Choking the ocean

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Thursday’s edition of The Telegram sported a front-page story about a salmon tag from Labrador that ended up on the Isle of Wight. Not too many years ago, we did a story about a plastic election sign from this province that also ended up on the other side of the Atlantic. The travels of plastic trash occasionally make for a brief moment or two of wonder — just how did it happen that way? — but they are a sign of something far more serious.

They’re a sign of just how ubiquitous plastic garbage is in our oceans, and just how long-lived that garbage can actually be.

On the Isle of Wight, the salmon tag was found by a group of people cleaning beaches of garbage. They had photographs of the cleanup efforts and of the wide swath of trash they were trying to deal with.

But anyone who spends time on beaches anywhere in the world knows that cleaning up waste — especially plastic waste — is a near-impossible task. Plastic oil containers, gloves, shoes, six-pack strapping, mussel-encrusted balls of bubble-wrap — you can find all of that on any day. Plastic fishing tags — from salmon tags to the plastic identification tags that DFO requires on lobster traps — can be found on virtually any beach in this province on a regular basis. But at least the trap tags have a reason for being in the sea.

Other things? Not so much.

Everything else is in there because people are too lazy to properly dispose of their waste, and for some reason believe that the vastness of our oceans can somehow absorb it all. Ships toss waste into the sea, people throw it from land and off it goes.

The oceans can’t handle the trash.

The sea can break things down a bit, but that’s not always a good thing: the Pacific Ocean now holds a giant garbage gyre, a spinning mass of plastic shreds that’s estimated to cover between 700,000 and 15 million square kilometres. Much of it isn’t visible because the plastic has broken down to such a degree that the smallest bits aren’t immediately obvious. Some measurements set the amount of plastic at about 5.1 kilograms of plastic per square kilometre.

Larger pieces of plastic waste have been implicated in the deaths of marine animals from sea turtles to whales, especially plastic materials that animals can mistake for a normal diet of jellyfish.

The message? Things that go into the ocean do not disappear. They may be out of sight and out of mind for you, but things that end up in the ocean end up somewhere else, on someone else’s beach.

And things that other people toss out end up on ours. The Isle of Wight garbage collectors talked about how often they find shoes on their beaches — we have that in common with them, because there are always shoes in the landwash here. Just go looking.

It seems people have plenty of soles.

Maybe it’s souls they lack.

Geographic location: Isle of Wight, Pacific Ocean

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Recent comments

  • W bagg
    May 16, 2014 - 13:32

    The world really needs to think about the life of plastic. The world also needs to look at the supply of fresh water. Allowing mining companies to destroy pristine fresh lakes for tailings ponds is a terrible idea when there are reasonable alternatives. Ya sort of need water to live you know.