The Plastic Floor

It’s not unknown knowledge that pollution is a problem in our world today. But the extent to which this poses is threat may be surprising. New research shows that natural ocean processes such as wind, drag, turbulence and wave height can push the plastic deep down where it remains unnoticed by scientists examining the ocean’s surface. “Plastic bags strangling sea sponges. Beer bottles colonized by sea lilies. Such images of ocean pollution aren’t usually associated with the remote, icy waters of the Arctic, but snapshots of the seafloor suggest the northern region is becoming increasingly littered with plastic.” (Megan Gannon, LiveScience).

Underwater cameras are regularly used to capture deep sea activities in order to analyze the presence of different inhabitants. Scientists constantly study the biodiversity throughout the oceans. But what seems to be a reoccurring appearance is the unwelcome sight of trash and pollution on the ocean floor. These appearances are not only reoccurring, but they are increasing in amount. “Bergmann, a biologist with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, found waste in 1 percent of the pictures from 2002 and 2 percent in the 2011 images, marking a twofold increase over the decade. The sharpest rise in garbage occurred between 2007 and 2011, according to the study of more than 2,000 images.” (Gannon). This two percent figure is extremely high, especially when this region was thought of as the most secluded region on the planet.

This plastic and litter is not just an ugly sight, it does actual harm to deep-sea organisms.
The study showed that nearly 70 percent of the pollution came in direct contact with the organisms. This can injure all kinds of creatures. Take for example the sea sponges, their ability to breathe can be compromised as well as their ability to absorb food. Furthermore, the chemicals released can have a toxic effect and alter the gas exchanges on the sea floor. These plastic materials can pose threats even after they seem to disappear. Microscopic particles can absorb many kinds of pollutants that can be later eaten and further contaminate the food chain.

Here’s a take on Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Mists.” Think about the implications of this image and what we can do to change it.

Plastic accounts for 60-80% of the pollution in the ocean. A majority of this plastic is not biodegradable which means that once it reaches the ocean, it will affect the marine ecosystem for decades or even centuries. This causes a devastating effect. The larger debris can wash up on our shores, entangle and kill seals, or destroy coral reefs. The rest can be broken in to smaller pieces and served as a meal for fish or birds. This constant dump of plastic into the ocean is becoming an ever-increasing reservoir of plastics.

Albatrosses are one of the many victims of this influx of pollution. Thousands of their carcasses have been found filled with different waste, mostly plastics. Normally they will feed on squid and other animals that swim nearby, but instead the birds have been accidentally swallowing pieces of floating plastic that now litter the oceans. The cycle continues when they return to their nests and regurgitate the plastic to feed it to their young. Often, the plastic will puncture the bird’s stomachs, creating life-threatening injuries. Other times they die of dehydration, starvation or poisonous toxicity.
Further studies have taken samples from four different stations at locations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. These studies revealed traces of plastic at a measure of approximately 50,000 fragments per square kilometer; a rate comparable to the global average. Researchers knew there would be a substantial amount of plastic pollutants in the world’s oceans, with the highest levels found in the North Atlantic and North Sea, but they had anticipated rates in the Southern Ocean to be some 10 times lower than the global average. These statistics are unacceptable and should be a priority for each and every nation.
These examples and studies are only a fraction of the issues from what is an overwhelming and life threatening problem. Our entire oceans are in danger and the ecosystems that exist within them are struggling; this in turn effects people everywhere. Some scientist contribute the melting sea ice and increase of ship traffic in the Arctic as possible causes of the increase in pollution. “The Arctic sea ice cover normally acts as a natural barrier, preventing wind blowing waste from land out onto the sea, and blocking the path of most ships,” Bergmann explained. “Ship traffic has increased enormously since the ice cover has been continuously shrinking and getting thinner. We are now seeing three times the number of private yachts and up to 36 times more fishing vessels in the waters surrounding Spitsbergen compared to pre-2007 times.” Whether or not these two possibilities are the main causes, they are certainly not helping the situation.
The most effective way to stop plastic pollution in our oceans is to make sure it doesn’t reach the water in the first place. By using better waste management practices, individuals, companies, and governments can all make a big impact. Many countries have already put solutions in action, significantly reducing the amount of plastic waste polluting the sea, but it is simply not enough. Every person can make an impact by taking small steps such as: reducing the amount of plastic they use, recycling, or simply going out and cleaning up the beach. If we all make one step towards progress we can make a change in the ocean and in turn, the world.
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4 thoughts on “The Plastic Floor

  1. The image of the turtle eating the plastic is so sad! Poor little baby.

    This was a very interesting article and just proves the need for more people to recycle. Humans are slowly destroying everything that is innocent and necessary.

  2. Did you know that Australia is setting up a marine national park? http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2012-06-14/australia-unveils-national-marine-park-plan/960104

    I’m curious as to what you think about that — how would that compare to what we typically think of as a national park?

    Also, one of the images you posted (the albatross remains with the plastic bits) is from a body of work by photographer, Chris Jordan, who focuses on consumerism and in this case, what happens to disposable plastic objects. Animals like the albatross eat plastic bits that the ocean has shredded; they don’t do it accidentally, they mistake it for food and will even fit it to their babies. Its a real problem that we need to consider everything time we buy a disposable plastic object.

    http://www.chrisjordan.com

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