Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Midway Atoll Awash in Discarded Plastic

All photos courtesy: © Jaymi Heimbuch and gratefully acknowledged for the amazing shots they are.

There is only one beach on Midway that is clean, and it is the one beach that people are allowed to visit regularly. The residents on Midway do a great job keeping the debris that washes up under some control. The other beaches are habitat for the endangered and threatened species of the atoll who need some space away from humans, so they are cleaned only when clear of animals like Hawaiian monk seals and Green sea turtles. There is time, then, for the sand to become rainbow colored, like in the image above.

One group decided to do a beach clean up on Midway and found out what an uphill battle it really is. Even after hours of cleaning up debris, they saw that each wave brought in more plastic, in pieces so small it is impossible to clear them all off the sand:

I found the video to be extremely haunting and deeply disturbing. What is portrayed on this one small beach is happening worldwide; however, for some reason this video struck a chord with me.

Here are some more of Jaymi's fascinating shots showing how much plastic had washed up on the beach featured in the video just one short month later.

The Midway Journey group states:
In the Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who was cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity.

A beach cleanup on Midway Atoll made us feel just like Sisyphus.

There are millions of tons of plastics present in our oceans, and these are constantly fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces which are scattered throughout the water column and present, in different densities, throughout all the worlds oceans.

Contrary to what many people believe, there are no visible islands of trash anywhere --even if some areas, the gyres, accumulate higher densities of plastic pollution. In actuality, what is happening is much more complex and scary: our oceans are becoming a planetary soup laced with plastic.
Essentially, the plastic is becoming smaller and smaller, and as it is consumed by sea life it is working its way up the food chain. Quite literally, every living thing will soon have pieces of plastic inside it. And what can be done?

Well, next to nothing for what is currently out there. It is already out of our grasp. We don't have the technology or the funds to recapture all the plastic we have let flow into our environment. The only solution is to stop the flow of plastic at the source: us.

It is hard to comprehend the scale of the problem until you stop to comprehend how much plastic you handle in a day. Take a day and focus in on how much plastic you use -- food wrappers, drink straws, bottles for your shampoo or soap, packaging, the casing on gadgets, on and on. Really take a look at how much plastic you deal with and how much of it is thrown away.

Now imagine all of that -- and all the plastic you deal with tomorrow, and the next day, and the next -- all of it here thousands of years from now, existing not only across land and sea, but in the bodies of living organisms. Imagine our bodies like the sand on the beach with rainbow-colored bits coursing through.

It's not a pretty picture. But maybe, just maybe, it will make you think twice about using plastic.

Here is more reading on how to Refuse Disposable Plastic from the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

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