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Our Dying Seas
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The Unseen Enemy
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Have We Destroyed Our Oceans With Plastic?

By James Donahue

A disturbing report by a research team trawling the North Pacific Ocean this year has determined that the world’s oceans are laced with small bits of plastic that are killing natural sea life including the aquatic birds.

“Our nets come up with a handful of plastic fragments at a time, in every trawl we’ve done for the last thousand miles,” said expedition leader Marcus Eriksen, who was contacted by CNN aboard the 72-foot yacht Sea Dragon.

“We’ve been finding lots of micro plastics, all the size of a grain of rice or a small marble. We drag our nets and come up with a small handful, like confetti.”

Eriksen describes the condition of the world’s oceans as “plasticized.” He said “Everywhere you go in the ocean you’re going to find this plastic waste.”

Researchers say that the original thought was that the oceans were creating giant floating islands of waste, mostly floating plastic bottles, particles of steroid and other debris from the mountains of trash dumped carelessly over the years from garbage barges, ships, floods and other sources. These “islands” were easily seen, even from space, in the various gyres, or regions where natural ocean currents converge.

The problem of the accumulation of ocean debris was compounded by the major earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power complex in March, 2011. Since then a massive block of debris, much of it believed to be highly radioactive, has been drifting slowly eastward over the Pacific, headed directly for the West Coast of the United States. Some of this wreckage has already started to come ashore along the Alaskan coast.

New studies have revealed that the problem world-wide is much more complex and the impact more damaging to the oceans than anyone first thought. Giora Proskurowski, project scientist at the University of Washington, said that what is seen on the surface is only that . . . the tip of the iceberg. He said that on the average, the plastic particles can be found at least 100 feet below the waterline, and it contains more than twice the amount of plastic found on the surface.

While they break into tiny particles from the force of storms and the seas, the older types of plastic do not break down over time, so they will continue to float around in our oceans indefinitely. There is no known way to dispose of it and return the oceans to the pure state they were in before humans put their mark on them.

Biologists say the birds, fish and other creatures of the sea are feeding on the plastic, and it is killing them.

They say turtles get entangled in plastic fishing nets and many have been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs. They apparently mistake the floating semi-transparent bags for jellyfish and then choke to death after trying to consume them.

One report said an estimated 100,000 marine mammals die each year in the world’s oceans by eating or getting entangled in plastic rubbish. Seals and other mammals get caught up in large plastic debris islands and die from exhaustion or starvation.

The marine birds are found to be eating and dying from consuming those tiny plastic particles. In a study of blue petrel chicks at South Africa’s remote Marion island it was found that 90 percent of them had plastic in their stomachs. The plastic was apparently fed to them by their parents.

Plastic bags have become a major external cause of marine engine damage. The bags get sucked into and plug the engine cooling systems. Other plastics foul propellers and get tangled in fishing tackle.

To add to the horrors of what we are doing to the seas, we can look at the Deepwater Horizon explosion and massive spill of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico in April, 2011, and all of the other oil rig spills and taker ship disasters that have left the oceans tainted with tiny balls of oil that also are being spread along the ocean currents.