January 8 – Blue Water

Today’s factismal: Plastic trash floating in the ocean weighs as much as 1,350 blue whales.

If you look around yourself, odds are you’ll see some plastic nearby. You’ll see plastic in the keyboard of your computer or wrapping your groceries or making the bottles that hold your medicine; plastic is fantastically useful and ubiquitous. But the problem with our use of plastic is that all too often it doesn’t get recycled the way it should. Instead of being tossed into the recycling bin, it gets tossed into the water which means that it ends up in the ocean.

This bird was rescued from an abandoned net that was floating in the Bay of Fundy (My camera)

This bird was rescued from an abandoned net that was floating in the Bay of Fundy
(My camera)

Scientists now estimate that there are more than five trillion pieces of plastic trash in the ocean; that’s more than seven hundred pieces of trash for every person on Earth! All told, that plastic trash weighs some 269,000 tons or about as much as 1,350 blue whales! Those pieces of trash range in size from small beads used in “exfoliating” scrubs and body washes to giant fishing nets used to catch tuna and cod. And though some of that plastic creates new hiding places and habitats for small fish and other critters, most of it just causes problems. The beads can fill up animals’ stomachs, preventing them from eating (which is why most manufacturers no longer use them). Small bottles can trap birds and crustaceans that were looking for their next meal. And nets can catch and drown marine mammals such as dolphins and other small whales. And all of it can grab onto other stuff floating in the ocean to form “plastiglomerates” that dirty up our shorelines and threaten the nesting habitats of sea turtles worldwide!

The mother sea turtle had to crawl over piles of plastic to lay her eggs (My camera)

The mother sea turtle had to crawl over piles of plastic to lay her eggs
(My camera)

So what can a concerned citizen scientist do about it? The first and easiest thing to do is recycle. That plastic can be recycled dozens or even hundreds of times and in some states you may even make money from it! The next thing to do is report it to a group like COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team); they are looking for people like you to report the sea birds and plastic trash that they find:
http://depts.washington.edu/coasst/involved/volunteer.html
Or you could always send a sample of sea water to the Ocean Microplastics project. They hope to collect and compare water samples from around the world to help scientists understand what is happening to the small pieces of plastic in the ocean:
http://www.adventurescience.org/microplastics.html

One thought on “January 8 – Blue Water

  1. Pingback: June 8 – Deep Blue | Little facts about science

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