PLASTIC OCEAN PART TWO - DEATH BY PLASTIC
PLASTIC OCEAN PART TWO - DEATH BY PLASTIC So what is happening as a result of the plastic collating in our oceans?
PLASTIC IN OUR OCEANS HAS DEVASTATING AFFECTS ON OUR ENVIRONMENT & WELLBEING There are many issues that have been caused by plastic being in our oceans. One major issue is the vast areA that is contaminated by plastic particles, which are pretty much impossible to clear up. When the plastic reaches the ocean, sunlight and wave action cause these floating plastics to fragment, breaking into increasingly smaller particles, but never completely disappearing.
the plastic to break down into smaller and smaller pieces, a process accelerated by physical friction, such as being blown across a beach or rolled by waves. This accounts for most of the flecks and fragments in the enormous plastic soup at the becalmed heart of the Pacific, as well as virgin plastic pellets.
PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO SUNLIGHT CAUSES THE PLASTIC TO BREAK DOWN INTO SMALLER AND PLASTIC DOES NOT BIODEGRADE; SMALLER PIECES. NO MICROBE HAS YET EVOLVED It can take years for the pieces to fragment, but THAT CAN FEED ON IT. BUT IT eventually they will become small enough for DOES PHOTO DEGRADE. animals and birds to digest, and so small that it becomes almost impossible to clear up.
IT TAKES 6 YEARS FOR TRASH TO REACH THE CENTRE OF A GYRE, BY WHICH TIME WILL HAVE ERODED INTO TINY PIECES. It takes approximately 6 years for a piece of plastic to reach to Great Pacific Garbage Patch from the east coast of America, by which time a bottle for instance will have been eroded by wave action and sunlight into ever smaller pieces of plastic. This is why the patch isn’t visible from space, and why the are is so hard to plot. Plastic does not biodegrade; no microbe has yet evolved that can feed on it. But it does photo degrade. Prolonged exposure to sunlight causes
The pieces of plastic become small enough for animals and birds to digest and over time they become as small as a grain of sand. Research has shown that 61% of the plastic in the ocean is micro plastics, plastic particles which are less than a mm in size. Studies have shown that plankton, which are at the base of the food chain are also consuming these micro plastics.
61% OF THE PLASTIC IN THE OCEAN IS MICRO PLASTICS; PLASTIC PARTICLES WHICH ARE LESS THAN A MILLIMETRE IN SIZE. The hardest thing is realising the scale of the issue, as it is not one you can see, until you look closely. I urge you next time you go to the beach to look really closely at what is washed up. ●
A SAMPLE FROM THE PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH The oceanic garbage patches are not islands of trash, but a thick plastic soup made up of millions and millions of tiny plastic particles. This sample was taken from the Pacific garbage patch in 2009 by Blue Ocean Scientists.
MERMAIDS’ TEARS: VIRGIN PLASTIC PELLETS Virgin plastic is pure plastic often in the form of tiny pellets that are about two millimetres in size. They are shipped around the globe to make plastic consumer goods and often meet the ocean Nearly all the plastic items in our lives begin as little manufactured pellets of raw plastic resin, which are known in the industry as nurdles.
‘THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A PRISTINE SANDY BEACH ANY MORE, THE ONES THAT LOOK PRISTINE ARE USUALLY GROOMED, AND IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY YOU CAN ALWAYS FIND PLASTIC PARTICLES.’ Captain Charles Moore
More than 100 billion kilograms of nurdles are shipped around the world every year, delivered to processing plants and then heated up, treated with other chemicals, stretched and moulded into our familiar products, containers and packaging.
NEARLY ALL THE PLASTIC ITEMS IN OUR LIVES BEGIN AS PELLETS OF RAW PLASTIC RESIN, WHICH ARE KNOWN AS NURDLES. During their loadings and unloadings, however, nurdles have a knack for spilling and escaping.
They are light enough to become airborne in a good wind. They float wonderfully and can now be found in every ocean in the world, hence their new nickname: mermaids’ tears.
MORE THAN 100 BILLION KILOGRAMS OF NURDLES ARE SHIPPED AROUND THE WORLD EVERY YEAR. You can find nurdles in abundance on almost any seashore in Britain, where litter has increased by 90 per cent in the past 10 years, or on the remotest uninhabited Pacific islands, along with all kinds of other plastic confetti.
YOU CAN FIND NURDLES IN ABUNDANCE ON ALMOST ANY SEASHORE IN BRITAIN, IF YOU LOOK CLOSE ENOUGH. ‘There’s no such thing as a pristine sandy beach any more,’ says Charles Moore the discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ‘The ones that look pristine are usually groomed, and if you look closely you can always find plastic particles.’ ●
“IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CLEAR UP”
Kamilo Beach which literally translates to ‘the twisting or swirling currents’ in Hawaiian, is a beach located on the southeast coast of the island of Hawaii. It is known for its accumulation of plastic marine debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In ancient times, Kamilo Beach was a location where Native Hawaiians would go to find large evergreen logs, drifted ashore from the Pacific Northwest, for building dugout canoes. It was also a location where those who were lost at sea might eventually wash ashore. There are now more plastic particles than sand particles until you dig a foot down.
ON KAMILO BEACH IN HAWAII THERE ARE NOW MORE PLASTIC PARTICLES THAN SAND.
272 PIECES OF PLASTIC FOUND INSIDE THIS BABY ALBATROSS *Photograph by Greenpeace
On Midway Island, 2,800 miles west of California and 2,200 miles east of Japan, the British wildlife filmmaker Rebecca Hosking found that many thousands of Laysan albatross chicks are dying every year from eating pieces of plastic that their parents mistake for food and bring back for them. Adult Albatrosses are also affected, a dead albatross was found recently with a piece of plastic from the 1940s in its stomach.
A SEA TURTLE WAS FOUND WITH 1000 TINY PIECES OF PLASTIC IN ITS STOMACH AND INTESTINES.
1 MILLION SEA BIRDS AND 100,000 MARINE MAMMALS AND TURTLES DIE EACH YEAR FROM PLASTIC POLLUTION.
The impacts of anthropogenic litter and debris upon marine life have become a global cause for concern. Around the world, an estimated one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from entanglement in plastics or plastic ingestion.
IT KILLS BY ENTANGLEMENT, CHOKING THROATS AND GULLETS AND CLOGGING UP DIGESTIVE TRACTS, LEADING TO DEATH. Plastic pollution affects 267 different species of sea birds, fishes, marine mammals and sea turtles. 44% of all seabird species, 22% of Cetaceans, all sea turtle species, and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
Bottle caps, pocket combs, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, cotton buds, toothbrushes, toys, syringes and plastic bags are routinely found in the stomachs of dead seabirds and turtles. Many animals can become entangled in marine litter and this litter can become embedded in the flesh as the tissue grows around it.
“PLASTIC POLLUTION AFFECTS 267 DIFFERENT SPECIES OF SEA BIRDS, FISHES, MARINE MAMMALS AND SEA TURTLES.” A minke whale was found dead off the coast of Shetland, Scotland in June 2007 after becoming entangled in plastic strapping usually used for packaging.
44% OF SEABIRDS, 22% OF CETACEANS, ALL SEA TURTLES, AND 21% OF MINKE WHALES STRANDED A LIST OF FISH SPECIES HAVE BEEN DIED DUE TO ENTANGLEMENT. The whale was initially sighted at sea; the animal AFFECTED BY PLASTIC. was alive but clearly emaciated and had a large It kills by entanglement, most commonly in discarded synthetic fishing lines and nets. It kills by choking throats and gullets and clogging up digestive tracts, leading to fatal constipation.
wound behind its head caused by the strapping, which had become wrapped around it’s head and which prevented the whale feeding properly for a considerable time, leading to starvation.
A MINKE WHALE WASHED UP ON THE FRENCH COAST WAS FOUND TO HAVE INGESTED ALMOST 800G* OF PLASTIC BAGS. *That’s about 135 plastic bags, on the basis that one weighs six grams.
For whales and dolphins, becoming tangled in discarded fishing gear is a major threat. A number of minke whales sighted by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) have been photographed entangled in creel lines, plastic strapping and fishing net. Such entanglement can impair the animals’ ability to swim, breathe and find food.
FOR WHALES AND DOLPHINS, BECOMING TANGLED IN DISCARDED FISHING GEAR IS A MAJOR THREAT. A study by the HWDT revealed that over 21% of minke whales stranded in Scotland died due to entanglement. Entanglement may also cause injury and wounds as the animal tries to disentangle itself from the litter, which can subsequently lead to infection.
ENTANGLEMENT IN PLASTIC POLLUTION CAN IMPAIR THE ANIMALS’ ABILITY TO SWIM, BREATHE AND FIND FOOD. Many cetaceans have been found to ingest marine litter, either accidentally but most likely because they look similar to prey species usually taken by the animals.
“ONCE INGESTED, PLASTIC CAN BLOCK THE DIGESTIVE TRACT, PREVENT DIGESTION AND LEAD TO STARVATION.” Consumption of marine litter can cause physical damage of the digestive tract. Once ingested, the litter can block the digestive tract, prevent
digestion and lead to starvation. Litter can also accumulate in the stomach of the animal and produce a false sensation of being full, reducing the animal’s instinct to feed or the ability of the digestive tract to absorb nutrients. This is also likely to result in starvation.
“PLASTIC CAN ACCUMULATE IN THE STOMACH AND PRODUCE A FALSE SENSATION OF BEING FULL... THIS CAN RESULT IN STARVATION.” In 2003, a Cuvier’s beaked whale washed up on the coast of Mull, Scotland. This species is usually found in deep, offshore waters and feeds primarily on squid. Analysis of the stomach and intestines revealed a proportion of shredded plastic bags. It is highly likely that the whale mistook this litter for squid, and that ingestion of the plastic contributed to the death of the whale. In 2002, a minke whale washed up on the northern French coast was found to have ingested almost 800g of plastic bags.
A RECENT REPORT SHOWS AN INCREASE OF 126% IN THE AMOUNT OF PLASTIC DEBRIS RECORDED IN UK BEACH CLEANS. A recent report shows an increase of 126% in the amount of plastic debris recorded in UK beach cleans since the ongoing survey began in 1994 (MCS, 2008). In 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding was formed between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and OSPAR to look at ways of producing worldwide protocols for monitoring marine litter. However, the issue of marine litter remains a serious one that is potentially life threatening to cetaceans in UK waters. ●
PLASTIC POLLUTION FOUND IN FULMARS A recent study on a Fulmars showed that 95% had plastic in their stomachs. Fulmars are an almost gull like seabird, related to the albatross. The study found that on average there were 45 pieces of plastic per bird.
STUDY FOUND AN AVERAGE OF 45 PIECES OF PLASTIC PER BIRD.
BISPHENOL A IS A CHEMICAL USED IN PLASTIC, ITS BEEN LINKED TO RECURRENT MISCARRIAGES AND BREAST CANCER.
LINK FOUND BETWEEN PLASTIC PACKAGING AND MISCARRIAGES Scientists in Japan have found evidence of a link between recurrent miscarriages and a chemical called bisphenol A that is widely used in food packaging. David Adam has the following report on their findings. Scientists in Japan have found evidence of a link between recurrent miscarriages and a chemical widely used in food packaging. Women with a history of miscarriages were found to have higher levels of the compound in their bodies. The scientists admit that their findings are based on a small preliminary study, but say further research into the chemical’s effect on human reproduction is “definitely warranted”.
SCIENTISTS IN JAPAN HAVE FOUND EVIDENCE OF A LINK BETWEEN MISCARRIAGES AND A CHEMICAL WIDELY USED IN PLASTIC. The compound is called bisphenol-A or BPA. It is used in plastic food containers, cans and dental sealants. Research suggests it leaches from products and is absorbed in low concentrations by the human body. A separate study last month suggested it might be a contributing factor to women developing breast cancer.
RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT BISPHENOL A LEACHES FROM PRODUCTS AND IS ABSORBED BY THE HUMAN BODY. In the research, published in the journal Human Reproduction, a team led by Mayumi Sugiura-
Ogasawara of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Nagoya City University Medical School examined 45 patients who had suffered miscarriages three or more times and 32 women with a history of successful pregnancies. They found average BPA levels were more than three times higher in those women who had miscarried.
A SEPARATE STUDY SUGGESTED BISPHENOL A MIGHT BE A CONTRIBUTING FACTOR TO WOMEN DEVELOPING BREAST CANCER. Thirty-five of the women became pregnant during the study and 17 miscarried again. When the scientists examined the miscarried foetuses, they found that four had the wrong number of chromosomes.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS WANT TIGHTER RESTRICTIONS ON BPA AND SIMILAR “GENDER BENDING” CHEMICALS. Research in 2003 showed exposure to BPA triggered similar abnormalities in mice. The scientists say the latest study provides “the first concrete evidence that high exposure to BPA may be associated with recurrent miscarriage”. Environmentalists want tighter restrictions on
BPA and similar “gender bending” chemicals. Elizabeth Salter-Green of WWF-UK said: “This study shows the importance of taking action to eliminate exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol-A.”
STUDY IS “THE FIRST CONCRETE EVIDENCE THAT HIGH EXPOSURE TO BPA MAY BE ASSOCIATED WITH RECURRENT MISCARRIAGE”. Salter-Green went on to say that “WWF would like to see a ban on the use of bisphenol-A in food packaging, baby bottles and in any other product where it will be a source of human and wildlife exposure.”
WWF WOULD LIKE TO SEE A BAN ON THE USE OF BISPHENOL A, WHERE IT WILL BE A SOURCE OF HUMAN AND WILDLIFE EXPOSURE. Alan Boobis, a toxicologist at Imperial College London who sits on the Food Standards Agency committee on toxicity, said a solid link between the chemical and miscarriages could only be established by larger studies. “This certainly raises questions but it only really establishes a hypothesis that needs to be pursued further. It would be earth shattering if this is correct, but it was a small study and needs to be followed up.” ●
THE WORRY IS THAT PLASTIC AND CHEMICALS ARE TRAVELLING THROUGH THE MARINE FOOD CHAINS INTO THE FISH ON OUR DINNER PLATES.
IS PLASTIC OUR TOXIC LEGACY FOR THE FUTURE?
“The worry is that these plastic pellets and associated toxins are travelling through the marine food chains into the fish on our plates.” We look at how plastic could be travelling up the food chain. Pure plastic particles are not thought to be toxic themselves but they attract and accumulate POPS (Persistant Organic Pollutants), chemical poisons already in the water such as DDT and PCBs.. DDT was used as a pesticide in the 1940s however it was found to be toxic to animals and its use is now widely banned. PCBs are Polychlorinated biphenyls and were in a wide range of applications.
“PURE PLASTIC ARE NOT THOUGHT TO BE TOXIC THEMSELVES BUT THEY ACCUMULATE CHEMICAL POISONS ALREADY IN THE WATER.” The toxicity of PCBs to animals was first noticed in the 1970s, when emaciated seabird corpses with very high PCB body burdens washed up on beaches. Even though these chemicals are rarely used these days they have since leached into the ocean and are being absorbed into the millions of tiny plastic particles.
to study it. We do know that whales are ingesting plenty of plastic along with their plankton, and that whales have high concentrations of DDT, PCBs and mercury in their flesh, but that’s not proof. The whales could be getting their toxins directly from the water or by other vectors.
DDT WAS USED AS A PESTICIDE HOWEVER IT WAS FOUND TO BE TOXIC AND ITS USE IS NOW WIDELY BANNED. Also of deep concern for societies are the potential human health impacts of toxic chemicals entering the marine food chain through plastics.
CHEMICALS SUCH AS PCBS & DDT ARE ABSORBED BY PLASTIC.
PLASTIC HAS BEEN FOUND INSIDE ZOOPLANKTON, THE WORRY IS THAT THESE PLASTIC PELLETS AND ASSOCIATED TOXINS ARE TRAVELLING THROUGH THE FOOD CHAIN ON TO OUR PLATES.
Plastic has been found inside zooplankton and filter-feeders such as mussels and barnacles; the worry is that these plastic pellets and associated toxins are travelling through the marine food chains into the fish on our plates. Scientists do not know for sure as they are only just beginning
Science is beginning to ask the question: do chemicals such as PCBs and DDTs that sorb onto plastic pellets get into the tissues and blood of the animals that eat plastic? Do these chemicals work their way up the food chain, becoming increasingly concentrated and potentially
*Photograph by 5 Gyres Project
entering our bodies when we eat seafood? It is a serious concern which could have a devastating affect on the planet.
ALSO OF DEEP CONCERN ARE THE HUMAN HEALTH IMPACTS OF TOXIC CHEMICALS ENTERING THE FOOD CHAIN THROUGH PLASTICS. Aside from chemicals in the ocean being absorbed by plastics, there is another worry that chemicals added to some plastics are leaching into the ocean. These chemicals which are added to plastics are also thought to be toxins, one of these is Bisphenol-A (bpa). Studies suggest that Bisphenol can cause hormonal imbalances and has shown to stop reproduction in some species. It is also thought to cause an increased risk of polycystic ovaries, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, miscarriages and neurochemical changes in the brain.
BISPHENOL-A CAN CAUSE HORMONAL IMBALANCES AND HAS SHOWN TO STOP REPRODUCTION IN SOME SPECIES. It has been questioned that perhaps the consumption of these chemicals could potentially lead to a mass extinction of marine species. ●
PART THREE - CLEAN SEAS
IT IS TIM ET O TA K EA LO OK
AT W EC
ISS UE HA TW
NE XT MA
University project highlighting the issue of plastic pollution at sea.