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After enlisting scientists such as Steven B. Weisberg, Ph.D. (executive director of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project and an expert in marine environmental monitoring), to develop methods for analyzing the gyre’s contents, Moore has sailed Alguita back to the Garbage Patch several times. On each trip, the volume of plastic has grown alarmingly. The area in which it accumulates is now twice the size of Texas.
photo of deformed sea turtle
At the same time, all over the globe, there are signs that plastic pollution is doing more than blighting the scenery; it is also making its way into the food chain. Some of the most obvious victims are the dead seabirds that have been washing ashore in startling numbers, their bodies packed with plastic: things like bottle caps, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, and colored scraps that, to a foraging bird, resemble baitfish. (One animal dissected by Dutch researchers contained 1,603 pieces of plastic.) And the birds aren’t alone. All sea creatures are threatened by floating plastic, from whales down to zooplankton. There’s a basic moral horror in seeing the pictures: a sea turtle with a plastic band strangling its shell into an hourglass shape; a humpback towing plastic nets that cut into its flesh and make it impossible for the animal to hunt. More than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and countless fish die in the North Pacific each year, either from mistakenly eating this junk or from being ensnared in it and drowning.
Bad enough. But Moore soon learned that the big, tentacled balls of trash were only the most visible signs of the problem; others were far less obvious, and far more evil. Dragging a fine-meshed net known as a manta trawl, he discovered minuscule pieces of plastic, some barely visible to the eye, swirling like fish food throughout the water. He and his researchers parsed, measured, and sorted their samples and arrived at the following conclusion: By weight, this swath of sea contains six times as much plastic as it does plankton.
Plastic bags have a life span of 50 to 100 years, he explains; this means the bags can clog the soil for up to a century, taking a severe toll on plant life.
"Non-degradable plastic bags contribute to the desertification of our country without people being aware of it. These plastic bags stifle the soil and make it unfavourable for all plant growth," Kourayo says.
Of a dump site that was opened by the mayor next to a reforested area in Walia, at the southern exit of N'Djamena, he notes: "These trees will die, for certain.
They will die because the waste thrown into the dump is mostly made up of these non-degradable plastic bags."
In the face of public outrage over pictures of dolphins choking on “a family’s trusted companion,” the American Plastics Council takes a defensive stance, sounding not unlike the NRA: Plastics don’t pollute, people do.
It has a point. Each of us tosses about 185 pounds of plastic per year. We could certainly reduce that.
“If you could fast-forward 10,000 years and do an archaeological dig…you’d find a little line of plastic,” he told The Seattle Times last April. “What happened to those people? Well, they ate their own plastic and disrupted their genetic structure and weren’t able to reproduce. They didn’t last very long because they killed themselves."
My world, my Earth, is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite, nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first. There are no forests left on my earth. The air is grey, the sky is grey, it is always hot. It is habitable, it is still habitable - but not as this world is. This is a living world, a harmony. Mine is a discord. You Odonians chose a desert; we Terrans made a desert... We survive there, as you do. People are tough! There are nearly a half billion of us now. Once there were nine billion. You can see the old cities still everywhere. The bones and bricks go to dust, but the little pieces of plastic never do -they never adapt either. We failed as a species, as a social species.