UW researchers warn tsunami debris not the biggest ocean messon June 5, 2012 @ 12:31 pm (Updated: 2:08 pm - 6/5/12 )
"The tsunami represents a single pulse, every day across a very wide array of sources a similar amount of plastic and marine debris enters the ocean," says Giora Proskurowski, University of Washington research scientist and chemical oceanographer.
He says much of the tsunami debris, such as remnants of homes and boats will eventually dissipate, but plastic persists for decades, ultimately breaking down into tiny pieces that wreak havoc on the environment and marine life alike. It's common to find plastic debris on some of the world's most pristine beaches.
"The same reason we go to beaches from Hawaii to Bermuda is the same reason plastics accumulate in the center of these ocean basins and that's got to do with atmospheric highs that set up low winds and low currents that sort of trap these plastics in the middle of the ocean," he says.
The ocean garbage also has profound impacts on fish, birds and large marine mammals that eat or get caught in debris such as discarded fishing nets. And the researcher says scientists are closely monitoring the effects of plastic on the smallest organisms at the bottom of the food chain.
While the problem is well known to marine experts, there is no simple solution.
"It's hard for people to imagine the scope of the problem. We're talking about millions of square miles in the center of the ocean basin, so it's difficult to get there and it's difficult to do any meaningful clean up once you get there."
Proskurowski says the best solution is prevention.
"What we can do is address the consumption side and the recycling side and the prevention side from ever allowing them to get to the ocean," he says.
There is one upside to all the attention being paid to motorcycles or other unique debris from the tsunami washing up on the West Coast, according to the researcher.
"It increases the awareness that this is one ocean, that we are connected. I think people lose site of it that even if we are thousands of miles away, we are one planet."
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