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"Life in plastic, it's fantastic"
June 21, 2010 10:44 AM   Subscribe

The Plastics at SEA: North Atlantic Expedition is currently studying an area in the Atlantic Ocean similar to the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch". [via]

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posted by Burhanistan (19 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am hesitant to call this a positive because that is probably too strong a word for what is essentially a gigantic floating wad of garbage. But marine detritus actually forms a pretty useful habitat/shelter for many small species of fish and it would be interesting to see if in some ways it could be beneficial to their numbers in the long run.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:55 AM on June 21, 2010


I blame Carl Steadman.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:56 AM on June 21, 2010


I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Yes, sir.
Are you listening?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:59 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


> But marine detritus actually forms a pretty useful habitat/shelter for many small species of fish and it would be interesting to see if in some ways it could be beneficial to their numbers in the long run.

I'm not so sure about that. If you read the updates you'll see that the researchers aren't bothered by the large bits, it's the small chewed up bits that are microscopic and pose a threat to plankton and other cornerstones of the food chain.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:59 AM on June 21, 2010


I suppose it would really be that helpful if the bait fish have plenty of habitat to reproduce in if they have nothing to eat.

Again, I want to be clear that I was not implying this is a good thing at all, not to say that I think anyone was inferring it.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:01 AM on June 21, 2010


I'm extra worried because it appears to be located in the Bermuda Triangle! This could really piss off the alien time-and-space-warp sea monsters that live there if they don't like our plastic and garbage.
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:05 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I think environmental issues may finally be gaining traction again after being on the outs for almost six years running. I guess that's one good thing to come from the BP spill, although I dunno, I guess it would be better to value something before it becomes irreparably damaged.

At least garbage patches could conceivably be cleaned up. If, you know, someone would actually go do that. HINT HINT
posted by JHarris at 11:05 AM on June 21, 2010


Too bad it's not a time capsule of treasure-laden shipwrecks instead of plastic. :-( Sigh
posted by circular at 11:16 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Weirdly, the garbage patch is mostly made up of cabbage patch kids. Turned out they weren't collectible.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:08 PM on June 21, 2010


The Plastics at SEA: North Atlantic Expedition

I was hoping this was a sequel to Mean Girls.
posted by almostmanda at 12:13 PM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, great, J.G. Ballard was right. Those are 5 words I never wanted to speak (yes, counting initials as words. Shut up.).
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2010


I was thinking about a big mass of Furbies all chattering to each other.
posted by Balisong at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


plastics, oil, sea, oil, plastics, sea

there's a pattern of pollution here i see
posted by infini at 12:20 PM on June 21, 2010


Yes, the problem here is not plastic bottles and containers floating around on top of the water, it's the hundreds of thousands of particles of UV-degraded plastic that are interspersed throughout the top layer of the water column. In the latest science findings post (permalink after June 20th) from their site, a crew member is shocked to find a concentration of "approximately 375,000 pieces per square kilometer" most of which he says are no bigger than the letter "O". (He is obviously not a web designer) The BBC article has a figure of about 200K particles per sq. km as the average. :(

It is so important that we understand the process that lead up to this lamentable situation. That's why I think work such as this and the Plastiki expedition is critical to bringing attention to the situation. The cure is prevention, not treatment.

The Pacific Garbage Patch covers an area larger than Texas and the Atlantic Patch, at least according to the BBC story linked above, covers tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of square kilometers. As some of the members of the SEA expedition point out, it's not really a patch at all, it's patches where there are higher concentrations of the little floating bits. So, it's just not feasible to go "clean it up."

We've bought the ticket and now we need to take the ride, however unfortunate it is. In the future, though, let's hope that we can work to prevent or limit how much of this crap ends up in the lungs of our planet.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 12:35 PM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Since its in the Bermuda Triangle, perhaps it will spontaneously disappear?
posted by sfts2 at 4:01 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


But this thing I bought to scrub my toilet says that I can just flush the plastic scrubber head after one use. Surely this is ok, right. I mean they sell them in convenient six packs.
posted by yesster at 4:07 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Giant patches of floating plastic are gonna be a lame-ass replacement for the coral reefs, lemme tell ya.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:38 PM on June 21, 2010


Something I've always been curious about, as I am woefully undereducated: would it be possible for someone to just mine all that garbage? Is the plastic reclaimable? I'd really dig a dining table made of recycled ocean trash.
posted by unique_id at 11:10 PM on June 21, 2010


HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal made basically the point I hoped would be made here. Every summary I saw about the Pacific Garbage Gyre, when I learned about that a year or two ago, included a photo of a person paddling a small boat through a pile of floating refuse. That's not what's being described here. The plastic breaks down into tinier and tinier shards, and the mass of one intact plastic bucket can be more than the mass of hundreds of individual plastic bits. The log says that as of June 21 the mission has collected 6300 bits of plastic in 40 trawls: you can look at the second picture and see that the mental image of a floating garbage wasteland is pretty far off.

What's astonishing is the claim that the density of plastic bits this mission is recovering is comparable to the density of plankton living in the same part of the ocean. Even though mining this plastic would be like mining the dissolved gold in the seawater --- that is, pointless --- it's obvious that there is too much plastic out there to be good for anything.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:00 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


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