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Trashing the ocean

I'd like to tell you this comes from Pixar's soon-to-be-released prequel to Wall-E. Instead, it's in the New York Times:

Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas. But one research organization estimates that the garbage now actually pervades the Pacific, though most of it is caught in what oceanographers call a gyre like this one — an area of heavy currents and slack winds that keep the trash swirling in a giant whirlpool.

The pictures are really disturbing.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 10, 2009; 1:20 PM ET
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I heard about these mid-pacific trash heaps years ago, and ever since I've wondered why the POTUS doesn't just send a fleet of chartered fishing trawlers out there and skim all that crap up and bring it back to land for a decent burial or conversion to something (burn for electricity, etc.). This can't take a lot of money, and even if it weren't dangerous to sea life, it would be supergood PR.

And, if POTUS is disinterested, why not some NGOs raising funds to do the cleanup?

Lots of things make me angry about the environment and public policy, but this is simply outrageous.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | November 10, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

This is all true. it's been written up in the wrst coast press and on TV.

Say what you will, but plastic bottles are worse than eating meat. We now buy no drinks sold in plastic, use metal reusable water bottles and try strenuously to avoid plastic wrappings. We recycle what we do get. Again, plastic bottles are worse than eating (sustainably raised) meat.

Posted by: Mimikatz | November 10, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I have to say these photos aren't as disturbing as they could be. If anything it makes the situation look better than it is, with discarded barrels providing "habitat" for sea creatures, and with most of the garbage consisting of styrofoam, ropes, netting, and other maritime debris as opposed to land-based trash. Don't get me wrong: it's still bad, but if anything these images downplay the problem.

The photos that have been going around, of dead baby seabirds with stomachs full of plastic, are much more effective at raising the alarm. I'm already avoiding plastic bottles, but those are good motivation to keep up the effort.

Posted by: csdiego | November 10, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Even more disturbing, I think, are the photos of dead albatross chicks on Midway Atoll:

"skim all that crap up and bring it back to land"

Note the "twice the size of Texas" thing. And the problem is that skimming won't address the problem of microfragmented plastic that leaches chemicals into the stuff at the bottom of the foot chain. That's the unintended consequence of less than a century of plastics.

There are now cleanup squads on threatened habitats like Midway, but that's about the limit of what can be done.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | November 10, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

i wonder which lucky satellite or planet will be designated as the next toxic waste dump.
do we want frozen toxic garbage, or melted toxic garbage?
i guess it wont be on the moon, since we are staging explosions there for in search of water.
waste management (WM-nyse) is trading at about thirty dollars or so....probably a good idea to get in on the ground floor, before they start their interplanetary toxic waste shuttle.
or maybe we can latch all of our garbage onto a comet tail.

Posted by: jkaren | November 10, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

This is a dainty nostril pimple compared to the full-body buboes of overfishing.

Posted by: wcwhiner | November 10, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the pictures aren't as bad as I thought they'd be. Horrible, sure, but I was expecting satellite pictures of this big swirling mass of garbage. Again, I don't doubt that the problem is huge and real, but I expected more scary pictures than that.

Posted by: MosBen | November 10, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

--"The pictures are really disturbing."--


Not. However, it does seem to me that the ocean is dirtier than it was when I was a wee lad. And I'm sure those floating masses of plastic and stuff are impressive.

One can savor the pleasure closer to home, of course. Embark upon any river or lake in the country, bordered by homes or business, or otherwise frequented by the masses, and you'll find endless miles of trash to tantalize your every thought.

And then there is all the stuff that sinks. I always wondered what the bottom of the Ohio River looks like. The Hudson would be interesting, too. And the Potomac... well, we know what garbage lines the banks of the Potomac.

Posted by: msoja | November 10, 2009 8:14 PM | Report abuse

those picture are pretty light weight.

Posted by: davidremington | November 10, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

"However, it does seem to me that the ocean is dirtier than it was when I was a wee lad. And I'm sure those floating masses of plastic and stuff are impressive."

And soggy proves once more that behind every Randroid sloganeer there's a selfish, spiteful little boy.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | November 10, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

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