On April 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm MQA will be hosting its second book signing.
It’s pretty cool to reach out to somebody you respect, ask if they will share their work in your home and they say yes. In fact, when I read that none other than Captain Charles Moore, author of Plastic Ocean, one of my favorite books I read last year, emailed me himself and wrote that he would be in my neck of the woods and yes he would have a book signing at my house…I screamed, like a girl. And in four days from now, the Capt. will be in my living room discussing ocean pollution with my friends, how cool is that?
I was already fascinated by ocean pollution before I read the Captain’s Plastic Ocean. Roughly two years ago, I found myself wide awake at about 3:00 am with a strange and sudden need to understand what I heard was a giant floating island of garbage—in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean—supposedly twice the size of the United States and made up, for the most part, of plastic trash. I hadn’t just learned about the garbage patch that day; I vaguely knew about it for many years. But it was on that particular night that my mind rattled me to consciousness to learn everything it could, then and there. So I slipped on my black robe and glasses, quietly tip-toed downstairs, careful not to wake my youngest. Soaked in the silence of the middle of the night, I sat down at my computer, and Googled “garbage patch.” Within minutes, after reading a couple of news stories, I found myself at Captain Moore’s Algalita Marine Research Foundation site.
The garbage patch is not an island of trash; it’s a soup of debris, most of it tiny, confetti-size pieces of degraded plastic. I was half expecting to read about real estate speculations, thinking someone, or some man, would have dropped his flag, claiming it to be the next Dubai. This is the best description I can give you from what I understand. These garbage patches are located in each of the five oceans, inside each ocean’s gyre. A gyre is a large system of rotating ocean currents, like a vortex. Most of the trash trapped inside this huge swirling vortex is believed to come from land. Imagine what happens to every piece of litter (soda caps and bottles, cigarette butts, lighters, plastic straws, and so on) that goes into storm drains and of course what is dumped by the world’s fishing fleets, and even the United States Navy.
For instance, Captain Moore writes in Plastic Ocean: “By its own admission, The [United States] Navy has added more than 4.5 million pounds of plastic to the world’s oceans. In degraded form, most of it would still be there. (The U.S. Navy may be the worst ocean polluter the world has ever known, having secretly dumped, by its own account, 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines, and rockets, and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste—either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.).” Incredible.
This is a sample of the soup from the Pacific Garbage Patch I got to see up close at a plastic pollution talk given at NYU last month.
It’s important to understand that the pollution described above is not something you can just scoop out and recycle. This was one of the first questions I thought when I learned about plastic ocean pollution: Can’t we just recycle it? Captain Moore explains what a possible cleanup would require: “For the cleanup we start with 145 million square kilometers that comprise the subtropical gyres. And, to be generous, let’s say an advanced cleanup vessel can do 5 square kilometers a day (10-meter-wide net traveling at 20 kilometers an hour, wider and faster than anything in use today). It will only take that vessel 29 million days, or 79 thousand boats 79 years working 24-7. This is surface debris only, and we don’t take into account the associated organisms that would be destroyed.”
In my mind, I hear 79,000 boats working 79 years 24-7; I hear it over and over. I think about how that’s what is there now, and that more pollution continues to accumulate. We, as humans, who are responsible for each other and this planet must stop our wastefulness. This pollution is living with, and within, the tiniest organisms of our food chain and being consumed by other members of the food chain, which I must remind you we are a part of. It affects us. Not just because it’s heartbreakingly sad or a gross example of how careless humans are.
We can all make decisions in our daily life that can stop adding to the soup. The first one is to cut out as much single-use plastic from your daily life as you can: stop throwing away something you use once. Examples of single-use plastics are shopping bags, water and soda bottles, straws, ziploc bags, saran wrap and plastic utensils. The fact is that it is quite possible that the chemicals that make up all this plastic we coat our food with are endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects. I am not suggesting that you, my reader, carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. I am saying that small incremental changes and just being willing to think about it, is a big deal. We can’t change the past, but to a certain extent, the future is in our control.
Captain Moore, who is considered to have discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is a hero to me. He took it upon himself to care about something HUGE and didn’t say, “Oh well, I’m just one person, what can I do?” I think about Captain Moore probably how a 10-year-old in 1969 felt about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I think of him and his colleagues as sea-based astronauts, discovering and exploring something so important and mysterious to the rest of us. Think about it. They travel all over the world to far-flung parts of the ocean to research these huge moving soups of plastic debris. It’s really hard for us to imagine that there is anything on this planet that is not understood. But all of the landmass on Earth could fit into the Pacific Ocean alone, there is A LOT of ocean out there and it should not be forsaken.
Visit these sites to learn more:
Captain Moore on CBS Sunday Morning
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