Plastic Problems


CAPTAIN WARNS ABOUT OCEAN POLLUTION

BY CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK

WEST HAWAII TODAY

clucas-zenk@westhawaiitoday.com

It sounds like a horror movie, but the situation is real and grim. Plastic is doing more than littering vacant lots, ocean gyres, waterways, coastlines and remote places.

It's changing habitats, "overtaking natural systems at an alarming pace," Capt. Charles Moore said Wednesday evening in Kailua-Kona. He said it's in our food chain, threatening creatures big and small, from whales to zooplankton, that die from either mistakenly eating this junk or from getting entangled in it. Its toxins are suspected to be causing obesity, infertility and a host of other ailments.

Moore is a noted seafaring environmentalist, marine researcher, pollution expert and founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. He has been studying and publicizing the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a stewy body of plastic and marine debris floating in the northeastern corner of the center of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, since he discovered it in 1997.

During his "Greatest Infection of the Sea" presentation Wednesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center, Moore explained what and where the patch — "actually a plastic soup" — is. He also shared his thoughts on what must be done to deal with the plastic pollution problem, as well as why there is so little awareness and action being done about this crisis.

His presentation was to promote his book, "Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Ocean," co-written with Cassandra Phillips. However, it was also intended to prompt a larger conversation about the deadly impact and implications of this man-made blight, as well as solutions — such as coming up with better way of determining which countries are responsible for the trash and imposing a tax to remove it.

The mid-20th century arrival of consumer plastics ushered in the "Age of Plastics." Soon durable, lightweight plastic trash began invading the marine environment by the millions of pounds each year, breaking down and accumulating on the ocean surface. These micro-plastics are a new category of debris that poses a unique threat to the marine food chain, Moore said.

To further emphasize his points, he showed photos of sea turtles with plastic bands around their now hourglass-shaped shells, plastic resin bits trapped in the transparent bodies of jellyfish and intact plastic bottles found 3,255 deep in the Mediterranean Sea.

Groundbreaking research has found most plastics are not chemically inert, as once thought. In fact, they are potentially toxic in ways that could be harmful to wildlife and to people, Moore said.

Debris from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March could pass near or wash ashore in the Northwestern Hawaii Islands as early as this winter, according to independent models run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of Hawaii. The models also predict the debris would approach the U.S. West Coast next year and circle back to the main Hawaiian Islands in 2014 to 2016.

Moore warned there's a lot of uncertainty over exactly what's still floating, where it's located, where it will go, when it will arrive and its impact. Still, he and his foundation intend to find out during a voyage this summer.

Visit algalita.org and plasticoceanthebook.com for more information.