Thursday, 12 July 2007


A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain.

Scientists say these toxins are causing obesity, infertility...and worse. It’s situated in the eastern corner of a 10-million-square-mile oval known as the North Pacific subtropical gyre. The trail of plastic went on for hundreds of miles.

At the same time, all over the globe, there are signs that plastic pollution is doing more than blighting the scenery; it is also making its way into the food chain. Some of the most obvious victims are the dead seabirds that have been washing ashore in startling numbers, their bodies packed with plastic: things like bottle caps, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, and coloured scraps that, to a foraging bird, resemble baitfish. (One animal dissected by Dutch researchers contained 1,603 pieces of plastic).

And the birds aren’t alone. All sea creatures are threatened by floating plastic, from whales down to zooplankton. Bad enough. But ……. the big, tentacled balls of trash were only the most visible signs of the problem; others were far less obvious, and far more evil. Dragging a fine-meshed net known as a manta trawl, he discovered minuscule pieces of plastic, some barely visible to the eye, swirling like fish food throughout the water. He and his researchers parsed, measured, and sorted their samples and arrived at the following conclusion: By weight, this swath of sea contains 6 times as much plastic as it does plankton.

There’s a basic moral horror in seeing a sea turtle with a plastic band strangling its shell into an hourglass shape or a humpback towing plastic nets that cut into its flesh and make it impossible for the animal to hunt.

More than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and countless fish die in the North Pacific each year, either from mistakenly eating this junk or from being ensnared in it and drowning.

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