More Plastic Debris than Plankton in the Gyres?


Charmaine Coimbra

There’s a worldwide movement to ban the one use plastic bag.  It’s up for vote in my neck of the woods.  I’ve read some wild letters to the editor about why the plastic bag is good for humanity.  Meanwhile the environmental damage continues and  the evidence is obvious. It’s  time to rethink one-use plastic in our lives. 

The figurative plastic trash gyre on the internet claims that there  is more plastic in some parts of the ocean gyres than plankton.  Not every scientific study agrees.  But what would happen if there was more plastic than plankton in the ocean?

The first and obvious answer is that marine life in those areas will  consume plastic instead of plankton.  The situation surpasses intact plastic bottles and grocery bags, in that,  once the plastic reaches the ocean and is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, this tossed plastic waste photodegrades—or becomes smaller and smaller pieces of plastic.  This floating debris then integrates the surrounding biota, or plants, animals and fungi of the region.  The sea life that feeds on the biota begin ingesting the integrated tiny plastic.  They will die from starvation.

But wait! There’s more!

Yum. Look at that tasty plastic bag. I'll have that for lunch!

 Besides the approximate one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals that annually die from either plastic ingestion or entanglement, another nighmare brews.

“Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs, and derivatives of polystyrene,” says a National Geographic report.

Now mix this up with the neustonic (floating) plastics that absorb and concentrate toxins like mercury, DDE and PCBs, up to one million more times than found in ambient sea water–and, Atlantis, we have a problem.

Sharks and whales already show concentrations of these toxins.

But wait! There’s more!

So much plastic has already sunk to the sea’s bottom that one measurement for the North Sea alone estimates 600,000 tons of plastic that now smothers marine life that dwell on the ocean floor.

This is yours and my plastic waste that has blown out from our cars, rolled out of recycling bins, washed down country streams into rivers that empty into the sea–even trash from the midsection of any continent.

But wait! There’s more!

Real plankton.

And that more plastic than plankton business? Remember how oxygen is made? If it’s been awhile since the thought of where every other breath you take comes from,  here’s how it works:  “In the process of photosynthesis, phytoplankton release oxygen into the water. Half of the world’s oxygen is produced via phytoplankton photosynthesis. The other half is produced via photosynthesis on land by trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plants.”

In the same National Geographic News  article,  research meteorologist, Robert Frouin, with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California,  insists that ,”…understanding the process by which phytoplankton obtains ocean nutrients is important to understanding the link between the ocean and global climate.

“Marine biogeochemical processes both respond to and influence climate. A change in phytoplankton abundance and species may result from changes in the physical processes controlling the supply of nutrients and sunlight availability.”

So, is it absolutely imperative that we must have our one-time use of plastic bottles, grocery  and merchandise bags, plastic wrap, and styrofoam take out containers?  Really? Is it that important to us?


Rise Above Plastics

Heal the Bay

California Ocean Protection Council

Surfrider Foundation

Ocean Conservancy

NOAA:  Plankton Levels in the Ocean are Significantly Depleted

Categories: Global Warming, Great Pacific Trash Island, nature, North Pacific Gyre, Plastics and marine mammals, Rivers to the Sea, Saving the Oceans, Trash Gyre

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