OUR SEAS OF PLASTIC

I want to bring to your attention the efforts of a former colleague of mine at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Dr. Marcus Eriksen. Marcus is a man of many talents: scientist, educator, author, conservationist, and adventurer. As the Director of Research and Education at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation , he is actively involved in the protection of marine watersheds through research, education, and restoration. Marcus and the AMRF team are at the forefront of studying the massive accumulation of plastic debris in our oceans and the impact of this pollution on marine life and the human food supply. Hundreds of millions of tons of bottles, bottle caps, cigarette lighters, bags, food containers, toys and other plastic items are washed through our watersheds and into our oceans each year.

Phase I of this AMRF study, dubbed “Message in a Bottle,” began with a research voyage into the North Pacific Gyre to investigate plastic pollution that has been dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” In Phase II, Marcus and a colleague sailed 2,600 miles from Los Angeles to Hawaii last summer on a raft made from 15,000 plastic bottles to raise awareness of plastic marine debris fouling our oceans.

Phase III begins on Saturday, 4 April when Marcus and his fiance Anna ride their bicycles 2000 miles from Vancouver, British Columbia to Tijuana, Mexico. Along this route they will distribute samples of plastic debris collected from the North Pacific Gyre to legislators, educators, and organizations to raise awareness of plastic debris in our oceans.

The problem is that plastic is designed to last forever, yet we use it regularly to make products that are thrown away. Although recycling is effective for paper, metal, glass, and other materials, it is not the answer for plastics. And as a petroleum product plastic, like our consumption of gasoline, keeps us dependent upon foreign sources of oil.

The “Message in a Bottle” project has encouraged me to rethink how I use plastic products at home and in the workplace. My first small step into this brave new world is to avoid purchasing or using drinks of any kind in plastic bottles, especially water. Then I am going to try to encourage my favorite take-out eateries to start using more eco-friendly to-go containers. A recent trip to the grocery store was sober reminder of just how pervasive plastic is in our culture, but there are lots of creative people out there who are coming up with practical and interesting ways for reusing and recycling these containers.

If we all do our part, and encourage our colleagues, clients, and visitors to do the same, we can make a difference and help to reduce the amount of plastic debris that finds its way into our oceans!

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3 Responses to “OUR SEAS OF PLASTIC”

  1. Steve Nash Says:

    Right on, Art! Individual efforts are praiseworthy, but we need political action, especially in Virginia, which has steadfastly refused, for a generation, to restrain the production of “disposables” with appropriate deposit/return legislation. Time to launch a STOP PLASTIC AND SAVE THE OCEAN campaign.

  2. Truly a global problem Art. I think a lot of people don’t realize that they can have an immediate positive effect by doing two simple things:
    1. Stop buying plastic bottles of “spring” water and start filling your own Nalgene or other brand of water bottle from your home tap. It’s too easy to think we’re solving a problem by throwing things into the recycle bin and letting someone else take care of them. Why not avoid them altogether? 2. Take your own re-useable bags to the store with you. There’s a debate going on right now in the DC area about whether it’s too much of a burden on the consumer to charge for those throwaway plastic shopping bags. Until it becomes painful, most consumers won’t stop using them. It was hard for me to break the habit, but once my wife got me started using the evergreen bags it was no big deal. They’re stronger and don’t let your groceries escape as easily.

  3. I was not aware of this problem until my daughter told me about it last summer. I think as more people become more aware of the enormous size of the gyre and when the cost of using plastic hits their pocketbooks things will start to turn around. It’s too bad that it has gotten to big this huge of a problem before the public has become aware of it. It needs to hit the national news.

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