Friday, 28 March 2008

Plastic in the middle of nowhere

Photo by Flickr user angrysunbird. Creative Commons licence.

The plastic waste pictured above was found in the skeleton of an albatross chick which starved to death because its parents fed it too much plastic flotsam. This plastic flotsam fills the stomach, making the chick feel full when it wasn't. The parents collect the flotsam because flying fish lay their eggs on it.

The BBC recently reported on the Midway Islands, which is more or less in the centre of the North Pacific Gyre, clockwise currents in the Pacific also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because of the amount of plastic waste that accumulates there.

The Midway Islands are the home to many endangered species including the Laysan albatross and all are in danger of choking, starving or drowning because of the plastic in the area. It is thought that every single one of the two million albatrosses living there have some plastic inside them.

That story is horrifying enough, but another telling of the toxic threat brings it even closer to home. Researchers have known for a time that plastics in sea water will accumulate toxins such as DDT in concentrations several thousand times greater than in the water itself.

Research on stretches of shoreline has shown that, at the microscopic level, plastic pollution is far worse than feared. The risk is that the toxins may be released when inside any animal which eats the plastic, with the potential of it entering the food chain.

The most worrying thing is the durability of plastic, and the very long term threat it may impose on our own heath as well as that of marine wildlife.

There are some superb photos of albatrosses in flight on A Fish Blog.

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