Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not In My Back Yard, or "Who Cares, Part II"

You may recall a "lucky" encounter I had with rock snot a month ago. It set the stage for talking about why this all matters. Litter at the beach, trash bobbing in the ocean -- so what? Why should someone care?

As it happens, the deeper I dig, the more reasons I find to care.

"Who Cares, Part I" dealt with plastics as a carrier of invasive life forms that can devastate distant and isolated ecosystems. But that's just it -- too often it seems that marine debris is a problem "over there," somehow other, distant, unrelated to our day-to-day lives.

It's not. That's just a different strain of "NIMBY"ism. Instead of I don't want that so close to me, it's There's no way that's so close to me.

I get it. I mean, it's easy to see pictures from Indonesia or India and think that floating garbage is only a scourge of the developing world. It's a bit harder when you see it in:
Gutters in New York
A quick test-dredge of the Charles River, Boston
Rivers in Missouri
Baltimore Harbor
Beaches in San Diego
Sea floors off of Santa Barbara, CA
Seabird bellies on the paradise of Midway
The industrialized world -- our world -- is awash in persistent waste. It all wants to get to the ocean. The bits that don't make it all the way instead foul our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, swimming holes, fishing holes, reservoirs, hatcheries, town docks, riverwalks, landscapes. The bits that do make it swirl in gyres and eddys for years, or decades, until finding their way into marine life or back onto our shores.

There may be places where you can still walk the beach and overlook it or pretend not to see it. But as I've found, it's there. More of it washes up each week. And it's only getting worse.

There is no technology for pulling plastic out of lake, river, or sea without destroying the ecosystem. You can't filter plastic -- especially the little photodegraded microplastics -- from plankton. If you pull up the plankton, you remove the base of the food web, and you kill the sea. What's swirling out there, and washing up, is going to keep doing it. In our lifetime, and our children's, and their children's.

"Not In My Back Yard"? Check again.


  1. Harry -

    Glad you mentioned that you can't get themicro-plastics out without killing the marine food web. and - i love this sentance
    "As it happens, the deeper I dig, the more reasons I find to care."

    me too - thanks for what you do

  2. :) That's the one that really got to me. That once the plastics are out there, there's nothing anyone knows how to do to get rid of it. Scary!

    I met a guy with his dog on the beach this morning. He knew a bit about the Pacific Garbage Patch, and he's seen all the litter even along the quiet side streets during his morning walks. I think it made his day to see someone out there picking stuff up. Made my day too to talk to him.

    Little things, right?