Posts Tagged ‘pelagic plastics’

Landed in Honolulu. Couldn’t wait to take long walk on beach. As usual, such a treat, except for this:

Flickr - "meerar"

Credit: Flickr -"meerar"

Add a few dead fishes. And Prad and I had plenty of material for another depressing conversation. I told him about the work done by Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and their expeditions to the Garbage Patch in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

If I hadn’t researched this before, I may even have missed the tiny plastics. Every time I visit the island, I am struck by the casual attitude of its inhabitants towards their environment. Trash not just on the beach, but also along hiking trails, roads, . . .

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On Tuesday, Whole Foods announced it would stop offering plastic grocery bags, giving customers instead a choice between recycled paper or re-usable bags. I am not sure I am completely satisfied with the recycled paper portion of their solution, but still, it’s progress, and one piece of news that will make the folks at Algalita happy. I have written extensively before about the important work done by Algalita researchers.

I just heard from Bill Francis, Secretary of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, about the beginning of their new research expedition in the Pacific Ocean. ‘This is the first day of a four week research trip, that can be tracked on Algalita‘s website. The voyage of the ORV Alguita, captained by Charles Moore, and crew of volunteers and members of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation is documented daily via the ‘2008 Gyre Voyage’ blog. The voyage will include sampling, documentation of contamination, and an update of the database, which will help document the continuing change in our oceans from plastic intrusion.’ To give you a taste of Captain Moore’s current expedition, here is their first diary entry:

First day at sea

And were off!

We left Hilo last night, January 20, at dusk, just a few hours shy of nightfall. A full moon cast a bright, silver sheen over the gently rolling swells, making the first night watch a stunningly beautiful spectacle.

Our first planned sampling spot lay just off the southernmost point in the United States; Kamilo Beach. Kamilo beach is also the most polluted beach in the United States, a considerably less glamorous yet no less interesting selling point for this crew. Just a few days before our departure, we’d braved the 2-hour, treacherous drive out to Kamilo to see for ourselves.

What we saw there must be seen to be believed. A picturesque, volcanic coastline, far from any visible development, clear blue waters and spectacular beaches – entirely covered in plastic debris. (Photos of Kamilo here. Can you find it on the map using the coordinates on the GPS in one of the pictures?)It is precisely spots like this that exemplify the need for a better understanding of how far reaching the marine debris issue really is. And a powerful visual reminder as to why were embarking on this month long journey…..
It’s moving on the plastic front
Somewhere around midnight, we witnessed an active lava flow erupting from the slopes of Mauna Loa, rousted from our rocky slumber by the Captain. The view was well worth the wakeup call – a fiery red glow emanating from the coastline.

By sunrise, the wind was blowing 35 knots, too powerful to begin sampling, so we continued on, taking a highly productive detour to try our luck at scouting out some sashimi. As the photo here suggests, mission accomplished: Jeff with the first of 6 small Ahi, known as Shibi, filleted in less than 5 minutes. And consumed tonight for dinner.

Satisfied with our haul, we began fishing for plastic. We out set the Manta Trawl to collect samples off the leeward side of the Island, an area one would expect to find little in the way of plastic debris due to the wind currents. We found however clear evidence of small plastic particles, along with a host of fish eggs and Copepods. There is truly no “pristine’….

Later in the afternoon, we prepped for our first dive, a chance to test out our equipment and refresh our scuba skills during calm seas. The area was relatively barren of life, save for countless Jellies and Salps of various shapes and sizes. Joel, Jeff, and Marcus practiced working the underwater video equipment, Anna had a much needed “brush up” dive, and Charles spotted the most interesting creature of us all, a large ctenophore.

We’re now on track again, westward bound. In about 4 days, we should reach one of our main study areas, an area yet to be sampled for plastic debris. Though just one day into our journey, the reality of finding trash in such remote areas of the ocean underscores the message: There simply is no “away” in a throwaway culture.Aloha from the Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita.

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In line at the local grocery store. ‘Plastic?’. The guy ahead of me doesn’t think for a second. ‘Yes’, and gets his two or three items quickly bagged, and leaves. My turn. The lady asks, ‘Do you want a plastic bag?’. I am buying a half gallon of milk, that’s it. That’s when I had to tell her. The ‘Circle of plastics‘ thing. ‘People are so unaware’, she tells me. I leave her thinking.

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On the second day of the Daily Footprint Project, my attention is drawn to a single plastic bag. I inherited it when I bought the prepackaged red organic grapes at Whole Foods. We have eaten all the grapes. Now, what to do with the bag? It has holes in it for airing the grapes, so we can’t really use it for anything else. I look for any kind of recycling directive. No indication that the stuff is recyclable. What to do?


Interestingly, earlier in the day I found the New York Times Science Section’s article on microscopic plastics in the ocean. The article is a nice complement to the ‘Synthetic Sea’, the video I featured in one of my earlier posts. Here is what the article says: The researchers looked at how plastic particles picked up a pollutant, phenanthrene. They found that plastic adsorbed far more of the chemical than sediments. The particles could be carried by currents and eaten by organisms far from the sources, or they could sink to the bottom. The researchers estimated that even tiny amounts of plastic could significantly increase the concentration of phenanthrene in a common sediment-ingesting worm, the lugworm, and from there accumulate up the food chain.

Reading the article, and then staring at the plastic bag with holes, made me come up with this image. It’s called ‘The Circle of Plastic’ and it goes like this:

plastic bag is not recyclable → I throw it in garbage → plastic bag ends up in landfill → storm comes and washes it down into stream → plastic bag makes its way to the ocean → plastic bag gets broken down into microscopic particles → particles pick up phenanthrene → lugworm eats the stuff → small fish eats worm → big fish eats small fish → man catches big fish → big fish ends up at my grocery store → I buy piece of big fish → fish man wraps it up in plastic bag → I feed phenanthrene impregnated fish to my family → plastic bag is not recyclable

Circle completed. Next time, I will buy grapes at the farmers’ market where they come in bulk. And I will ask the fishman to bypass the plastic bag. Two paper wrappers should be sufficient.

I also went on the town’s website for recycling instructions and looked up their guidelines for plastics:

  • Recyclable plastics: #1 and #7 containers (e.g., beverage. milk, soda, water, detergent, shampoo, lotion, yogurt, margarine)

  • Non recyclable plastics: food contaminated plastics, film plastic (e.g., plastic bags, shrink wrap, bubble wrap)

Prad thinks we can gather all our non recyclable plastics, and bring them directly to the town’s recycling center, where they have a special bin for it. One solution could be to gather all our reject plastics and bring them once a week to the center. I will need to investigate this some more.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #2


toilet flush 2
wash hands 5
showers at gym 2
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
run dishwasher full load
rinse dishes
rinse salad


desk light 3hours
laptop on since all day
laptop plugged in overnight
microwave tea 2'
microwave oatmeal 4'
microwave soup 2'
toaster oven for toasts 2'
microwave hot chocolate 2'
run dishwasher full load
fry two eggs on stove


organic raspberries
cup of tea with organic milk
organic oatmeal with organic whole milk
cup of soup (leftovers from Whole Foods)
organic grapes
toast two bread halves Catherine’s breakfast
hot chocolate
two organic eggs
organic salad


one toasted bread half
three newspaper wrappers
grapes bag, are these things recyclable?
1 spoiled tomatoe
1 old radishes
1 old bunch of thyme


pick up Prad at airport 44miles
go with Prad to gym 6miles extra 3 miles to get rope for Catherine

Non food shopping

synthetic gold rope 10yards for Catherine’s Halloween costume

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Here is the link to my post in Environmental Graffiti this week:

‘Drastic Plastic’

After you read it, you will never want to use plastic bags ever again . . .

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