A plastic ocean

By Grant Jacobs 14/04/2010 10

The Pacific Ocean surface is gradually clogging up with a fine mist of plastic.

And not just the surface, either.

I rarely watch late night TV, but tonight I caught an interview of Charles Moore on David Letterman’s ‘The Late Show’. Letterman‘s stuff is usually too banal for my tastes, and the Americana bores me, but his interview with Moore was excellent. Not so much Letterman, but Moore.

(Still from first video; see below.)
(Still from first video; see below.)

Searching the internet I cannot locate a video of this to share with you. If CBS were to be true to promoting the environmental message Moore brought to their show, they ought have released the interview from their copyright. Keep Jennifer Aniston, who featured earlier in the show; let the environmental message spread. Maybe CBS doesn’t really care.

So I can’t bring you the interview.

While Moore at times appeared somewhat uneasy in front of the camera, his words were excellent, pithy summaries of the issues in plain language.

He talked of how the plastic gathers in the North Pacific Gyre, as is now well-known. The ring of water currents create what is in effect a large eddy in the centre gathering what is floating on the surface, just as eddies in a stream do, but on a vast scale.

(Source: Southern California Coastal Water Research Project.)
(Source: Southern California Coastal Water Research Project.)

Moore told the audience how the plastic degrades into small crumbs and eventually dust. The plastic soaks up toxins. These small toxic bits are eaten by wildlife, which we ultimately eat as seafood. It is creating a fine soup over the surface of the ocean which will affect photosynthesis upon which so much of the rest of the food chain depends.

I thought particularly telling the point he made that we are crisis-driven, that we only act once something is right in our face and we have to do it ’now.’ (I suspect that must strike a loud chord for those working on climate change.)

It was thoughtful stuff for The Late Show.

In it’s place I have located two videos on North Pacific Gyre, from many on offer. The first is a TED lecture from last year by Charles Moore, the second a presentation by Miriam Goldstein from Scripps Clinic. Moore reads from paper for his presentation but the text is clear and the images are striking. I’m not sure I’m going to forget the turtle, still living, bisected by a plastic ring.

Time for me to step aside and let you watch the shows.

Addendum (added 25-June-2010)

Those interested in reading about the research from those doing the work can try reading the SEAPLEX blog (’Seeking the Science of the Garbage Patch’).

Other articles on Code for life:

When Galaxies Collide… and directors quote-mine

Royal science

Metagenomics-finding organisms from their genomes

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?

Aww, crap.

10 Responses to “A plastic ocean”

  • I hope I’m not putting anyone off; I didn’t think of that when I put the image in. Do watch the videos, they’re worth viewing. I’d change the image, but then I guess it’s a bit late now.

  • I hadn’t seen the TED video before – very disturbing, sickening – the turtle (have to wonder why they’ve left the waist ring on?) and the albatross particularly, painfully, graphic – but don’t take it away, needs to be seen. For years I’ve worked to reduce my use of plastics, but this leaves me close to despair, except for resolve to do even more.
    Thanks for posting this – it’s gone to facebook to do the rounds.

  • Actually, the photo of the turtle has put me off watching the video …

    Anyway, I’m interested to know what suggestions have been made about what *could* be done about discarded plastic. “Use less plastic” won’t play with anyone; you can’t exactly hoover the seas clean; I don’t suppose people deliberately discard plastic waste into the oceans – no I’m being naive, I suppose that is *exactly* what they do, Still, this is a serious question, I’m not just being a dumb contrarian, like many environmental problems it looks intractable at first, so what might be done?

    (I’ll watch the vid this evening, when I’m at home).

  • I just did. Sheesh.

    It still looks pretty intractable – despite the final comment of the second vid.

  • One of the problems where you want to stop the input, basically.

    A start that he hints at is to develop bottles that use the same plastic as the bottles for the lids, or e-engineer the tops so they don’t work with a lid as such, if you get my meaning.

  • Excuse my typos. (On top of rushed writing and sloppiness, I’m using an old keyboard that has sticky keys! The ‘r’ in particular keeps dropping.) Let’s try again:

    It’s one of those problems where you want to stop the input, basically.

    A start that he hints at is to develop bottles that use the same plastic as the bottles for the lids, or re-engineer the tops so they don’t work with a lid as such, if you get my meaning.

    Another would be to use paper and cardboard more. (At least it eventually rots.)

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