The Pacific Ocean covers 28% of our planet’s surface and is quickly becoming a landfill for plastic waste. The news reports daily on gyres of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean, the largest one it is reported to be the size Mexico. That is 10% of the ocean is covered in floating flotsam of plastic waste. I am sure that Longfellow when he was opining about the wreck of the Hesperus, could not have fathomed this scale devastation.
Humans’ desire to conceal waste is nothing new, an out of sight, out mind mentality is common in a consumer society. Buy something, unpackage it, and throw it away. Disposable to the consumer, but a long-term problem for the environment. Plastic waste if not disposed of responsibly or recycled in a sustainable way is headed to one of two places the landfill or the ocean. It is up to the consumer to make demands on companies and manufacturers to limit the amount of plastic packaging they use and push them to find alternative packaging that is environmentally friendly and easily degradable.
To describe the Pacific Ocean before the introduction of plastic, one must posit a baseline that measures marine life (health and population), air and water quality water levels, Ph levels, rain in the Midwest, polar cap size, coral reef health, natural disasters, extreme weather, et al. Ideally this baseline would start before humans, but that is unrealistic. If we go back to the Lewis and Clark expedition at the time that they reached the Pacific, they most likely encountered an ocean that was pristine (as it was before mass plastic consumption). They also would have witnessed the Chinook Tribe fishing salmon in abundance. Randy Olson, of the LA Times, in his article Slow-Motion Disaster Below the Waves states “the number of salmon in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River today is twice what it was in the 1930s…but salmon in the Columbia River in the 1930s were only 10% of what they were in the 1800s.” As early as the late 1980s salmon were reported as a threatened species, this endangerment was caused by overfishing, but samplings in 1999 reported that “four-fifths of the females spawning there apparently began life as males.” Hanford (Nuclear facilities up the river) was ruled out as a cause for this and researchers theorized that the sex reversal as caused by “environmental contaminants that mimic hormones or water temperature changes.” Specifically, BPA is the most likely the culprit for this adaptation, as it is almost all plastics manufactured and know for this type of sex reversal in species. What does that mean for humans? Well, “Studies are now exploring implications for human health because microplastics absorb toxins which are moving up the food chain and into fish that we consume.”
We live on the water planet, it is our heritage as life on Earth, our future as humans is linked to its survival. Humans should be doing all they can to make sure that the earth is taken care of, because if there is no earth or the climate is inhospitable to humans there will be no life on earth (well, maybe arthopods). We must protect natural resources and slow our consumption of non-degradable resources. I see this as more of an ethical issue, than an ecological issue. It is important to remember that no matter what humans do, the earth will remain, and it is mankind that will suffer the ultimate consequence of not responding to climate change or an over exploitation of resources. Life on earth as humans is codependent on its ecology.
Non Sequitur – One instance where natural ecology should be sacrificed for human needs, would be if a mountain lion, bear or cougar (predator animal) was killing livestock and threatening human life, provided that the predator was not endangered, it would be ok to trap and kill the animal as long it truly is deemed a public risk.