Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Not with a bang, but a whimper: the Great Pacific Trash Vortex

  Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.

Stomach contents of dead albatross - Midway Island.
LA Times, Photography by Rick Loomis

MIDWAY ATOLL -- The albatross chick jumped to its feet, eyes alert and focused. At 5 months, it stood 18 inches tall and was fully feathered except for the fuzz that fringed its head.

All attitude, the chick straightened up and clacked its beak at a visitor, then rocked back and dangled webbed feet in the air to cool them in the afternoon breeze.

The next afternoon, the chick ignored passersby. The bird was flopped on its belly, its legs splayed awkwardly. Its wings drooped in the hot sun. A few hours later, the chick was dead.

John Klavitter, a wildlife biologist, turned the bird over and cut it open with a knife. Probing its innards with a gloved hand, he pulled out a yellowish sac — its stomach.

Out tumbled a collection of red, blue and orange bottle caps, a black spray nozzle, part of a green comb, a white golf tee and a clump of tiny dark squid beaks ensnared in a tangle of fishing line.

"This is pretty typical," said Klavitter, who is stationed at the atoll for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We often find cigarette lighters, bucket handles, toothbrushes, syringes, toy soldiers — anything made out of plastic."

[Kenneth R. Weiss, "Plague of plastic chokes the seas," LA Times, August 2, 2006, is a lengthy article accompanied by photos, video, and graphics. It is neither the first, nor the most recent. -jlt]

Kathy Marks and Daniel Howden, "The world's rubbish dump: a garbage tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan," The Independent, February 5, 2009.

A "plastic soup" of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world's largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group, says if environmentalists wanted to remove the ocean dump site, it would take a massive international effort that would cost billions. But that is unlikely, he added, because no one country is likely to step forward and claim the issue as its own responsibility.

According to the same SFGate article (October 19, 2007)
"The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s, said Chris Parry, public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco.

"Ocean current patterns may keep the flotsam stashed in a part of the world few will ever see, but the majority of its content is generated onshore, according to a report from Greenpeace last year titled "Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans." "

A number of videos, including a recent cartoon by Gorilla in the Greenhouse webshow, are available on YouTube. Search "plastic garbage island ocean."

The Garbage Patch is located within the North Pacific Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres. - Wikipedia

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