We go to the beach to see its natural beauty. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll see a dolphin flopping off in the distance, or a whale exploding plumes of vapor above the surface near the horizon. We never go to the beach to see trash — and yet it’s always there. Obviously, the garbage is full of stuff people don’t want, like old toothbrushes, flossers, cigarette lighters, shopping bags, popped balloons — I could go on an on. As you know, most of this junk is made of plastic.
Most of the disposable plastic can’t get recycled, it just sits in landfills releasing toxics. Tons of it journeys down our waterways, into the depths of the oceans or pushed onto the beaches — and most sadly, stuck in the bodies of just about everything that lives on our planet.
Join me exclusively on MNN, as I reflect about the impact that human behavior has on our fellow Earthlings. As you can tell, this piece is about the immense problem that’s bleeding into our oceans: disposable plastic.
Let’s take a quick trip to Midway Atoll, which is located between North America and Asia — in other words, an island in the middle of nowhere. Just a few dozen people live there, and yet the tiny patch of land is completely littered with human-produced garbage.
The garbage that’s strewn about is not new — it takes quite a long time to reach Midway via the ocean currents. While the plastic is floating around in the ocean, it accumulates algae particles on it which confuses seabirds, like the laysan albatross, into thinking the plastic is food. For instance, small lighters are often confused for squid bodies.
During the breeding season, the beach is littered with lifeless fluffy feathers that once contained albatross chicks but now are just piles of bones and plastic parts. We are learning that even items believed to be “disposable” are actually immortal.
It’s not just seabirds that feel the burn from plastics invading their environment. All kinds of animals wind up either eating plastic or getting entangled.
Since we humans are causing these problems, we need to find solutions. The animals can’t. They have evolved to thrive in their environments. Disposable plastic is less than a century old, they don’t have time to adapt — even though I wish they would try!
Well, some animals do try, like these hermit crabs.
If you’re feeling powerless from this suffocating tidal wave of garbage, there are some things you can do. Before the planet gets zip-locked in an airless vacuum filled with hormone disruptors (unpronounceably called phthalates) — we can refuse much of this stuff. We need to be pickier, and let those around know it too. We need to act like this albatross chick:
And tell our own chicks (-er children) about it. We humans need to change our behavior before every trip to the beach winds up like this: