persistent organic pollutants, the consequences of which are yet to become clear.

What can we do?

Seeing someone's toothbrush float by in the middle of the Pacific has been an eye-opening experience for everyone onboard. If someone knew that their toothbrush would one day end up thousands of miles away from the nearest spot of land, would they still carelessly throw it away? What we need to do is start demanding more responsibility from each other in our use of plastic, and stop living as if everything is disposable and that the future will not be impacted.

So much of our trash ends up in the oceans, so think twice the next time you toss away something after you use it, and think about what the life cycle of that ridiculous plastic packaging wrapped around nearly everything that we buy.  It's going to be a big change, but it's a change we have to make, for the sake of our oceans, and for the ability of future generations to enjoy them.

In the news

CNN gets the details straight from the Greenpeace crew.  Read the article on cnn.com.