Great Pacific Garbage Patch affecting sea life
The Associated Press
Posted: May 9, 2012 9:32 AM PT
Last Updated: May 9, 2012 11:17 AM PT
An increase in plastic debris floating in a zone between Hawaii and California is changing the environment of at least one marine insect, scientists reported.
Over the past four decades, the amount of broken-down plastic has grown significantly in a region dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Most of the plastic pieces are the size of a fingernail.
During a seagoing expedition, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that a marine insect that skims the ocean surface is laying its eggs on top of plastic bits instead of natural flotsam like wood and seashells.
Though plastic debris is giving the insects places to lay eggs, scientists are concerned about the manmade material establishing a role in their habitat.
"This is something that shouldn't be in the ocean and it's changing this small aspect of the ocean ecology," said Scripps graduate student Miriam Goldstein.
The finding was published online Wednesday in Biology Letters, a journal of Britain's Royal Society.
Goldstein led a group of researchers who travelled 1,600 kilometres off the California coast in August 2009 to document the impacts of the garbage on sea life. For three weeks, they collected marine specimens and water samples at varying depths, and deployed mesh nets to capture plastic particles.
The team previously found that nearly 10 per cent of fish studied during the trip had ingested plastic. The voyage was partly sponsored by the University of California and National Science Foundation.
Confetti-sized flecks of plastic
Thousands of tonnes of plastic waste enter the oceans every year and break down into smaller pieces over time. Some wind up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex formed by ocean and wind currents.
The garbage patch cannot be seen by satellite. Most of the plastic pieces are confetti-sized flecks spread across thousands of kilometres of ocean and are hard to see with the naked eye.
A similar plastic trash patch was recently discovered in the Atlantic between Bermuda and Portugal's Azores islands, and new research suggests that both patches could be much larger than first thought.
Some experts believe the plastic fragments, which can be impossible for fish to distinguish from plankton, are dangerous in part because they sponge up potentially harmful chemicals circulating in the ocean.
Plastics have entangled birds and turned up in the bellies of fish. A paper cited by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says as many as 100,000 marine mammals could die trash-related deaths each year.
Another concern is that the plastic particles can carry bacteria and algae to new regions of the oceans where they could become invasive.
As much as 80 per cent of marine debris comes from land, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.With files from CBC News
Latest British Columbia News Headlines
- One dead as floatplane overturns in Bute Inlet
- At least one person is dead after a plane came down in Bute Inlet on the South Coast of B.C., the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria says. more »
- Kamloops man skydives for 90th birthday
- A Kamloops man has crossed another item off his bucket list by jumping out of a plane to mark his 90th birthday. more »
- Aboriginal woman settles lawsuit over 3½ years solitary confinement
- The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says it has resolved a lawsuit against the government of Canada filed on behalf of a 26-year-old aboriginal woman from Saskatchewan who was held in solitary confinement in a federal prison for more than 3½ years. more »
- B.C. teachers win fight over political posters in schools
- British Columbia's teachers are free to express their political opinions through buttons and posters in schools after a B.C. Appeal Court panel sided with the union in a constitutional challenge. more »
Top News Headlines
- Kids from levelled Oklahoma schools recount deadly tornado
- Children from two Oklahoma schools levelled Monday by a powerful tornado are recounting what it was like to survive the "loud" and "scary" twister, while rescuers near the end of their search for any other remaining survivors or bodies. more »
- Deadly Oklahoma tornado confirmed as most powerful type
- Emergency workers neared the end of their search Tuesday afternoon for survivors in Moore, Okla., following a deadly tornado that weather officials said was now classified among the most powerful type of twister. more »
- Senate debates expense audits amid greater scrutiny
- The expenses scandal dominated the first Senate session since the audits on senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau were released and it was revealed Duffy's questionable expenses were repaid by a personal cheque from the prime minister's chief of staff. more »
- Only 1 set of human remains found at Millard farm, police say
- Hamilton police have confirmed that they are dealing with only a single set of human remains at the Waterloo region farm of Dellen Millard. more »
- Rob Ford faces more calls to address crack allegations
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford went back to work after a holiday weekend, but he kept his mouth shut about an alleged video that two published reports say shows him smoking what appears to be a crack pipe. more »
- B.C. girl killed after 11-year-old crashes jeep
- Canadian on EI shut out amid foreign worker influx
- B.C. mine's temporary foreign workers case dismissed
- Illegal tree cutting nets charges for arborist, homeowners
- Motorcyclist dead after head-on crash on Lions Gate Bridge
- Cloverdale Rodeo 'racist attack' investigated
- B.C. man feared kidnapped in Mexico
- B.C. co-op fights federal 'local' food guideline changes
- Drug users sue Abbotsford over anti-harm reduction bylaw