Coopers Beach - Clean Through Our Efforts

Coopers Beach - Clean Through Our Efforts

When the owners of our house in Coopers Beach came to visit last winter they took a walk on the beach. They remarked on how clean it was. They would have liked to bring some Omanis (they live and work in Oman) to show them how clean a New Zealand beach is. I explained that one of the reasons the beach was so clean was that there was an unofficial crew of people that regularly picked up rubbish from the beach as it washed up. It is hardly a hardship to pick up bits of plastic during a walk.

This Beach is not so Pristine

This Beach is not so Pristine

The oceans are full of plastic.

The following is a little information I’ve found on a bigger problem we all need to address.: The Trash Vortex.

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is currently cruising into one of world’s largest trash vortexes, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes referred to as the North Pacific garbage patch, this vortex is the epicenter of a system currents and winds covering most of the North Pacific. It has become home to a familiar substance – plastic.

North Pacific Trash Vortex

Every year, about 300 billion pounds of plastic is produced around the world, and only a fraction is recycled. Where does the rest end up? Well, the majority ends up in landfills, but some finds its way into our oceans. Plastic is valued for its resistance to degradation, so its life span can be hundreds of years. When plastic reaches our oceans, it eventually breaks down due to the action of the sun, wind, and currents, into small, literally bite sized pieces that wildlife confuse with food. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Trash vortex explained

The trash vortex is one of the most studied areas of plastic accumulation in our oceans. At its maximum the area can reach the size of Texas. It is made up of everything from tiny pieces of plastic debris to large ghost nets lost by the fishing industry.

As trash swirls through the world’s oceans to a handful of vortexes like this, it leaves a trail of death and destruction along its path. Plastic is often mistaken for food and has been found inside marine life of all sizes, from whales to zooplankton. It has been directly blamed for the death of a wide range of animals including albatrosses and sea turtles.  While massive trash like ghost nets can ensnare and trap thousands of creatures, there are concerns that even the smallest pieces of plastic may pose a problem, as plastic often accumulates in the digestive tract, many animals essentially choke on plastic intake. Others starve to death from a lack of nutrition despite a full stomach (such as Laysen Albatross chicks).

Where does it all come from?

Only a small percentage of the trash found at sea is thought to originate there. So how does the rest of it make it out to sea?  It comes from a variety of sources, from the litter you see on the streets to industrial waste. Every time it rains, pollution of all kinds washes from land into storm drains and rivers, eventually reaching the ocean. Once there, the long-lasting qualities of plastic mean that it remains in the ecosystem for decades (and potentially longer), and as more trash accumulates, our oceans and the inhabitants within them are facing a crisis.

During the year long Defending Our Oceans expedition, scientists and crew onboard the Esperanza have been sampling the world’s oceans to determine the impact and pervasiveness of plastic in the ocean environment. During this leg of the expedition, we will journey into the heart of the vortex, to assess…

What YOU Can Do:

We’re all responsible for this mess, and it will take all of us to stop it from getting worse. It’s time to completely rethink how we as a society use (or abuse) plastic. Here are some things that you can do right now:

  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – you’ve heard it before, but now you know what happens when you don’t. Be conscious of all that you buy, and be sure to avoid products with excessive packaging, especially in disposable products.
  • Demand more and better recycling facilities in your area.
  • Take part in local stream, river and beach cleanups – or organize one yourself. Though these don’t solve the problem, they are very effective at drawing attention to the greater problem offshore.

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See

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