From Ocean to Beach, Tons of Plastic Pollution
Like diamonds, plastics are forever. The tons dumped into the ocean float around, swirling on currents, breaking into smaller bits, never going away. Scientists have identified huge gyres of plastic in the Pacific. There is an Eastern Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California; a Western Garbage Patch, off Japan, and a patch between them called the Subtropical Convergence Zone, north of Hawaii.
The patches are misunderstood to be visible islands of debris; you can’t actually see them from a boat or plane. They are more like vast, soupy concentrations of flotsam, some of it large, some tiny, all indigestible, sickening and killing fish, birds, whales and turtles.
What you can see is what washes ashore, as countless tons of plastic do on the Hawaiian Islands, which stick up like the teeth of a comb in the middle of the northern Pacific, snagging what drifts by.
On the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, deep ocean currents rub against the remote and rocky shoreline. Volunteers regularly make a long, hot trip to clean the beaches, hauling away fishing nets, lines and traps, toys, shoes, buckets and bottles. Some of the fishing debris is shipped to a Honolulu power plant and incinerated. Some is left on the beach, and more always appears.
The Hawaii Wildlife Fund, which organizes the cleanups, estimates that they have removed about 169 tons of garbage in the last 11 years from a 10-mile stretch of Hawaii Island alone, and that about 15 tons to 20 tons of new trash comes ashore each year. On May 24, two dozen people went out again.
They collected 1,312 pounds of trash, including:
191,739 plastic fragments
562 bottle or container caps
64 beverage bottles
48 hagfish traps
35 buoys and floats
3 refrigerator doors
3 G.I. Joe Real American Hero toys
On a nearby beach at Kamilo Point, geologists have identified a new kind of plastic-infused rock, in areas where the plastic is so abundant in the sand and soil you can’t avoid burning it in campfires. A paper published this month by the Geological Society of America suggests that “plastiglomerate” will someday be part of the fossil record, marking the geological era that some call the Anthropocene, for the human influence.
On Monday in Washington, the State Department will be holding an ocean conference. The topics are ocean acidification, sustainable fishing and marine pollution. The nations represented include the Seychelles, St. Lucia, Kiribati, Palau, Chile, Togo, Norway and New Zealand. Significant progress on healing the oceans is not expected.
The next cleanup is July 13 at Kamilo Point. The effort may seem futile, but at least people are doing something, like the volunteers working along shorelines in the Northeast, Texas, the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes.
World leaders, meanwhile? The nations of an increasingly plasticized planet? They are drifting in circles.