~ The first scientific survey of the accrued plastic pollution in the five gyres of the oceans is nearing completion. Researchers from the 5 Gyres Institute are on their way to the last of the five: the South Pacific Gyre.
The crew will sail over 2,000 miles from Valdivia, Chile, zig-zagging through the South Pacific Gyre, to arrive at Easter Island on April 7th, and onward to Tahiti on May 10th. Little data on plastic in this region exists, but the researchers expect to find the same kind of plastic pollution--known to harm marine life, to be a navigational hazard, and to possibly threaten human health—that they have found in every sample of the sea surface they’ve taken while sailing 20,000 miles through gyres in the North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Indian Oceans.It's a big problem. Floating plastic debris in the other gyres each reportedly cover an area the size of Texas. The debris is mostly tiny, the result of degradation by water and sunlight, but is readily ingested by sea life, which mistake it for food.
The source of this plastic is fishing equipment, especially floats, and also plastic that washes into the oceans from land. One culprit is plastic bags, which are all-too-easily raised aloft on the wind, or washed into storm drains by rain, and are carried to sea by any number of watercourses. Even well-intentioned folks add to the problem; curbside recycling often spills items betwixt bin and truck.
The best solution is to avoid buying plastic, or using bags. Bring your own canvas or cloth bag when shopping. If you must get a disposable bag, choose paper. ("Paper or plastic?" Neither is best, as both are environmentally unsound. Paper gets the edge if you must, as it biodegrades.) Be a smart consumer, and buy with sustainability in mind.