A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

D.C.’s bag-tax leadership

Posted 11/25/2011 By   in the Washington Post

The District imposed a five-cent fee on plastic bags almost two years ago, and we seem to be leading a regional trend.

The Examiner reported earlier this week that Prince George’s County has started discussing its own variation on the plastic bag fee, a move that would require the approval of Maryland’s General Assembly. A state senator and state delegate have already indicated that they’ll move to give the county that authority in January, after which the County Council could decide how much to charge for each plastic bag and where the proceeds of the fee would go.

In January 2012, a five-cent bag fee will go into effect in Montgomery County. Interestingly, retailers don’t seem particularly concerned that the new fee will eat into sales; when the District debated implementing the fee in 2009, lobbyists for the plastic bag industry spelled out all sorts of doomsday scenarios.

Generally speaking, the District’s five-cent fee has been held up as an example of how best to reduce the use of plastic bags. In the first month of its implementation, plastic bag use fell by a staggering 19 million. Still, compliance has been an issue — earlier this year, a survey found that 38 percent of retailers weren’t imposing the fee.

Martin Austermuhle blogs at DCist. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

Monday, February 18, 2013

To Go: Plastic-Foam Containers, if the Mayor Gets His Way

It is the most humble of vessels for New York City foodstuffs, ubiquitous at Chinese takeout joints and halal street carts. In pre-Starbucks days, coffee came packaged in its puffy embrace.
Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times
The citywide ban on plastic-foam food packaging will include takeout boxes, cups and trays.

But the plastic-foam container may soon be going the way of trans fats, 32-ounce Pepsis, and cigarettes in Central Park. 

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose regulatory lance has slain fatty foods, supersize sodas, and smoking in parks, is now targeting plastic foam, the much-derided polymer that environmentalists have long tried to restrict. 

On Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg, in his 12th and final State of the City address, will propose a citywide ban on plastic-foam food packaging, including takeout boxes, cups and trays. Public schools would be instructed to remove plastic-foam trays from their cafeterias. Many restaurants and bodegas would be forced to restock. 

In excerpts from his speech released on Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg rails against plastic foam, even comparing it to lead paint. “We can live without it, we may live longer without it, and the doggie bag will survive just fine,” the mayor plans to say. 

Call it the era of clamshell prohibition. 

To become law, the ban would require approval by the City Council. The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, suggested in an interview that she was open to a ban on plastic foam as part of a larger effort to increase recycling. 

“It lives forever,” Ms. Quinn said. “It’s worse than cockroaches.” 

The plastic foam used in food packaging is not actually Styrofoam, according to Dow Chemical, the company that makes Styrofoam. The company says its product is widely used as insulation, but not “in the manufacture of disposable foam products, such as cups, coolers, meat trays and packing peanuts.” 

Officials at City Hall said a plastic-foam ban could save millions of dollars a year. Plastic foam, which is not biodegradable, can add up to $20 per ton in recycling costs when the city processes recyclable materials. The city handles about 1.2 million tons of food waste each year; the mayor’s office estimated that the city’s annual waste stream included about 20,000 tons of plastic foam. 

New York led the nation in restricting smoking and sugary drinks, but the city is a relative latecomer to the antifoam trend: measures against the material are already in place in Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco and Seattle. 

Mr. Bloomberg has been only a sometime-ally of recycling advocates; early in his tenure, he called for the suspension of some recycling to save the city money. 

Eric A. Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York, hailed the foam plan as “an important step forward,” saying it would bring environmental and quality-of-life benefits to the city. 

Plastic foam, Mr. Goldstein said, “is so brittle.” He added: “It breaks into these tiny pieces, and it’s not easy to clean up. Getting rid of it means our parks, our streets, our waterways, will all be cleaner.”
The restaurant industry, which has complained about overregulation by City Hall, offered a more measured response on Wednesday. 

“We have to consider what the costs will be for both government and the business owners who make the city run,” said Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association. He noted that containers made of paper can often be more expensive than their foam counterparts. 

Mr. Bloomberg is not the first mayor of New York City to propose a crackdown on foam. In 1987, Mayor Edward I. Koch joined a campaign to encourage fast-food restaurants to reduce their use of the product. McDonald’s later phased out foam boxes from its restaurants. 

Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal is one element of a larger environmental protection effort he plans to pursue during his final year in office. In his speech, he will also pledge to install 1,000 recycling containers on sidewalks, doubling the current number. 

The percentage of waste that is recycled by the city has fallen during the Bloomberg administration, to 15 percent today, from 23 percent in 2001. Mr. Bloomberg, in his speech, will call for the city to achieve a 30 percent recycling rate by 2017. 

He will also propose taking the first steps toward city collection of food waste for composting, starting with a pilot program on Staten Island. 

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Plastics in the Ocean

Posted on MarineLink.com By Tyson Bottenus February 13, 2013
How Biological Nets Are Taking On A New Purpose For An Old Problem

Aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans last November, 1,500 miles from land, 38 researchers from Sea Education Association (SEA) studied a Brobdingnagian swath of Pacific Ocean that has become the temporary resting spot for thousands of tons of plastic. Commonly called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” the area has attracted significant media attention in the last decade but a surprising dearth of scientific attention. Contrary to popular opinion, the “Patch” is not a continuous field of debris, is not visible from space, nor is it an “island of trash.”  But it’s there. Every year almost 300 million tons of plastic are produced but it is estimated that only a tenth of it is recycled. Much of this plastic finds its way into coastal waters before it is swept out to the open ocean by surface currents. These regions, known as gyres, are some of the most remote areas of the ocean.

There are five subtropical gyres - one located in every ocean - and each contains huge quantities of millimeter-sized pieces of plastic. From the deck of the ship on a calm day with no swell, this plastic debris look like confetti. But when the winds pick up, these plastics become almost invisible to the naked eye.

“If you are not specifically looking for plastic with a net or doing visual surveys,” says Emelia DeForce, Chief Scientist with SEA aboard the Seamans, “chances are that you will not see the plastic because it is so small in size.”

Which means that researchers studying plastic pollution need more than mere pool nets to get an accurate measurement of just how much plastic is in the ocean. To solve the problem of plastics in our ocean, or even just to study it, oceanographic technology needs to be conscious of the emerging science.

Surface Nets
The first studies of plastic pollution began in the early 1970s when researchers with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) threw a rectangular net into the coastal waters of New England to collect organisms residing in the surface waters of the ocean, called the neuston layer.

The net they used was one that had been developed less than 10 years before by oceanographers frustrated by previous nets that were towed from a vessel’s stern. This rectangular net, aptly called a “neuston net,” was released adjacent to the vessel and was supported by a boom that could be lowered and raised. The advantage of it being deployed adjacent to the ship minimized any interference bow waves might have on the organisms it was sampling. 

Along with different organisms, the team found two types of polystyrene spherules. These spherules, still used today, become Styrofoam when mixed with a foaming agent. Even in the 1970s, the implications of plastic debris were recorded in the scientific literature.

Of the 14 species of fish recovered in the nets, eight were found with plastics in their stomachs. The scientists also determined that the spherules had absorbed polychlorinated bisphenyls (PCBs) from the sea water. Researchers today worry that if fish consume these spherules, which commonly resemble fish eggs, that PCBs and other persistant organic pollutants (POPs) will bioaccumulate and magnify up the food chain, eventually impacting humans.

Researchers from SEA implemented the neuston net into their research program in the mid 1980s. Since then they have collected more than 100,000 pieces of plastic and currently possess the largest data set on plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean. In 2001, they began the task of quantifying plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean.

But one issue that has consistently plagued the neuston net was in its design. Scientists have observed that in “swelly” conditions, the neuston net tends to bounce from wave to wave.

To get accurate measurements of what exists on the surface of the ocean, scientists must know how long the net was in the water. For example, if the net was deployed for half an hour and was being dragged at a speed of 2 knots, researchers can assume that the net was in the water for one nautical mile. However if the net bounces out of the water between waves, researchers have no idea how much area the net covered.

In 1981 a new surface sampling net entered the oceanographic scene. The manta net attempted to fix some of the design errors of the neuston net by attaching a large wing to the top of it, making the net look similar to that of the manta ray. Along with the wing, the net also includes a counter-balancing weight, sinking the net and preventing it from bouncing from swell to swell.

“The manta net has been the standard for many years,” said Kara Lavender Law, research professor with SEA. “SEA has continued to use the neuston net for a couple of reasons, namely for consistency with our historical archive, and the ease with which it can be deployed, recovered and processed.”
“Both nets tow at the surface of the ocean,” said DeForce. “The neuston net is easier to deploy because it does not require a hydrowinch and it takes up less space on the ship.”

Researchers with the Algalita Foundation and 5gyres, organizations also focused on the issue of plastic pollution, have begun modifying the manta net so that it can be used on a variety of vessels, even vessels not typically associated with oceanographic research. By changing the size of the manta net and adding detachable wings, they have recently created the “Suitcase Manta Trawl”. Another variant, the “Hi-Speed Trawl”, has a considerably smaller net opening that allows a vessel to tow the net at higher speeds.

Below the Surface
“On a cruise in 2009 in the North Pacific,” said Giora Proskurowski, a Principal Investigator with SEA, “there was this period where the wind died down. I noticed on the surface of the ocean way more white flecks. It was calm and the lack of turbulence allowed each piece of plastic to rise to the surface.” In windy weather, scientists have discovered that plastic tends to get mixed into the water column. This means that the amount of plastic that has been sampled is significantly lower than what actually exists.

“I went back through every tow we had data on and looked at the average wind speed during a tow and compared it to the number of pieces of plastic for every tow in the Pacific and Atlantic subtropical gyres and it was a pretty obvious connection that at high wind speed you had low plastic,” said Proskurowski.

To sample plastics at depth, scientists with SEA used a Tucker trawl during their Plastics expedition in 2010. Like with the manta and neuston nets, the Tucker trawl was initially designed to study plankton. The net is designed to open at a discrete depth, such as five meters, and once triggered by a messenger, close at that same depth.

But in 2012, SEA received a slightly modified MOCNESS (Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System) to study plastics in the water column with more precision.
“The Tucker trawl is strictly mechanical: there are no electrical components,” said Erich Horgan of Biological Environmental Sampling Systems, Inc., the company that designed the modified MOCNESS for SEA. “People can put on free standing modules that might be able to measure temperature, salinity, depth but the MOCNESS was the system that allowed a user to see ‘what was going on at depth’ and be able to influence the depth at which to trip the nets.”

Horgan says also that the MOCNESS has a vast range of applications. Aside from conductivity, temperature and depth, the MOCNESS can include devices to measure salinity, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen and light level. They have also created other modified MOCNESS nets to study predator/prey interactions at depths up to 6,000 meters.

During the 2012 expedition, SEA researchers studying plastic in the Pacific Ocean found concentrations of plastic down to 10 meters below the surface. Concentrations, they found, were consistently lowest at greater depth and highest one meter below the surface.

Clean Up
Media sensation over the issue of plastic debris has spawned an overwhelming question. How do we clean up the mess we have created? Where do we start?

Larger pieces, such as derelict fishing nets, have successfully been picked up by NOAA’s Marine Debris program. In July 2012, they successfully removed 50 tons of debris from coral reefs around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, considered to be one of the most remote regions of the world. To survey large areas of the ocean, a pilot project was launched in 2008 that used unmanned aircraft systems.

Smaller pieces however, like the ones predominantly collected by researchers with SEA last November, remain another challenge.

“One of the difficulties of picking up ocean trash on the surface is the size,” said Rachael Miller, founder of Rozalia Project. “It is often very small and surrounded by organic matter.”

“Rozalia Project is working on methods to pick up floating marine debris, whatever the material, in a way that reduces bycatch and can be scaled for deployment off of fishing fleets and other vessels who transit both in and out of harbors and across long distances. In addition we are learning everything we can about floating marine debris, especially in urban waters, so we can work on solutions: prevention and education programs that stop the problem at the source.”

(As published in the January/February 2013 edition of Marine Technologies - www.seadiscovery.com)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How much Plastic is in the Ocean?

Find out though this really cool interactive webpage!


Prezi transcript:

Plastic in our oceans What is the effects of plastic in the oceans The main effect that plastics have on the oceans is one the animals that live in it. Plastic is one of the most dangerous hazards for marine animals. Marine animals are not use to plastic in there natural habitat and often mistake it for food. Like a plastic grocery bag looks a lot like a jelly fish to a sea turtle. When a marine animal eats plastic it either chokes or starves to death. They can starve to death because plastics take a lot longer to decompose in there stomach so they will end up eating so much plastic nothing can fit in there stomach. Also animals can get entangled in plastic objects like six pack soda holders,fish nets, and much more. Entanglement can cause sever injury, impaired movement, and starvation which all those commonly lead to death. Like this seagull which thought these pieces of plastic were fish eggs How much plastic is in the oceans The estimated amount of plastic in the ocean is 48,000 pieces per square mile and its said that 60% to 80% of marine litter is plastic. But Plastic is not randomly floating around in the ocean it is being kept in large ocean currents all around the world which makes huge garbage patches. The biggest garbage patch is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is located west from LA and north from Hawaii. Its so big its the size of two full Texas. Most of the garbage patches are not visible though. Plastic still breaks down to small piece even though it still last for a long time. But when it does this it is even more of a hazard because the main animal in those regions fish confuse those tiny pieces of plastic with food. Solution There are many possible solutions for this issue. But we cant just simply wait it out and let the plastic disappear because it takes up to 400 years for a piece of plastic to fully decompose. We can see here that the recovery rate is way lower than the gaining plastic rate so we have to start doing something. Some of the solutions people have came up with so far is to either switch to a more biodegradable resource than plastic or just try to use reusable products and recycle as much as possible. Switching to a more Biodegradable resource isn't a bad idea Like paper and cornstarch. But it cost a lot more money and energy to use it. My favorite solution is using reusable materials and recycling as much as possible. Which should save money and the planet. But everyone has to do it if this solution were to make a big impact. Who's for it/ Who's against it Well theirs not really anyone that is against helping the oceans and not putting plastic in the ocean. But there are sides on if we should stop making simple plastic appliances anymore. People that are for plastic People that are for plastic are either plastic producers that get a lot of profit out if making plastic appliances. Or as someone who likes the convinces of using plastic plates and cups because there cheap and you don't have to wash them you can just through them away. People that are against plastic An example of people that are against plastic would be the NRDC which is a environment protection organization who thinks we should cut down on simple plastics to protect the environment. My opinion on the Issue I think simple plastic appliances like cups, plates, and bags should stop being used and replaced with a more biodegradable material. I think that because plastic objects like that seem to be most commonly thrown away. And I think we should also start using my solution that I said earlier from now. Works Cited "Google." Google. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. "Plastic In Our Oceans by Abbie Barnes - Action For Nature." Action For Nature RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. "Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans." NRDC:. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. "Plastics in Our Oceans." Plastics in Our Oceans. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. "Plastics in Our Oceans." Plastics in Our Oceans. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. "Water Matters." State of the Planet Our Oceans A Plastic Soup Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. Works Cited The End

Great ocean garbage patches 'share' plastic waste — with VIDEO

Posted in environmentalresearchweb.org by Liz Kalaugher on January 30, 2013

Plastic waste entering the ocean can make its way to any of the world's "great ocean garbage patches" and even move between them. That is according to researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

"The patches are an international problem," said researcher Erik van Sebille in a video abstract for Environmental Research Letters (ERL). "It is not that plastic from one country ends up in one particular patch. Quite the contrary, all of the plastic ends up in all of the patches, and the patches are interconnected in a way that we didn't know before."

Van Sebille and colleagues' model of plastic dispersion is the first to include seasonal variations in ocean currents and to vary the amount of plastic entering the ocean according to the number of people living near each coast.

There are currently five garbage patches, formed at a gyre – a system of rotating ocean currents – in each of the world's subtropical ocean basins. A garbage patch is also likely to form in the Barents Sea in the Arctic within the next 50 years or so, the team's model revealed.

Over 10 years or so, the researchers found, the rubbish in one patch can actually move to another patch, assisted by oceanic eddies up to 50 km across. After thousands of years, a large amount of debris released outside the North Atlantic is likely to have moved to the North Pacific garbage patch.

"If we want to prevent, reduce or clean up the patches, we really need to have an international collaboration," said van Sebille.

To achieve their results, the researchers used data from surface drifter buoys, which float around the ocean and relay regular updates on their position. The Global Drifter Program has introduced such buoys into the ocean since the early 1980s. The team used this information to model the motion of plastic rubbish for the next 1100 years using a particle-trajectory tracer approach.

"The garbage starts at the coasts around the ocean where the people live, and within a few months the currents move it into the open ocean and there it forms the great garbage patches, which are a bit like vacuum cleaners of the ocean," said van Sebille.

The action of the sun and the ocean degrades the plastic into small pellets just millimetres across that float in the upper ocean in a "kind of soup structure". According to van Sebille, "plankton grows on the pellets, birds eat them, fish eat them and because these pellets and the plastics can contain quite a lot of toxins, that becomes part of the food chain."

The effect on the ecosystem is unclear and it is also hard to gauge the weight of plastic in the ocean. "What we do know is that in some regions of the North Pacific there is more weight in plastic than there is in life," said van Sebille. "If you go out fishing, you find more plastics in your nets than you do fish or even plankton."
The plastic is likely to stay in place for at least 1000 years – van Sebille said there is really no solution for getting it out of the ocean. "It is too small, it is too diverse, the soup is too thin to get out there with a ship and pick it up," he said. "Of course, the way to go would be to make plastics that do break down. Plastics that even if they get into the ocean don't really have the time to accumulate in garbage patches because they will just disintegrate and will be gone from the food chain."

Now the team plans to study what happens to plastics closer to the coast. "Clearly, by the amount of plastic found on beaches not all of it ends up in the gyres to form garbage patches in the deep ocean," said van Sebille. "We need to find out what happens to the plastics closer to land, where most fishing occurs, and what effect that has on the environment around our coasts."

Van Sebille and colleagues reported their work in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

About the author

Liz Kalaugher is editor of environmentalresearchweb.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What are long term threats of plastic in our seas?

Albatross parent and chick  
Albatross parents feed their young chicks plastics and unwittingly kill them
Last summer, when filming for a series to be broadcast next year, a team from the BBC's Natural History Unit saw first-hand how discarded plastic can end up thousands of miles away from where people live when they visited French Frigate Shoals, an island north west of Hawaii.

There they found turtles nesting amongst plastic bottles, cigarette lighters and toys. And they discovered dead and dying albatross chicks, unwittingly killed when their parents fed them plastic carried in as they foraged for food in the sea.

Some of the chicks die when sharp edges puncture their bodies, others from starvation as their stomachs fill with plastic they cannot digest.
Turtle in amongst rubbish  
On the remote beaches of the French Frigate Shoals, turtles nests among plastic debris
We have known for a while that plastic is a threat to the albatross, but how dangerous is discarded plastic for other wildlife and could it affect us?

Some of the plastic in our oceans has been illegally tipped at sea, or is litter from fishing, most comes from the land, from poorly run landfill sites and industrial waste.

Floating debris is carried to the Hawaiian archipelago by giant rotating ocean systems, or gyres, partly driven by air currents.

Hawaii sits in the midst of a gyre known as the North Pacific Sub-tropical High. The North Pacific gyre is one of five gigantic interconnected systems of ocean currents. Each spirals around a central point, drawing material inwards.

These spirals can also eject material, out towards the Arctic and Antarctic, spreading plastic across the globe over time.

Gyre graphic
Plastic is made to last, so it decays only very slowly in the oceans, breaking down into ever smaller fragments. These tiny fragments are known as micro-plastic.

Hormonal changes
Dr Simon Boxall is an expert in marine pollution based at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, on Britain's south coast. We took a boat trip with him in the sea near his research centre.

Using a simple net and bottle system, the boat filtered roughly 400 tonnes of water in 10 minutes. With the naked eye we could see mud, twigs and a few feathers, but when we looked at the sample under the microscope in Dr Boxall's laboratory tiny pieces of plastic became clear.

The sample included small pieces of plastic rope and plastic bag, some fragments were distinctly coloured and some had sharp edges. There were pieces less than a millimetre across, similar in size to the living things in our sample - the phytoplankton, or tiny plants, and zooplankton, or tiny animals.

Marine pollution expert, Dr Simon Boxall, shows Susan Watts some of the micro-plastic found in the waters near Southampton

"There's been a lot of research in the United States looking at how the plastic gets into the food chain, and certainly it's been shown that it gets into bi-valves, mussels and oysters on the seabed, and it does have an effect on them," Dr Boxall said.

"They bio-accumulate the plastic as they filter the water. That concentrates the plastic and effectively turns some of those molluscs into hermaphrodites. Some years ago it was assumed that it was like roughage, and didn't have a major impact, but we know now that those very small plastic particles can mimic certain things like oestrogen," he added.

Chemical adsorption?
However, he said the true effects are not yet known:

"These plastic particles are like sponges, they're a bit like magnets for other contaminants, things like Tributyltin, the anti-fouling material. The tiny plastic particles absorb these materials and effectively become quite toxic. We don't know yet whether that then has an impact on the human food chain. It's still very early days to find out how far up the food chains these plastic particles go."

Plastic fragments under microscope  
Tiny fragments of plastic in sea water can be seen under a microscope
At the Marine Biology and Ecology centre of Plymouth University they study the impact of pollutants on our oceans and rivers, and the creatures that live in them. Marine scientist Professor Richard Thompson was the first to describe the tiny fragments of broken plastics as micro-plastics back in 2004.

"There are two concerns from a toxicological point of view. There's the issue that plastics are known to sorb and concentrate chemicals from sea water," he explained.

"And the secondary question is about chemicals that have been introduced into plastics from the time of manufacture, in order to achieve specific qualities of the plastic, its flexibility, or flame retardants or anti-microbials.

"When we've now got plastic not as whole intact items but as small fragments in the environment, is there the potential for any of those chemicals from manufacture to also be released?"

'More work needed'
Prof Thompson's team has been examining fish in the English Channel, 500 or so across 10 species - including mackerel, whiting, poor cod and gurnard.

His results have just been published in Marine Pollution Bulletin (Lusher et al, MPB, December 2012). The team found microscopic plastic in the guts of all of the species tested.

Scientists found plastic fragments in the guts of 10 fish species in the English Channel
"It's showing that micro-plastics are quite widespread in the environment, not just in the water columns and the beaches, but actually in the creatures that live in those environments," he said.

Prof Thompson said the plastics had been found "in relatively low quantities - one or two pieces per fish - so this is certainly not a risk from the point of view of the human population, people eating those fish, because of course we don't eat the guts normally".

"The question we do want to address is is that a problem from the point of view of the animals concerned, in individuals that are eating plastic, either from the point of view of the physical presence of the plastic, or the potential for chemical transport?"

I asked if that means there is a concern for people who eat the flesh of the fish, if those chemicals have found their way into the animal.

"It's really an unknown," Prof Thompson said.

"The next step is to take the information like that from fish and other creatures to understand how much plastic, what are the chemicals that might be of concern... what are the concentrations of those chemicals, what are the quantities of plastic, and how does that vary from species to species in order to understand which particular combinations might create the greatest potential for hazard...

"That's what our work is trying to establish at the moment - what potential is there for these micro-plastics to actually cause harm in the real world."

Watch Susan Watts' full Newsnight report on plastics polluting our seas in a video posted alongside this article:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21236477

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A New Garbage Patch Discovered: The South Pacific Gyre

By Stiv Wilson, posted January 17, 2013 on 5gyres.org

January 17th, 2013 - LOS ANGELES, CA.  Scientists from The 5 Gyres Institute have discovered the first evidence of a “garbage patch”, an accumulation zone of plastic pollution floating in the South Pacific subtropical gyre. The new study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin (http://bit.ly/V8tWuC) marks the first documentation of a defined oceanic garbage patch in the Southern Hemisphere, where little research on marine plastic pollution exists.

In March-April 2011, a team of scientists and interested citizens lead by 5 Gyres Institute Executive Director, Dr. Marcus Eriksen, conducted the first ever sampling of the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre for marine plastic pollution. The expedition began collecting samples of the ocean surface near Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile.  

Samples were collected every 50 nautical miles westward to Easter Island, then onward to Pitcairn Island, totaling 48 samples along a 2424 nautical mile straight-line transect. Eriksen selected the route based on an ocean current model developed by Nikolai Maximenko (University of Hawaii, Honolulu) that predicts accumulation zones for floating debris. The research team recorded increased density of plastic pollution with an average of 26,898 particles per square kilometer, and a high of 396,342 km/m2 in the center of the predicted accumulation zone. This confirms the existence of yet another oceanic 'garbage patch.’

Says Dr. Eriksen, "The 5 Gyres Institute was conceived to create baseline data in all the world's oceans, to determine whether plastic pollution is pervasive in all the major gyres of the world. Without a doubt, we have discovered a previously unknown garbage patch in the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre."

As Eriksen suspected, at the inception of 5 Gyres, plastic pollution isn't just a North Pacific phenomenon but rather a global problem with global implications for fisheries, tourism, marine ecosystems and human health. In recent years, 5 Gyres has emerged as preeminent force for gathering marine plastic pollution data and taking that evidence from scientific publications to media, concerned citizens, policy makers, and stakeholders. The 5 Gyres Institute is also working on scientific papers documenting the abundance of marine plastic pollution in all five subtropical gyres, and results of the recent expedition and discovery of micro-plastics in the Great Lakes.

Says Eriksen, "To create a solution to an ecosystem-wide problem we must understand the scope and magnitude of that problem. It's our (5 Gyres) mission to be on the frontlines of that understanding, and to continue monitoring the most remote regions of the world's oceans."  

 Part of the 5 Gyres Institute mission is to pair stakeholders and concerned citizens with scientists on expeditions in order to communicate their findings beyond the traditional academic circles. This expedition was conducted aboard the Sea Dragon, a 72ft sailing vessel equipped with 8 available seats for guest crew, which included other scientists, educators, journalists and filmmakers. By empowering and educating concerned stakeholders at sea, armed with firsthand, empirical knowledge of the issue, the problems posed by marine plastic pollution will be elevated to a global discourse about ending the flow of plastics into the world's oceans.

"Creating a balance between peer reviewed science, education and advocacy is a delicate endeavor, but it's our goal to see common sense policy based on objective, scientific fact, and to us, if our advocacy efforts are based on hard evidence, there exists no conflict of interest. Facts are facts," says Anna Cummins 5 Gyres cofounder.   

In 2013 the 5 Gyres Institute will launch three expeditions to the North Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Great Lakes. These continued expeditions will provide additional insight to the scope of the problem worldwide, in the South Pacific and beyond.

Stiv Wilson
Communications Director
The 5 Gyres Institute
(+1) 503.913.7391