There are no floating garbage patches in the Pacific, not as we think of them, i.e., floating landfills. There are small aggregates of trash, but the gigantic gyres we’ve been told variously are the size of Texas, or twice the size of Texas, or sometimes even the size of the continent, are not composed of large objects like refrigerators, toys and wreckage from storm-battered buildings. They are, basically, microbits of plastic, the size of salt and pepper. Plastic, which breaks down, but never goes away.
The smaller rafts of plastic debris, more recent intentional or unintentional human castoffs, which haven’t had time to break down, have revealed a surprise to researchers from the University of Florida, traveling with Sea Eduation Foundation. Debris which hasn’t had time to break down, is serving as a micro habitat to several species of Asian crabs, mussels and other small sea creatures. They cannot attach to the plastic, but they can use goose-neck barnacles which are able to attach themselves to the smooth surface of plastic.
My first reaction to this news was, great! At least our garbage in the sea is serving some useful purpose. Silly me. Turns out non-native species are hitching rides on castoffs from both sides of the ocean, traveling to new destinations, becoming invasive. This unexpected consequence of allowing our garbage to reach the sea, has the potential to destroy native species’ habitat.
A recent study estimated that around eight million metric tons of our plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year. How far-reaching are the consequences of our failure to properly dispose of the plastic items we use! If you don’t have recycle bins at your house, apartment complex or business, contact your solid waste department and ask how you can best recycle. If you do recycle, good for you! Be sure to rinse the items, as failure to do so contaminates other items and lowers the value of the recyclable. The plastics that cannot go into the recycle bins should be placed in cans with secure lids, not loosly tossed, but ideally, bagged.
Picture: Manila Harbour