Archive for January, 2017

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Enemy of the Ocean

January 2, 2017

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“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
― John Muir

The oceans of the world are one of the critical elements of the ecology of the Earth. Their environmental health is a powerful indicator of the health of the planet itself. And that health is suffering because of the actions of one creature: mankind.

At this moment eight massive garbage patches exist in the world’s oceans. The one in the Mediterranean Sea contains about 250 billion pieces of plastic. In the Pacific Ocean, the Great Eastern Garbage Patch is the size of Texas, and the Great Western is even larger at half the size of the continental United States. The Indian Ocean and North Atlantic Ocean have also fallen victim to this egregious phenomenon.

These garbage patches are composed of anything humans dispose of that floats. The greatest portion is plastic: plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic containers of all sorts.

This is of particular concern because plastic takes an extremely long time to biodegrade. The average plastic bottle takes at least 450 years to completely biodegrade, and some take as long as 1,000 years. Rather, the plastic is ground down by the motion of the sea and the light of the sun into small particles called “confetti.” This confetti is destined to float around in the currents like a murky soup.

This is further compounded by the fact that these plastics leach out harmful substances such as bisphenol A (BPA). Plastics also absorb PCBs already present in the water. When marine life consumes the plastic granules, the harmful chemicals get into the food chain and affect any organism that eats them (including people).

And just who are the culprits responsible for this?

We are. All of us.

The use of products that end up in the garbage, plastic or otherwise, is pervasive. Since the threat is not immediate or visible, we succumb to the temptation of convenience. In the meantime we are pushing the limits of the planet’s ability to absorb the waste products of our modern civilization.

So what are we to do?

It sounds quite simple, but it requires the breaking of habits, something that in reality always proves difficult — stop (or at the very least greatly curtail) the use of common plastics.

When you shop, don’t use plastic bags. Choose paper or better yet, bring your own cloth bags. If you do end up with plastic bags, recycle them. Most supermarkets have a receptacle for such recycling right by the front door.

Instead of drinking bottled water, get a reusable drinking bottle and fill it with tap water (essentially what you are drinking in the plastic bottle and certainly no less healthy). Whatever plastics you do use, recycle. Virtually every town has a curbside pickup these days, so this practice should not be difficult to maintain. Not to do so makes you an enemy of the ocean.

These are most certainly not major sacrifices in terms of time or money (as a matter of fact, they will actually save money in the long run). But they are major actions that can help save the oceans. And that means saving the very planet we live on.

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