Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plastics, the reality.

Indeed, we live in a plastic bubble… perched on the art of convenience.  The average person may not think twice about the role of disposable plastic water bottles, single use shopping bags, and plastic food wrappers in their lives; however, studies show that there are hidden costs to our addiction to plastic.   

Clean Ocean Action has been cataloging the types and quantities of NJ’s marine debris for over twenty years. The Beach Sweep program is a statewide initiative intended to rid NJ’s beaches of unsightly and harmful debris. Most importantly, volunteers are instructed to record data on each piece of debris collected to be included in annual reports that offer evidence of the severity of the local pollution problem.

Each year, plastic is the most abundant type of debris collected during the Sweeps at about 80%.  During the 2010 Beach Sweeps, over 66,000 plastic bottle caps were collected in just six hours! New Jersey’s beaches and waterways do not suffer alone to the evil plague of plastics, as it can be found in varying amounts in every ocean basin, on even the most remote beaches in the world, and sadly, in the stomachs of many marine mammals.   

The truth about plastic is that it does not bio-degrade; it photo-degrades (breaking into smaller and smaller pieces)… never truly going away.  As plastic garbage becomes smaller it becomes more difficult to be removed from the environment and easier to trap or to be ingested by wildlife.  Entanglement occurs when an animal accidentally becomes ensnared in marine debris.  Morality can occur quickly through drowning or predation or it can be a long agonizing death from starvation, infection, or gradual strangulation.

Ingestion occurs when organisms mistake debris for natural food items. An example is the similarity between plastic bags and jellyfish as they float in the currents of the ocean.  Ingested items can block or damage the digestive system leading to infection or starvation.  A stomach full of garbage can make an animal feel full, causing them to stop eating.

Check out photographer Chris Jordan’s Message from the Gyre….

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