Tag Archives: plastic pollution

Disappearance of Ocean Plastics Is Nothing to Celebrate

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You’d think that finding far less plastic pollution on the ocean’s surface than scientists expected would be something to cheer about. The reality, however, is that this is bad news, for both the ocean food web and humans eating at the top. Ingestion of tiny plastic debris by sea creatures is believed to explain the plastics’ slow and subtle disappearance and exposes a worrisome entry point for risky chemicals into the food web.

Except for a transient slowdown during the recent economic recession, global plastics consumption has risen steadily since plastic materials were introduced in the 1950s and subsequently incorporated into nearly every facet of modern life. Annual global consumption is already about 300 million tons with no foreseeable leveling off as markets expand in the Asia-Pacific region and new applications are conceived every day.

Land-based sources are responsible for the lion’s share of plastic waste entering the oceans: littering, wind-blown trash escaping from trash cans and landfills, and storm drain runoff when the capacity of water treatment plants is exceeded. Furthermore, recent studies reveal an alarming worldwide marine buildup of microplastics (defined as a millimeter or less) from two other previously unrecognized sources. Spherical plastic microbeads, no more than a half millimeter, are manufactured into skin care products and designed to be washed down the drain but escape water treatment plants not equipped to capture them. Plastic microfibers from laundering polyester fabrics find their way to the ocean via the same route.

Given that plastics do not biodegrade, it’s been assumed that the quantity of plastic pollution measured over time on the surface waters of the ocean will mirror global plastics production and hence should be rising. However, regional sampling over time indicates that plastic debris in surface waters has been rather static lately.

Insight into where the rest might have gone emerged from an analysis of the size distribution of the remaining floating debris. From previous research it was already known that plastic fragments no bigger than a half centimeter outnumber larger debris on the ocean’s surface, a phenomenon attributed to the fact that weathering continually breaks up plastics into ever smaller fragments. Thus the scientists were surprised to find a striking paucity of debris in the one millimeter and smaller size range, the opposite of what would be expected from progressive fragmentation. This indicates that microplastics are being selectively removed from the surface.

The scientists posit that zooplankton-eating fish likely account for the loss in surface microplastics. The missing microplastics are the same size as zooplankton, thus easily mistaken for food. Furthermore, zooplankton eaters that live deep in the ocean rise to the surface at night to feed as in whales. This explanation is supported by fact that plastic debris found in the stomachs of the fish that live off zooplankton are the same size as the missing surface debris, and the same size plastics are also commonly found in the stomachs of larger fish that feed on some plankton eaters.

The number of marine wildlife species known to ingest plastic waste is already in the hundreds. In recent decades, disturbing autopsy images have surfaced in larger creatures – like whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and seabirds – illustrating stomach/intestinal blockage or perforation from ingesting often recognizable plastic items such as plastic bags, fishing line and bottle caps. However, a spate of recent studies has also documented ingestion of microplastics in the millimeter and micrometer range by smaller sea life at lower tiers throughout the ocean food web, everything from zooplankton at the web’s very base to sandworms, barnacles and small crustaceans.

One recent study finding that micrometer-sized microplastics ingested by the tiniest zooplankton show up rapidly in the intestines of zooplankton one step up the food chain underscores the potential for upward transfer of plastic debris from one tier to the next. Similarly, transfer to shore from eating common mussels which fed on microplastics is also known to occur.

Humans’ selfish fears about the take up of plastic materials throughout the food web stem largely from potential chemical threats which could be delivered up the chain. Hazardous chemicals are manufactured into various plastics, like known endocrine disruptors (e.g. phthalate plasticizers and bisphenol-A) or carcinogens (e.g. vinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants). Also, plastics are oily materials and, as such, concentrate oily contaminants from the surrounding seawater, like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and the breakdown products of the banned pesticide DDT. Researchers have shown that toxic chemicals within or on the surface of ingested plastic debris can transfer to the tissues of wildlife (e.g. seabirds), and the accumulation and even bio-magnification in wildlife as you go up the food chain when toxins are not readily metabolized is likely the greatest threat to humans.

A study finding microplastics in the soft tissues of oysters and mussels cultured specifically for human consumption, just published in the journal Environmental Pollution, is also unwelcome news for humans. The authors estimated that a shellfish lover could already be ingesting over 10,000 microplastic particles in a year.

Add to this recent laboratory evidence of tangible health consequences of ingesting chemicals associated with marine plastics. For example, altered expression of genes signaling endocrine system disruption was recently documented in both male and female fish after eating a diet containing small amounts of microplastics which had been exposed for a few months first to seawater in the San Diego Bay.

Microplastics are generally believed to represent a greater chemical threat than macroplastics because the larger relative surface area of smaller debris allows for more adsorption of toxins from seawater. Thus far, scientists have focused primarily on plastics in the visible millimeter plus size range. They express worry, however, that as plastics fragment further into the micrometer and even the nanometer range (100 times smaller than the width of a human hair), the risks to the food web could multiply, not just because of increasing surface area but also because the tinier the debris the more diverse the wildlife able to ingest it.

Scientists have not ruled out that other factors might also contribute to the disappearance of surface water microplastics, but the evidence thus far points to ingestion as the main one. For instance, plastic debris will sink once biofouling (colonization by micro-organisms) causes it to lose buoyancy, but field experiments show that defouling occurs rapidly after the debris is submerged, allowing it to float back to the surface.

Some historians already refer to the current era as The Age of Plastics. Just as runaway global warming looms as an unexpected consequence of the wanton burning of fossil fuels, the poisoning of the ocean food web could be the lasting legacy of the plastics era. Non-profit marine protection organizations, like the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, the Santa Monica-based 5 Gyres Institute and the Ocean Conservancy in Washing, D.C., are working to draw attention to the urgent need to stem the flow of further plastic debris into the oceans. There is general agreement that schemes to clean up plastic debris out in the mid-ocean are impractical, no matter how well-intended, as any after-the-fact approach is akin to trying to push back against water blasting from a fire hose. Better to turn off the deluge at the nozzle.

To fully address the global problem of plastic ocean pollution, the plastics industry must ultimately reformulate its products, though this will obviously take time. In the interim, we already know two relevant facts, that rivers are a major source of plastic waste entering the oceans and that a sizeable fraction of plastic debris at sea is eventually deposited on shorelines. Thus, directing resources now to both developing devices to capture waste in rivers before it reaches open ocean and cleaning up waste littering the shorelines makes the best sense.

Consumers can also do their part now through simple behavior changes, like using reusable shopping bags and opting for products packaged in non-plastic alternatives, like glass or paper. And of course everyone is welcome to pitch in on the annual International Coastal Cleanup. Last year, over 12 million pounds of waste were picked up by nearly 650,000 volunteers in 92 countries.

Source: Sarah Mosko

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The myriad of benefits humanity will reap from Oceanus’ plan to clean our ocean:

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The Benefits…

   More than hope: Oceanus provides a platform for which opportunity is limitless and possibilities abound. While oceanic ​cleanup is, and always will be, the core of what we stand for, the amount of plastic polluting our oceans is staggering. In fact, that overwhelming mass of plastic is an immeasurable source of raw material. As addressed in other areas on our website, Oceanus will use this material to construct an entirely new and revolutionary infrastructure on which to foster life, the benefits of which are myriad and diverse. From environmental rehabilitation to ​​scientific research, on this page, we examine in detail the various  expected perks that will arise as byproducts by virtue of Oceanus pursuing its primary objective.

   To read more about the problem at hand, please, click here: www.titan-oceanus.com/the-problem.html                                                                                                                                        To read more about Oceanus’ plan of action, please, click here: www.titan-oceanus.com/the-solution.html 

Oceanus will:

  • Stem the release of toxins into our global habitat:

​            Plastic is essentially an everlasting floating sponge, soaking up most of the toxins it                comes into contact with as it drifts along the currents of our oceans. When it is                        consumed by marine creatures, these contaminants enter their systems as well. By                encapsulating this toxic waste in concrete, Oceanus neatly removes this                                   threat—trapping those dangerous toxins, and preventing them from further                            poisoning our global ecosystem. 

  • Foster an environment in which scientific research may be conducted unimpeded:

​            Bureaucratic red tape from local governments inhibit shocking amounts of                               developments from being made in the realms of scientific research. Invaluable                       progress is stymied by restrictions placed upon researchers, and their facilities, by                  the countries in which they reside. Outside of any country’s territorial waters, and                    therefore at complete liberty to govern itself, Oceanus is singularly located as to                      allow researchers utter freedom to conduct their work, sans                                                        bureaucratic nonsense. Previously stifled exploration in the fields of stem                                cell research, gene therapy, neuroprosthetics, gerontology, bionics, pharmaceuticals,              biochemistry, nanotechnology, biotechnology, neuroscience, and more can thrive                    on Oceanus, without worry of heavy handed government regulation halting                              progressionthe results of which will further the good of humanity at large.

            Because Oceanus is, in essence, sovereign, we will have the ability to forbid                              any and all activity which would be detrimental to marine wildlife within a 200                        mile radius. This area will be devoted to the rehabilitation of the local                                        ecosystem, free of the devastation caused by trawling, fishing, and the passage of                    polluting ships. This sizable aquatic reserve will also be a boon to marine                                  biologists, who will have the rare opportunity to observe the effects of a fragile and                fading ecosystem being restored from the base up.

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  • Encourage the restoration of marine wildlife:

​            With 700 million tons of plastic debris occupying inestimable miles of oceanic                          habitat, native creatures are choked out of the ecosystem. Phytoplankton can                            not subsist on the little sunlight which filters through this nebulous, viscous muck,                 kicking off a starvation snowball effect which echoes all the way up to the top of the                food chain. Clearing away this noxious inorganic cloud of microplastic will enable                    the phytokplankton to return, breathing life back into a gasping ecosystem.

            70% of all the oxygen in our atmosphere comes from aquatic pelagic plant life                         (the rainforests only produce 28%, with the remaining 2% coming from other land-                  based sources). Phytoplankton alone is responsible for 50% of this vital life-giving                    element. Currently, an area of ocean around the size of the United States                                  is being deprived of its ability to support phytoplankton. By allowing it to thrive once              again, oxygen levels will begin to climb, fostering a healthier environment world-                      wide.

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  • Further the conceptualization and implementation of green living:

​​            The idea of green living is not new to humanity, and self-sustainability is a                                lifestyle many have found attractive throughout the ages. A project of this scope,                      however, which is not only self-sufficient, but has immense beneficial consequences              for our world as a whole, has never before been attempted. Oceanus will become                    a model for future green communities, sustained wholly by environmentally                            friendly methods.    

         –  A large part of creating this model is Oceanus’ use of  alternative energy                                   sources.Chief among these are solar and wind energy; we will also be among the first             to harness the unlimited power of wave energy, and to produce biodiesel fuel from                 algae. By exercising these methods to their fullest, both time-tested and                                   emerging technologies, Oceanus will be the first project of its kind powered entirely               by green energy. 

            In addition to providing an environmentally proactive platform capable                                    of supporting a populous where none existed before before, a bed of fertile soil will                be laid atop the buoyant modular blocks which form Oceanus’ foundation. In this                    soil, we will plant  grass, trees, and crops (in an area where no soil dependent plants              could thrive before), which will not only help to feed the population of Oceanus,                      but will also increase oxygen production in the area surrounding our facility. This                    will veritably boost overall planetary oxygen levels, which will help replenish ozone in              our atmosphere, and in turn, by the same token, help to stem global warming.   

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   While Oceanus is still in its research and development stage, we are actively seeking forward-thinking individuals to help both spread awareness of the problem at hand, and of Oceanus’ innovative solution. We are also currently taking applications for positions within the project itself. Some current fields of interest being: structural engineering, marine biology, chemistry, ecology, plastic recycling, polymer engineering, alternative energy, industrial mechanics, marine navigation, biochemistry, as well as any other pertinent field of expertise. Regardless of expertise, Oceanus welcomes all progressive, forward-thinking, consultants willing to lend vision to our project. If interested in becoming involved in any way, shape, or form; or, if you have any further questions or inquiries, drop us a line: www.titan-oceanus.com/contact-us.html                                

   Prefer to email us directly? Please do, at: support@titan-oceanus.com   We, of course, always look forward to hearing from those interested in our project.

Please visit our site at: www.titan-oceanus.com                                                                             Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/oceanusproject

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