the Quiet Killer of the Pacific Ocean
By Scott Kikiloi
is one of the most durable manmade materials on the planet.
We all use plastic, from the cups we drink in, to the plastic
bags we get at stores. But have you ever wondered where
all that plastic goes? And does it break down? Charles
J. Moore of the Algalita
Marine Research Foundation knows, and he says that it's
showing up in our Pacific Ocean. Anchored offshore of Tern
Island, in French Frigate Shoals is Moore's research vessel
the Alguita. Moore, and a number of research scientists
are discovering that an enormous amount of plastic is being
swept around in the Pacific's currents. Plastic remains
plastic, as these synthetic particles do not biodegrade.
They do however break down slowly in the water, into smaller
and smaller pieces until finally one large piece of plastic
becomes thousands of smaller particles that disrupt our
marine ecosystem. Located about 800 miles above Hawai`i
is a place scientists call the North Pacific Gyre. A gyre
is like the center of a swirling toilet bowl, where ocean
debris collects. In his studies, Moore has found that in
the Gyre 80% of the solid material in his samples were plastic,
and only 20% was the ocean's natural plankton. The most
common types of plastic found were parts of shopping bags
and fast food bags.
does any of this matter? Well it matters because when the
tides and currents change, the southern edge of the Gyre
intersects the Hawaiian Islands. Our archipelago acts like
a net and much of the larger debris shows up lodged in our
coral reefs and on our beaches. French Frigate Shoals is
a good example of this. These plastics are very dangerous
because larger pieces abrade and break fragile reef corals
and entangle marine life while smaller pieces are likely
to be eaten by our native birds and marine life.
Consumed pieces of plastic can physically damage the birds
by occupying space in their digestive system causing them
to starve to death. Likewise, turtles, and fishes eat these
small pieces of plastic because they are unable to distinguish
them from their food source. What is even more frightening
is the fact that many plastics are toxic. They contain dangerous
chemicals that can leach into the bodies of these animals.
The smallest of plastic particles are eaten by ocean filter
feeders, which eventually affect the entire food chain of
a healthy marine ecosystem, as the filter feeders are eaten
by bigger organisms, and so forth. As the toxics move up
the food chain they will eventually end up in us, from the
foods that we eat.
year, for the last five years the National Marine Fisheries
Service has spearheaded a multiagency marine debris cleanup
in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and not including
this years (2002) cleanup they have removed more than 130
tons of marine debris. NMFS is also very active in researching
ways to cut debris off at its source and using modeling
programs to track where the debris comes from and how to
you can see, plastic is a quiet killer of our marine ecosystem.
We need to be responsible for the plastics we produce, and
keep them out of our ocean waters.
more information on the National Marine Fisheries Marine
Debris Cleanup efforts, visit their website:
more information on the Algalita Marine Research Foundation,
Algalita Marine Research Foundation
345 Bay Shore Avenue, Long Beach CA 90803, USA