sunnuntai 31. elokuuta 2014

Ban the plastics

The plastic litter is filling vast amounts of oceans - ending up in the fish and unto our own plates. There are several swirls of broken pieces of plastic in our oceans. The biggest is at the Pacific.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch at Wikipedia

The estimates vary from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi). Trying to put the size into context; they say it is the size of Texas OR the size of Europe OR twice the size of the continental United States. The plastic has ground into tiny pieces and mostly floats underneath the surface, making it very difficult to detect.

I had the privilege of attending a Marine Research Camp at Baltic. The camp was arranged by WWF, Metsähallituksen Luontopalvelut ja Suomen ympäristökeskus Syke - World Wildlife Fund Finland, Finnish Governmental Department of Forestry and Finnish Environment Institute.

The aim of the camp was to find out if some Marine Research could be done with the help of citizens or is there always the need for professionals. We got the chance to take samples from the bottom of the Baltic, examine if there is life in the mud that lies in 30 metres, whether there are Invasive Alien Species/ Non-native Species at this area, how clear is the water, if there is bad algae and if the good algae is thriving.

One of the groups collected debris from the shores and analyzed it. Our group was working on litter on Monday and we had a chance to visit an island that is forbidden from people due to rare bird species nesting there. "Well, there won't be much rubbish there." I thought to myself, since we were in a National Park, on the outer islands of Finland.

Boy I was wrong. We measured a plot of 10 metres x 100 metres of a small beach and then tooked the coordinates down. The place looked really nice. That was until we started the collecting of rubbish. We collected everything from that area and marked down exactly what it was and what material.

In a bit over 2 hours our team of four collected about 500 litres of rubbish from that beach. We came across bottles, a bicycle seat, shoes, plastic glasses etc. The oldest thing I recognized was a bottle cap from the 1970´s. And the amount of plastic! It was unbelievable. This little island that has no visitors got ridiculous amounts of plastic washed up to the shores.

This is a pic of me at the beach. Photo by Anu Akkanen.

The problem is that plastic collects hard toxics and then the fish eat it. The toxics enrich on their way in the food chain and finally people eat it. The other problem is that wildlife eats it accidentally, mistaking the litter for food. This causes choking and death or slowly starving to death because the "food" does not digest. And of course animals can get entangled into the plastic rings or bags.

Well - of course we should solve the problem and take the plastic out of the oceans. But there is yet no real means to do it. The plastic is spread to such large areas and it has been grinding to tiny pieces that are very hard to collect.

One way is prevention. Let's keep the plastic out of the oceans. The plastic bags, cups and stuff like that are obvious. Tossing rubbish out of the car window just takes the wrappers onto a flight to the oceans. One cup breaks up into tremendous amount of tiny pieces that are impossible to find from the sea.

Tiny pieces are the most difficult; micro plastics can be found in the cosmetics or stuff like some polyester clothes. Every time I wash the cute and fluffy warm shirt I got, I accidentally wash away a lot of tiny plastic particles away.

Our groups collected in five days about 25 x 200 litres heavy duty carbage bags full of different garbage, mostly plastic and it was then recycled.

The one day work we did on that small island was rewarded greatly. As we were eating lunch, suddenly there appeared a round head in the sea just a few metres from us. A seal had swam up to us, probably thinking of sunbathing on the smooth rock. Never seen a wild one so close and the wow-factor was way up.

Yeah I did feel good and bad. I felt great for collecting at least a tiny bit of the rubbish away so this seal and the fishes would not have to suffer from it. And very sad, because there just is so much of it and our effort massed up into what can truly be called a drop in the ocean.

Next time when going into store, I will definitely bring my canvas bags and I will get my veggies without the flimsy plastic bags. What else?

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