Pacific Ocean garbage patch

Rita Hibbard's picture

Gray whale dies bringing us a message -- with stomach full of plastic trash

When news that a dead gray whale had washed up on the shores of Puget Sound in West Seattle recently, its stomach full of human trash, I immediately thought of a series of stunning but horrific photographs I had recently experienced -- Seattle photographer Chris Jordan's work on the albatrosses of Midway Island who unintentionally kill their newborns feeding them our brightly colored garbage.

The gray whale was dead, but had been in good health. A bottom feeder, it had ingested about 20 plastic bags, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, a pair of sweat pants, a golf ball, and other cast-off bits of our lives. It was the fifth dead gray whale to be found in two weeks on Puget Sound, according to the Cascadia Research Collective.  Several of those whales were malnourished. The photo above, by Cascadia Research of Olympia, WA,  shows researchers near the whale.

Jordan's photographs show image after image of albatross chicks who have died after their parents have flown out over the ocean, bringing back deadly "meals" stuffed in their own beaks. The adult birds cannot distinguish between the plastic floating in the ocean and real food they need to feed their babies. As Jordan writes on his Web site:

Rita Hibbard's picture

Do the math: 15,000 plastic bags in one day in 10 trash 'hot spots'

If you ever wondered how those plastic bags get into the ocean, where they are floating in a giant island twice the size of Texas and being slowly eaten by sea life (and later, by us) a new study released in California this week sheds some light.

The environmental group Save the Bay estimates that 1 million plastic bags end up in San Francisco Bay annually. But before that even, they end up in creeks and storm drains. In one day, the group collected 15,000 plastic trash bags from 10 trash "hot spots," the San Jose Mercury News reports.

The study comes as San Jose is considering a city ordinance to end the distribution of free single-use bags, both plastic and paper, and require residents to switch to reusable bags. A similar measure failed in Seattle earlier this year, after the chemical industry spent  big money lobbying against it.

-- Rita Hibbard

Rita Hibbard's picture

Guess what? We're eating the plastic we don't recycle

You have to read this. Especially you folks who voted against plastic bag fees in cities like Seattle, or watched the Big Chemical lobby  move the debate in your city's or state's debate over plastic bottles or bags. Or don't think it matters if you buy your takeout in those Styrofoam clam shells. Jeez. I thought the giant the roiling island of plastic debris out in the Pacific was the size of Texas. Turns out it's TWICE the size of Texas. And that's not all, reports Paul Rogers in the San Jose Mercury News this morning.

California researchers, just back from a research trip, have found that the plastic from bottles, bags and many, many other plastic objects, broken down into such tiny particles that they are not even visible from satellites, are being eaten by tiny jellyfish. And salmon and tuna eat the jellyfish. Hmm. Guess who eats the salmon and tuna? And guess what the plastic contains? Toxic chemicals, including now-banned DDT and PCBs. The research was the most extensive look yet at the garbage patch, located about 1,000 miles north of Hawaii.

"Every day, every night, we'd pull up samples and pour the water through a sieve. It would be completely clogged with tiny pieces of plastic," said Margy Gassel, a research scientist with the California Environmental Protection Agency. "It was so disturbing."

Researchers said one solution might be to dramatically increase the use of plant-based, biodegradable plastic and to beef up plastics-recycling programs. Designing storm drains to catch plastic debris also is a possibility.

"We're not talking about a plastic-bag tax," said Doug Woodring, a former Merrill Lynch financier and one of the founders of Project Kaisei.