Ocean garbage: Floating landmines

A new study found 36,000 pieces of debris along our coastline. Experts say it’s just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of a problem that’s growing alongside our demand for disposable goods.

By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun

March 19, 2001

No matter where you travel on the B.C. coast, no matter how remote or seemingly untrammelled and pristine the fiord or inlet, a piece of plastic, Styrofoam or other garbage has been there before you.God knows how it got there: dumped recklessly off a vessel, swept down a river or through a storm drain, blown by the wind off the land, or brought in by the ocean currents flowing across the vast North Pacific — including debris from the Japanese tsunami, which could start arriving on our coast in two years.

What we do know is that marine garbage is ubiquitous and wreaking havoc at every level of the marine environment.

A new B.C. study estimates there are 36,000 pieces of “synthetic marine debris” — garbage the size of fists to fridges — floating around the coastline, from remote inland fiords to 150 kilometres offshore.

Of that, 49 per cent is Styrofoam or similar polystyrene products, 15 per cent plastic bottles, 10.5 per cent plastic bags and 6.3 per cent fishing gear. The rest of the garbage, slightly less than 20 per cent of the total, includes plastic, cardboard, wrappers, buoys, aluminum cans, and so on.

There are heavier concentrations of garbage in some places than in others — Victoria, Langara Island off northern Haida Gwaii, and the Cape Scott area of northern Vancouver Island, for example — perhaps due to ocean currents creating eddies that collect trash.

The study was conducted over three summers aboard the Raincoast Conservation Society’s 21-metre sailboat; visual sightings during line-transect surveys were combined with computer modelling to interpolate results for the entire coast.

The estimates do not include garage on beaches or unseen debris in the water column or ocean bottom.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” confirms Rob Williams, a researcher with the University of B.C. marine mammal research unit and lead author of the study, soon to be published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

To read the rest of the story please vist the Vancovuer Sun at Ocean Garbage: Floating landmines.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Ocean+garbage+Floating+landmines/4460738/story.html#ixzz1HJ2K9vIu

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.