Beware the Plastic Planet

We have a horror story for you this week. It comes with a Parental Guidance warning: all children should be forced to read it, so they can see what is happening to our oceans. It’s no good just tutting away in the background and shrugging shoulders – we all have an immense responsibility, and yes, we can and must all make a difference.

The name of the scourge is Plastic Pollution, and here are just some of the basic facts (sensitive readers may want to avert their eyes):

  • 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our seas and oceans each year, of which our beloved trade partner, China, is responsible for at least 2.4 million tons.
  • In 2012 it was estimated that there was an overall total in excess of 165 million tons of plastic in the oceans.
  • Each year, over 380 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide, so the amount that ends up in our oceans will continually increase.
  • The chemical structures of most plastics makes them resistant to degradation, so plastic pollution has an extremely long term life; it just breaks down into smaller (and equally dangerous) microdebris – also known as ‘nurdles’- between 2mm and 5mm in size.
  • There are an estimated 300 000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of ocean, and 100 000 per square kilometre of sea-bed. Yes, you read that right – per square kilometre.
  • By 2050, at this rate of pollution, the weight of plastic in the oceans will exceed the total weight of marine life.

It goes on and on; each fact is more frightening than the last. Our oceans have circular flows known as ‘gyres’ – you can reproduce this effect by stirring a basin of water that has breadcrumbs in it: the crumbs gather in the middle. That’s what happens to the plastic. Imagine this: on our beautiful planet we have a place known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre of marine debris particles and floating trash halfway between Hawaii and California, that has over 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating near the surface. You could virtually walk across the surface there. The equally scary North Atlantic garbage patch is estimated to be hundreds of kilometres wide, filled with plastic pieces ranging from garden chairs to plastic bags to nurdles: 92% of the mass in the patch comes from objects larger than 0.5 centimetres.

So what can we do? Recycling and reusing are no longer just alternative options for tossing plastic waste away. They are absolutely vital interventions. The more plastic that goes back into the system, the less that needs to be manufactured fresh each year. And we need to educate our children and those around us that are unaware of (or just don’t care about) the consequences of plastic litter. 2050 is not far away – a generation or so – and we are losing marine species at an alarming rate. By 2050, at bio-extinction’s current rate, between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of all species will have disappeared or be too few in numbers to survive. The litter that is being delivered into the oceans not only strangles and chokes; it is toxic to marine life, and humans. The toxins that are components of plastic include diethylhexyl phthalate (try saying that with your teeth out), which is a toxic carcinogen, as well as lead, cadmium, and mercury. And look to the skies as well: in 2004, it was estimated that gulls in the North Sea had an average of thirty pieces of plastic in their stomachs.

One final thought: the plastic is starting to show up in our drinking water too – 83% of tap water samples taken around the world contained plastic pollutants. If that isn’t a wake-up call, then nothing is. The sea is giving the plastic back…

Plastic man got no brain

Plastic man don’t feel no pain

Plastic people look the same

Yeah, yeah, yeah

-The Kinks 1969

At Waterfront Charters we live and love our environment, and will do everything in our power to preserve and protect it for the generations to come. Our cruises are the perfect way to experience Nature at her best: join us on any one of our adventures to get the perfect view of what needs to be nurtured. We have some great ideas in the pipeline in terms of education too; keep an eye on our webpage for upcoming developments.

It may take centuries, but if we start now, we can clear the oceans and our precious water of the plastic scourge.