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Posted by Samina Cabral
Samina Cabral
Samina Cabral is a native Southern Californian who now resides on the shores of
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on Tuesday, 17 April 2012
in Mother Nature's Big and Small

Plastics and Microplastics are Still Out in the Ocean

Jaymi Heimbuch over at treehugger posted a little bit about her experience at Midway Atoll Nationalwater bottle-beach gracey Wildlife Refuge where over 2 million seabirds live and the effects of the Pacific Garbage Patch are evident. The atoll might be remote but our plastic trash is still managing to ride the waves out to a part of the world most of us will never visit.

Heimbuch wanted to see firsthand what she had only seen on the Internet -the sad photographs of decomposing birds with the contents of their stomachs exposed.  Shards of plastic and even more identifiable objects like lighters, bottle caps, toothbrushes and fishing wire have all been found in birds that wash up on the island’s shore or die on the island.  That's why the Midway bird images are a poignant teaching tool: almost everyone that looks at the image can see something they have once used.

During Heimbuch’s visit she didn’t see one of these birds and she tells us why: “There are a couple possibilities. Rumor has it some visiting photographers are moving carcasses so that no one else can get these shots. Another possibility, though less likely, is that last year's tsunami washed away many older carcasses that would have decayed enough to show the plastics inside.”

Even though she didn’t see it with her own eyes Heimbuch never stopped believing there was a plastics problem.

A group of biologists have published a comparative study and a standardized method to estimate the unseen “microplastic particles” that are also present in the ocean but are harder to count than pen caps and bottles. Their research appears in the Environmental Science & Technology journal.

"Microplastic Particles" are pieces of plastic whose diameter is less than five millimeters that means smaller than a bedbug. These teeny-tiny bits are just as dangerous as their larger counterparts because they can collect toxic substances as they float and possibly enter the food chain.

"Microplastic particles are swallowed by organisms and absorbed via the digestive tract. It has been possible, for example, to detect them in the tissue of mussels or other animals," says Dr. Lars Gutow, biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association.

Gutow and his team studied 68 scientific publications to try and ascertain how bad the microplastic pollution is in the ocean. They found that they couldn’t even begin to make an estimate because the methods used to collect data varied greatly. They scrapped their plan to quantify the microplastics and focused on creating guidelines “for the recording and characterisation of microplastic particles”.  

They hope their methods and suggestions will be used in future studies of microplastics so reliable, consistent data can be presented to the public as we try to fix our plastics problem.

plastic beach trash seawolf

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Samina Cabral is a native Southern Californian who now resides on the shores of Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio. Samina and her husband believe that sustainability starts in the home and try to live their lives as simply as possible without compromising comfort.

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1944: Camano Class Light Cargo Ship was laid down for the US Army as FS-289 at Wheeler Shipbuilding in Whitestone, NY.

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1945: Delivered to US Army.

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1950: Acquired by the US Navy on July 1, 1950 and placed in service as USNS New Bedford (T-AKL-17).

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1954: The movie, Mister Roberts, was made on the USNS New Bedford (T-AKL-17).

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1955 - 1963: Used as a cargo supply ship for the Texas Towers, a network of advanced radar stations located off the Eastern Seaboard. In 1957, Capt. Sixto Mangual was commander of the AKL-17 and in 1961 it was rechristened the USNS New Bedford. The New Bedford, sailing out of State Pier, was keeping vigil when Texas Tower No. 4 callapsed off the New Jersey coast during a January 1961 nor'easter.

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1963: Reclassified as Miscellaneous Unclassified (IX-308).

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1971: The New Bedford (IX-308) served as a Torpedo Test Firing Vessel in the Puget Sound area.

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1994: Ceremony in New Bedford.

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1995: The ship was struck from the Naval Register on April 4.

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2004: The Sea Bird's current disposition is a tuna long liner (fishing boat) out of San Diego, CA.

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2006: Design of the Tesla Turbine began on June 11, 2006. The Sea Bird was sold by Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service for commercial service.

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2007: The Sea Bird was drydocked for renovations.

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2008: The Sea Bird setting sail to Sea-Tac in Seattle, WA.

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2009 - 2010: The Sea Bird is currently docked at Seattle Sea-Tac.

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