Filed under: Energy + Climate, Nature + Travel, Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: carbon sink, ocean, peril, plankton, plastic
I grew up about 5 miles from the ocean and I can count the number of times I went to the beach on one hand. Between the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant overflowing into the ocean during heavy rains and all the litter, it’s never been an appealing place to spend the day. Who wants to go swimming with plastic bottles and packaging? Certainly not me.
Plastic has been hailed the ‘lubricant of globalization’ because it’s a vapor and moisture barrier that enables safe shipment of products around the world. The same qualities that make plastics so great for trade make them virtually indestructible, so when they find their way into the ocean they’re there to stay.
Plastics don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade meaning that UV light from the sun makes plastic brittle so it breaks into pieces that can look like natural prey. Plastics like PCB and DDE are toxic so anything that eats jellyfish is also consuming potentially lethal plastics.
Plastics pose and even sinister threat than interrupting the food chain. A survey done off the coast of California found that in some areas the plastic to plankton ratios were 40:1 or even higher. So what’s the big deal?
Trash in the ocean shades the surface and only a certain amount of solar energy gets down into the ocean. Plankton act as a carbon sink (something that stores more carbon dioxide than it releases, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions) and require sunlight to bloom and grow. Too much shade means fewer plankton and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
86% of all ocean debris is plastic. As a whole we need to work harder to protect the environment, not only to maintain the integrity of our oceans but to save ourselves and our future.
Image credits: © Dino Ferri/Audobon Institute and Wildcoast
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