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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 8:51 pm | Fair 51º


Captain’s Log: There’s No Excuse to Turn the Ocean into a Garbage Patch

Education, good habits and community efforts will turn the tide of this trash collection

Deadly marine debris enters our oceans at a rate that sometimes makes me wonder if it will compete with global warming when it comes to rising sea levels. While our share of the responsibility for climate change is a matter hotly contested throughout hallowed halls of science, we don’t have any wriggle room for not owning up to the marine debris problem. It is our dirty secret.

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Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

The nonsecret part of the marine debris problem is from large ships (over 400 tons) that are required to maintain a “Garbage Record Book.” A study published in 1975 by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that 1.4 billion pounds of trash per year enters the ocean from these vessels. There are many more vessels today. But that is only the tip of the “trashberg.” The vast majority is secretive dumping on land (landscape trimmings, homeless camp waste, litter, etc.) that is flushed to sea each winter. More enters the sea via dumping from smaller vessels and from lost or abandoned fishing gear. The list of sources is exhausting and it is our own danged fault. We really must knock this off because we’re killing critters and damaging habitats.

Marine debris is often ingested by animals such as sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds. Items such a lighters and small plastic pieces may look like food to an animal or have an animal’s natural food attached to it. Debris may also be ingested accidentally with actual food items. Exactly how many critters die each year due to marine debris ingestion is not really known, but is being considered and studied.

According to proceedings of a 1984 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association workshop , “Up to 100,000 marine mammals and possibly more die each year.” That is an estimate, and one that I believe is only the tip of the “deathberg.” My suspicion, based upon my decades of seagoing experiences,” is that we are underestimating the loss of life and the potential for life resulting from damage to life-supporting undersea habitat.

Vast volumes of trash accumulate to float on the surface or drift under the surface in a portion of the Pacific Ocean called the “Garbage Patch.” The Subtropical Convergence Zone is a very large known and shifting area of marine debris in the North Pacific generally between 23 degrees North and 37 degrees North. We are creating a monstrous “seafill” of trash and other debris.

How do we stop ourselves? The answer lies in education, creating good habits and in lots of community-spirited cleanup efforts. On SOFTIN trips, we provide education, skill-building and self-esteem building experiences for special needs people and victims of abuse. Many of our passengers are children. We teach them about putting things in the trash and about picking up litter so that it never gets swept to the sea by rains to hurt the critters of the sea. Education makes a difference, one person at a time.

Everyone, no matter how close to, or far from the ocean, can contribute to the solution. It’s simple: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle — 1) Try to Reduce the amount of disposable items you use on a daily basis; 2) When you head to the beach this season or have picnics in the park, make use of items that are Reusable rather then disposable; and 3) When you do use disposable items, try to remember to Recycle. Best of all, join in local community-based cleanup efforts.

Click here for more information on NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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