August 15, 2014

In Honor of Shark Week, Let’s Save the Sea!

All week we’ve enjoyed learning about sharks and their habits in the ocean. By this point we’ve all probably realized how much of the ocean we really don’t know much about, I know I have! There is one giant in the ocean that they haven’t talked about during Shark Week. See if you can guess what it is: it weighs over 3.5 million tons, is twice the size of Texas and is only 9 feet tall. Give up?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The beast was discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, a marine researcher from California who believes that the patch existed since 1988. Today, it is now the largest garbage patch in the world. A garbage patch is a collection of trash that forms due to currents, known as a ‘gyre’, that carry it all to the same area where the ocean is calm and stable. Without movement from the waves, the plastic does not break down as easily. There are plastic pieces from items such as bottles, caps and lighters. There are plastic bags, aluminum cans and even medical waste!

You might wonder how such waste gets all the way out there in the ocean. Litter either gets caught in the wind or down in the sewer or just gets dumped straight into the waterways. Scientist estimate that it takes five years for waste to reach the ocean but once there the currents move it along and add it to the collection.

Plastics, toxic waste and straight up garbage have no place being in the oceans. Birds and fish find the plastic pieces, which now outnumber plankton (a staple in the diet of animals such as whales, fish and clams) six to one, and mistake them for food. This adds plastic to the food chain, if it doesn’t kill the fish and birds it could be dangerous to the larger animals that feed on seabirds and fish. Scientists at the Scripps Institution for Oceanography in California estimate that almost 10% of fish have consumed plastic. This is not only a problem for animals but for us too!

Obviously this is a huge problem damaging the largest ecosystem in the world and resources that animals and people alike depend on. The good news is that we can help and other organizations have been working hard to decrease the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as well!

Don’t Litter! We tell our kids all the time to throw things away in the garbage and somehow it gets lost in translation as we get order. One tip is to make sure that on garbage day everything is getting into the truck and not on the streets. You can help by not overflowing your garbage bin.

Bring on the Bins: Encourage your city or town to add more garbage and recycling bins in public areas. Often people will tire of carrying their empty bag or cup and just want to get rid of it. When there is no bin close by, they resort to leaving it at the curb, bus stop or just on the ground. This will not only reduce litter on the ground and in the water ways, but will help beautify the neighborhoods and improve water quality.

Less is More: Simply by reducing use of plastic single-use water bottles, coffee cups and plastic bags can reduce what ends up in the oceans. Choose BPA free reusable water bottles or coffee cups that you can hand wash and continue to reuse. BPA stands for bisphenol A and is known to seep into food or beverages cause major health problems. Many bottles, household electronics, and other plastic materials have switched to BPA free materials. Try bringing your own canvas bags to the store when you go- I usually leave at least two bags in the car for unplanned stops. Many cafes and shops will give you discounts for bringing in your own cup or bags.

Conscious Consumer: Read the labels carefully on your body wash. Although several states are phasing out these products, many companies use tiny plastic pieces as exfoliates in body washes. These go right down the drain and into the waterways. Instead look for scrubs with natural exfoliates such as oatmeal or sand.

Support the Cause: Several groups, schools and organizations started their own clean-up crews that work on beaches, river fronts and parks. These are great ways for children and families to get involved. Find a group near you and start helping your favorite shark from  Shark Week!