Earth Day Downer: World’s Oceans Choked With Plastic, “Mermaid’s Tears”

April 25, 2009

(ChattahBox)—This week marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day and we have very little to celebrate. The earth’s oceans are choked and littered with discarded non-biodegradable plastic trash, including millions of small plastic pellets referred to as “mermaid’s tears.” The global consumption of plastic approached 260 million tons this past year and it’s not only an eyesore, but it kills sea life in astonishing numbers. Every year plastic trash is responsible for killing at least one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles.

Every piece of plastic ever produced will still be floating in the ocean thousands of years from now. However, exposure to sunlight causes the polymer chains to photodegrade into smaller pieces and flecks, turning the oceans into plastic soup. In some particularly soupy areas, the confetti like plastic flecks far outnumbers plankton. Whales can’t distinguish the plastic from the plankton and just scoop up the whole hodgepodge.

Of particular concern are the floating mermaid’s tears, or nurdles of raw plastic resin that form the building material of every manufactured plastic product. They are light enough to float in the wind landing in the earth’s oceans. Mermaid’s tears are often found in filter feeders like mussels.

The plastic pellets also absorb poisonous chemicals in the oceans, such as DDT and PCB causing toxins to enter the food chain when marine life ingests the pellets. The next time you eagerly devour a steaming plate of mussels you may be surprised to discover they may be stuffed with plastic pellets containing toxins. Yum!

The largest concentration of mermaid’s tears and tiny particles of plastic are located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre that is now called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Subtropical gyres are areas having a perfect storm of strong ocean currents, high pressure and intense wind, which have a tendency to suck in all the plastic trash from land and sea into its swirling vortex. The gyres make up about 40 percent of the surface of the earth and are soon to be filled with plastic refuse.

The waters of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are now clogged with plastic particles to a depth of 10 meters below the surface. The total weight of the plastic soup there is estimated at three million tons, a startling figure and it’s growing yearly.

So, what’s to be done about this plastic menace polluting our oceans? Should we just give up and let the next generation deal with it? Of course, not there are steps we all can take now to make a difference. Scientists say it can’t be cleaned up, the particles are too small and too many. What we can do is reduce our plastic consumption by not using plastic water bottles and plastic shopping bags. Any plastic we do use should be of the recycled variety.

In honor of Earth Day that was just celebrated on April 22, how about we all buy those cool new cloth shopping bags that are available everywhere now, and do our part to help prevent our oceans turning into a toxic plastic soup.



3 Responses to “Earth Day Downer: World’s Oceans Choked With Plastic, “Mermaid’s Tears””

  1. Topics about Bags » Earth Day Downer: World’s Oceans Choked With Plastic,… on April 25th, 2009 3:26 pm

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  2. Max on April 26th, 2009 3:30 pm

    We agree! Something needs to be done and quick. One solution is recycling. With more than 150 billion bottles being produced annually and with only 20-30 percent being recycled; recycling can’t solve the problem by itself. We needed additional programs that could help. That’s why we developed the ENSO bottle. Our bottles will biodegrade…not degrade, there’s a big difference. Biodegradable bottles break down into biogas, and humus. Degradable bottles break down into small pieces of plastic. We are an environmental company that is trying to do something…it’s not the final answer, but it is a step in the right direction.


  3. Doug Woodring on April 27th, 2009 1:51 pm

    Great piece on the plastic vortex, and big shame on all of us for letting it get created. We are also trying to do something about it, and are planning a mission for this summer, to “raise the red flag” and finally get the world to realize what we have been doing to our seas. Project Kaisei (“ocean planet” in Japanese) will be producing a documentary for National Geographic, testing catch techniques for the waste (we know not all can be caught, but some can for sure), and then use some of the newest plastic technologies to detoxify and turn the waste either into fuel or another useable material. The main goal is to get people to wake up.

    We will also be undertaking science studies for the toxicity of the plastics, and how this is effecting our food chain (in ways that are only just becoming known… and not good ways). We are also now recognized by the United Nations Environment Program.

    Please join us to help… the oceans need all of your help.

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