Modern Day Piracy
Piracy still happens today on the high seas, the higher impact stuff around west Africa and south east Asia is typically what gets attention.
These are the ship heists, kidnappings and ransomes, made famous by movies such as Captain Phillips.
Remove the romance attached to pirates from days gone by and glamourized by movies such as pirates of the Caribbean and you find that these modern day pirates and those of days gone by, pretty much operate in the same way.
Today we have another class of pirate, the polluters of the Carribean if you like.
The link to other pirates is simple, destruction at sea.
In this case having waste go to the sea where it becomes a hidden problem, means we don’t need to spend money addressing the issue.
The problem with the polluters of the Caribbean is that its our widespread use of plastic for everything in our lives that causes the issue, as a society we have become the pirates.
Our use of plastics in everything from shoes to bottles to bags and magazine packaging’s, makes it into the sea.
What’s the problem?
In general plastic by design is not biodegradable, it does break down into smaller fragments but the process takes hundreds if not thousands of years.
Over time literally millions of tons of plastic which have been thrown away have ended up in the waterways and oceans of the world and the problem keeps on getting bigger.
The plastic finds its way into the water ways most commonly in one of 3 ways:
- We throw plastic which could be recycled into the general garbage, unfortunately because plastic is lightweight is gets blown away off the trucks and off the landfill sites themselves, down drains and into rivers, all of those water ways lead to the sea.
- Littering is a big, issue both items on the street that don’t make it to a litter bin and large scale illegal waste dumping or so called fly tipping, lead again to plastic to drains and waterways and is the number 1 contributor of this damage to the sea.
- Products that go down the drain, such as cotton buds, wet wipes, cosmetics, these all contain plastic which ends up out at sea and just don’t break down.
Ironically very little of the waste that ends up at sea, is generated at sea, there are 8 million tons of plastic that end up in the sea each year, 80% of that comes from land.
The scale of the problem
Well what if I told you that there are 5 huge floating garbage piles polluting the oceans today?
- 2 in the Atlantic Ocean
- 2 in the Pacific Ocean
- 1 in the Indian Ocean
The biggest of these is 1.6 million sq kilometers, about the same size as Mongolia the 18th largest country by land mass in the world.
All 5 garbage piles combined are about the same size in land mass as the United States.
Clearly the problem just in terms of the size of the plastic garbage volume at sea is huge and so is the effect on the marine life.
Marine plastic pollution is affecting directly over 267 species of marine life at sea today, many stocks are declining because the die from either starvation caused by dwindling food stocks in polluted areas, or they eat the plastic and suffocate.
Its expected that in the next several years there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
50 to 80% of all sea turtles found dead have ingested some form of plastic.
Seabirds are beginning to mistake plastic for food’s and are unintentionally feeding it to their chick, up to 98% of sea birds tested globally have been found to have ingested plastic at some point.
The problem clearly is huge and its getting bigger.
What can we do about it?
The good news is that there a lot of small actions we can take that make a huge difference:
- Recycling plastics, this is number 1, if we recycle what we use it makes a huge difference, that plastic isn’t making it into landfills and is therefore not getting into the water system, the more we recycle the less new plastic is created to go to waste.
- Avoid single use plastic — Things like plastic bags, coffee cups and bottles are the biggest offenders, there are reusable alternatives out there which in the long run save money, and the environment. If you need to use a single use item, in life its sometimes unavoidable, then make sure its recycled after use.
- We can clean up our mess, there are several small non profits out there trying to clean up the patches, an international effort could have them cleaned up in 5 to 10 years so its not an impossible task.
As you can see some small actions would make a huge impact to the environment and to our oceans.