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Synthetic Sea:
Plastic in the Ocean 

Algalita Marine Research Foundation video Transcript 2001

[View and purchase video at www.algalita.org/videos.html]


...for every 6 pounds of plastic that we got, there was only one pound of zooplankton.
- Captain Charles Moore

The following was transcribed by Paul Goettlich/Mindfully.org
from the video Plastic in the Open Ocean

Here in the open ocean, graceful dolphins glide beneath the surface in pursuit of fish, their primary food. The fish in turn feed on minute, prolific creatures called zooplankton. These days, zooplankton share the surface waters with increasing numbers of minute plastic particles, posing a problem, since birds and fish are now consuming plastic in addition to plankton.

Photo of dead bird with colored plastic debris visible in its decomposing open stomach.

Since petroleum based products are nonbiodegradable, any plastic entering the ocean remains there, continually breaking into ever-smaller pieces until it becomes ingested or is deposited on some distant shore.

Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, is conducting experiments to better understand the threat posed by this global environmental catastrophe.

Captain Charles Moore:
As captain of the Algalita oceanographic research vessel, I’ve traveled to many remote areas of the Pacific Ocean. And in my travels I’ve been alarmed at the increase in the amount of trash – plastic debris – on the beaches I visit. My sentiment was that the ocean is filling up with trash. To try to get a handle on the quantity of trash in the ocean we devised a series of experiments, using a manta troll and our technique of comparing the mass of zooplankton to the mass of plastic fragments."

We traveled over 100 km at random lengths [in the North Pacific Gyre]. Then came back to the [the Science Education Adventure Laboratory (SEA) in Redondo Beach, CA,] and analyzed our samples. We compared the weight of the plastic pieces we accumulated in these trawls to the weight of the zooplankton that we accumulated."

Plastic resin pellets, “nurdles’” absorb and bioconcentrate toxins such as PCB and DDE up to 1,000,000 times their levels in ambient sea water. 

The American people produce 100 billion pounds of small plastic pellets each year. This stuff never goes away. The environment is filling up with it. Plastic toys don't last very long, do they? Not as usable toys they don't, but as bits and pieces of plastic junk, they do. Not all this plastic makes it to landfills; indeed not all the raw material even makes it to manufacturing plants. The most common contaminant on Orange County Beaches is preproduction plastic pellets.

Most people find it highly distressing to learn that for every 6 pounds of plastic that we got, there was only one pound of zooplankton. In other words, there’s six times more plastic by weight in this area than there is naturally occurring plankton. However, the Central Pacific, being a gyre, it does accumulate.  The high concentrations we found are likely to be at their greatest in the center of the Central Pacific Gyre.

The alarming thing we found was that practically every place we sampled had these plastic fragments in it. No place was free of this plastic fragment pollution.

Plastic is a transport medium for toxic pollutants. Some Japanese scientists (Mato, Isobe, Takada, Kahnehiro, Ohtake, and Kaminuma. Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium for Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment Environ. Sci. Technol. 2001, 35, 318-324) just released a study indicating that plastic pellets -- “nurdles”: pre-production plastics – the manufactured way that plastics are shipped to end-use manufacturers, are accumulators of hydrophobic pollutants – things like DDE and PCB. These can be up to one million times more concentrated on the surface of these pellets than they are in the ambient sea water, based on this latest research.


The video is available for purchase from:
Algalita Marine Research Foundation


More on plastic in the ocean

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