Element - - Cover Story -

It is a de­press­ing fact of mod­ern times that gyres, ar­eas of water way out in our oceans, where the cur­rents spi­ral around a cen­tral point, have ac­cu­mu­lated huge amounts of the rub­bish. Most of it is plas­tic, bro­ken down into par­ti­cles so small they are in­vis­i­ble to the naked eye.

The sailor Charles Moore first wit­nessed the scale of the prob­lem in 1997. While re­turn­ing home from a race and no­ticed enor­mous amounts of float­ing rub­bish in the North Pa­cific Gyre. Two se­verely pol­luted ar­eas have since been iden­ti­fied in the East­ern Pa­cific be­tween Hawaii and Cal­i­for­nia and the Western Pa­cific off the coast of Ja­pan. Sim­i­larly se­vere prob­lems have been ob­served in the North At­lantic, and less dense ac­cu­mu­la­tions are also build­ing up in var­i­ous ocean ar­eas around

the globe. The re­sults are dev­as­tat­ing. A wide va­ri­ety of ocean an­i­mals swal­low the plas­tics or be­come tan­gled up in the larger pieces. Some choke or are stran­gled; oth­ers are slowly poi­soned by the chem­i­cals leach­ing from the plas­tic, or its ef­fect on their me­tab­o­lism. The en­tire ma­rine food chain is now af­fected, across huge ar­eas of our oceans. And there is no way we can re­move this mess. Sift­ing vast ar­eas of ocean of bil­lions of tiny par­ti­cles of plas­tic with­out hoover­ing up the huge va­ri­ety of ocean wildlife, from the mi­cro­scopic to the mas­sive, would be im­pos­si­bly ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult.

And Cam­den Howitt from our own Sus­tain­able Coast­lines says this prob­lem is on a beach near you: “Plas­tic pol­lu­tion is a global ill­ness and New Zealand’s seas are look­ing sick. Of the 108 tonnes of rub­bish we have re­moved from beaches in the past three years, the vast ma­jor­ity is made of plas­tic and has only been used once. Food wrap­pers, foam pack­ag­ing,

plas­tic bags and drink bot­tle caps are the main of­fend­ers: all sin­gle-use, dis­pos­able plas­tic prod­ucts.

“These prod­ucts can have dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on ma­rine life. We have wit­nessed colonies of Black Backed Gulls nest­ing amongst piles of rub­bish on Auck­land’s Ran­gi­toto Is­land. We’ve seen Pied Shags wrapped in plas­tic in the Bay of Plenty. We’ve found a Lit­tle Blue Pen­guin stran­gled by a plas­tic bot­tle ring on Aotea/great Bar­rier Is­land, and tur­tles have washed up dead in the Hau­raki Gulf with plas­tic in their guts.” So what can we do? Howitt says: “We can all look af­ter our coast­lines by dis­pos­ing of our lit­ter care­fully, whether we are at the beach or on the street. Choos­ing to buy less dis­pos­able, sin­gle-use plas­tic prod­ucts helps too.”

To find out more, or join a beach clean up, go to: sus­tain­able­coast­lines.org

Right: The con­tents of a Queen Street drain. Cam­den Howitt

from our own Sus­tain­able Coast­lines says:“the ocean is down­stream from ev­ery­where. Just as all rivers flow to the sea, so too does the water on our streets. When it rains, lit­ter gets washed

into drains, rivers and wa­ter­ways, flow­ing to the sea.”

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