Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Message in the bottle : a sea of plastic garbage

Translation from Serge Poirot article in Ouest France

Fragmented garbage, trapped by the currents are concentrated in a vast area in the Sargasso Sea. The impacts are unknown, but we know that many animals suffer of this situation.

For twenty-two years, researchers and students in oceanography of the American Association Sea Education went to draw their fine mesh nets - more than 6 000 times - in the waters of the Atlantic between Nova Scotia (Canada ) and the Caribbean. They were counting the different species, but also waste.

In late February, at a conference in Portland (Oregon), they drew a not very appetizing statement in this unprecedented campaign. Since 1997, we knew the existence of a large garbage dump in the Pacific, "a continent of plastic" had imaged the sailors fell over.

80% came from continents

Sea Education has found a comparable concentration in the Atlantic, about 1 000 km from U.S. shores, in the Sargasso Sea. An area larger than France, where light plastic waste is concentrated of 200,000 fragments per square kilometer and with a depth of ten meters.

As the circling currents and winds are low, this "plastic soup" does not disperse. The wastes stay there, derived for many consumer products, most big like confetti. One hundred million tonnes of plastics are produced each year worldwide, Greenpeace said a tenth ends in the ocean. From this mass, 20% comes from ships and offshore platforms and 80% from land.

The fish eat, we also ...

The sustainable qualities that make the success of plastic objects become a major problem once they are in the sea. They last. But not in the form of bottles, boxes, bags or cans. Under the action of the sun, waves, abrasion, they crumble into ever smaller pieces.

"The impacts on the marine environment remain unknown, observes Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer from Sea Education. But we know that many marine animals eat the plastic and that has a negative effect on birds in particular. "
The next expedition, in June, will pursue the issue.

In 2008, oceanographer Charles Moore has published a study estimating the number to 267 species of animals - mammals, fish, birds, turtles - affected by waste plastics. Nearly half of the seabirds eat at one time or another by mistake. Sometimes they die, with an digestive tract obstruction.

Humans could also suffer the consequences.
The pieces of plastic, like sponges, concentrate pollutants which absorbed by fish, may well go back to our plates.

During this time, David de Rothschild and his crew are running an eco-expedition in the Pacific ocean called Plastiki (from San Francisco to Sydney) on a catamaran made of newly developed plastic bottles which are easier to recycle.

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