Per­va­sive plas­tic

The Packet (Clarenville) - - FRONT PAGE -

New­found­land is sur­rounded by it, Labrador is bor­dered by it. It changes our weather, mod­er­ates our win­ters, cools our sum­mers. It’s in­te­gral to life here, and when we move away, we miss it keenly.

The ocean’s a huge part of our ex­is­tence, from work to weather to our very sense of place.

Yet we, like many oth­ers who live near the sea, treat it like garbage.

Ac­tu­ally, we treat it with garbage.

And worst of all? Plas­tics.

Plas­tics are not the most com­mon iden­ti­fi­able trash found in beach trash sur­veys. That un­for­tu­nate hon­our be­longs to ci­garette butts, which are so com­mon as to be con­sid­ered ubiq­ui­tous. But plas­tics have a per­ma­nence that other trash does not.

In the ocean, it trav­els to dif­fer­ent shores and gets bro­ken up into smaller and smaller pieces, but it lives on.

Plas­tics we throw into the sea find their way onto our beaches, and, as re­cent ex­pe­ri­ences with shot­gun shells and other iden­ti­fi­able plas­tic waste have shown, cross the ocean to Scot­land. Mi­croplas­tics — tiny, tiny beads of bro­ken up plas­tics — are find­ing their way into the tis­sues of marine life, mean­ing that we may well be eat­ing them, buried deep in our lat­est tasty seafood plat­ter.

But if you re­ally want to think about the abuse (and waste) we heap onto and into our oceans, think for a mo­ment about Hen­der­son Is­land, anun­in­hab­ited is­land in the south­ern Pa­cific Ocean.

For the most part, the 3,700-hectare is­land is un­touched by hu­mans. It’s a UNESCO World Her­itage Site for that rea­son.

Un­touched, ex­cept on its beaches; re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia and the United King­dom’s Royal So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Birds did a beach sur­vey on part of the is­land, and now es­ti­mate that, de­spite its lack of hu­man habi­ta­tion, hu­man waste — plas­tic waste — to­tals 38 mil­lion in­di­vid­ual pieces of trash. Her­mit crabs nest in it. Beaches are strewn with it. Thir­teen thou­sand pieces a day wash up on its shores, adding to the mess every hour.

It doesn’t seem to be as densely con­cen­trated in this prov­ince, but if you fol­low a river in this prov­ince to the sea, and then start fol­low­ing a beach that’s hard to reach and may not have seen an­other per­son’s foot­steps for years, you’ll find plenty of peo­ple’s waste.

Flip-flops, sneak­ers, bleach bot­tles, plas­tic bags — shot­gun shells, al­ways. Plas­tic fish­ing gear — plas­tic pop bot­tles. Items that have been dis­carded for so long that they are bleached on the side that faces the sun.

Then stop for a mo­ment and con­sider where you are stand­ing, and that, per­haps, if you’re lucky, you’re look­ing along a kilo­me­tre or two of coast­line, every scrap of it with plas­tic in view.

And then con­sider that this prov­ince alone has 17,542 kilo­me­tres of coast­line.

Just imag­ine how much waste there is.

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