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2050 Brings More Plastic Than Fish In The Sea

Special To Topanga Journal

A few steps out the door of most of us who live here near the coast we see the rolling waves crashing on the shore. With it they bring mist in the air and evening clouds that weave into the mountain canyons. The air fills with the smell of sea salt. The beach fills with water that washes back, and we see the reflection of the sunset on the sand. In 2050 that could all change.

Kriss Perras, Publisher & Editor Malibu Arts Journal

By Kriss Perras

If we as a human race keep polluting at our current rate, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by the year 2050, according to a recent study by the UN. This study was a 30 year venture collected by deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. Plastic pollution is emerging as one of the most serious threats to ocean ecosystems. In this study it was found off the California coast single use plastic bags were the dominant plastic debris.

 

On average a plastic bag is used for 20 minutes but takes more than 400 years to break down in the landfill. To put that in perspective, in 2015 we produced 322 million tons of plastic. A recent study found we use approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil just in the production of plastic water bottles, which take approximately 450 years to biodegrade, but some take 1000 years. Plastic bottles made with Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) will never biodegrade.

“If we as a human race keep polluting at our current rate, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by the year 2050.”

If we as a human race keep polluting at our current rate, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by the year 2050, according to a recent study by the UN. This study was a 30 year venture collected by deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. Plastic pollution is emerging as one of the most serious threats to ocean ecosystems. In this study it was found off the California coast single use plastic bags were the dominant plastic debris.

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On average a plastic bag is used for 20 minutes but takes more than 400 years to break down in the landfill. To put that in perspective, in 2015 we produced 322 million tons of plastic. A recent study found we use approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil just in the production of plastic water bottles, which take approximately 450 years to biodegrade, but some take 1000 years. Plastic bottles made with Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) will never biodegrade.

 

PET is a ubiquitous material in the modern world. It is used in drinking bottles, film, fabrics, food containers, thermoforming applications and glass fibre for engineering resins. It goes by the brand names Dacron, Terylene and Lavsan — most commonly known as polyester. PET can be divided into three major uses: fiber, bottles and industrial uses.

 

Plastic bottles account for 30 percent and synthetic fibers 60 percent of PET global demand, according to a study titled, the Study on Preparation Process and Properties of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) by Applied Mechanics And Materials.

 

“Plastic pollutants are turning up in everything from endangered wildlife to municipal water supplies and we, as users, of plastic must come up with solutions,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network.

 

This plastic debris could also be a significant driver of climate change involving a tiny, bioluminescent fish living hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface, according Algalita Marine Research and Education. These bioluminescent fish, or Lanternfish (aka myctophidae), are central to the overall carbon sequestration process. By day, they stay hidden deep at the bottom of the ocean at about 1000 feet down. They have numerous light organs on their head, underside and tail base. The bioluminescence is the same process used by fireflies. They are only about one to six inches long and make up about 65 percent of the deep sea biomass.

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At night, Lanternfish approach the surface and gorge themselves on carbon-rich plankton. They descend back to the bottom and poop out all the carbon they just collected at the surface, deposited there by mankind. Plastic debris resembles plankton. Lanternfish eat plastic along with the plankton. This harms the Lantern fish, and other marine life that eat the Lanternfish, and disrupts the carbon sequestration process and consequently the climate.

 

“Carbon sequestration by lanternfish is central to the overall role of marine environments in reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere – by an estimated 20-35 percent,” according to Sara Steve Mosko, at Algalita Marine Research and Education.

 

Plastic pollution moves around the ocean by wind and surface currents and converges in places like the gyres. In a study conducted by the Institute of Environmental Protection And Research, it was found that even though previously this was not the case, in the Mediterranean Sea, plastic accumulation is now of the same order of magnitude as that of the North Pacific Gyre, one of the most impacted areas of the world. Deep sea pollution was previously perceived as being less dependent on land-based human activities. Yet prior studies reported plastic debris were often observed in the deep sea, particularly in areas close to highly population zones such as the Mediterranean Sea.

 

“Potential threats of plastic pollution to the biodiversity of deep-sea ecosystems, which are highly endemic and have a very slow growth rate, are concerning,” stated E. Ramirez-Llodra in her research on marine and the deep ocean with the ChEss Scientific Steering Committee.

 

Lanternfish are prey of large pelagic fish. They are are an important part of the food chain. Ingestion of plastic by Lanternfish also represents its transference throughout the food chain and eventually to humans. The estimated weight of plastic debris consumed annually by Lanternfish in the North Pacific gyre alone is as much as 24,000 tons, according to the Researchers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. This is an area about 1000 miles off the coast of California. Add to this a decline in plankton by 75 percent since the 1970’s off the Southern California coast, and marine life is in trouble.

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Today nearly everything we hold in our hands or wear contains plastic. Large scale production and use only dates back to 1950 though. A recent study of all plastics ever made found the majority of plastics since the 1950 are in the landfill or litter. Less than 10 percent have been recycled. This sweeping large-scale study tracked all plastic manufacture globally. That number is astounding: 8.3 billion metric tons, 30 percent of which are still in use. Of the remaining 6.3 billion metric tons of plastics that have ended their useful lives, an estimated 12 percent were incinerated, stated the study. Nearly 80 percent are in landfills or are litter. It also found half of all plastic that ever existed was produced in the past 13 years.

 

The Malibu City Council recently voted to prohibit the sale, distribution and use of plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery within the City to protect the environment from plastic pollution.

 

“Malibu is a leader in environmental protections, and we’ve made great progress in addressing plastic pollution, including bans on plastic bags, plastic sandbags, and polystyrene foam,” said Mayor Rick Mullen. “We are now adding plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery to the list of plastic pollution that we will stop at the source so it doesn’t reach our beaches and the open ocean. The ocean, beaches and natural surroundings are a central part of life in Malibu, and we are absolutely committed to keeping them clean for ourselves, our children and their children in the future.”

 

The ordinance is part of the City’s campaign to eliminate the single use plastic items to reduce plastic pollution that has become pervasive and devastating to the environment. 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded every day in the United States.That’s an average of 1.6 straws per person in the US per day. Based on this national average, each person will use approximately 38,000 or more straws between the ages of 5 and 65. In California, the annual Coastal Cleanup Day has tracked the amount of trash collected since 1992. The study concluded plastic straws and stirrers are the sixth most common item collected. Plastic cutlery is the fifth most common item collected. These plastic items never biodegrade.

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Those concerned with beating plastic pollution have come up with the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution as the theme for World Environment Day 2018. The founder of Earth Day is asking supporter to make a pledge to end plastic pollution. Both huge platforms are making a big push to build awareness of how these small particles in the ocean and the plastic in the landfill are creating a large problem for the environment and climate change and your human body.

 

Earth Day
https://www.earthday.org

World Environment Day

https://www.unenvironment.org/events/un-environment-event/world-environment-day-2018

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Publisher & Editor at | 424-388-8323 | daylightsymphony@gmail.com | + posts

Kriss Perras owns Ruptured Media where she publishes Topanga Journal. Ruptured Media is also a story development company.


Kriss built the Topanga Journal from the ground up. She earned the magazine digital distribution through iTunes, Amazon and Magzter. She is also a member of the national honor society Who's Who In American Universities And Colleges.

*Photo by Alan Weissman 2017

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