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Plastic Trash in Oceans Enters Marine Food Chain


Marcus Eriksen is on a global expedition to document and publicize the growing accumulation of plastic trash in our oceans, and to study its effects on marine and human life Photo: 5 Gyres Institute (from VOA news website)
Marcus Eriksen is on a global expedition to document and publicize the growing accumulation of plastic trash in our oceans, and to study its effects on marine and human life

Daily, we use and discard billions of plastic bags and bottles, and much of this trash ends up littering the environment or, increasingly, being washed out to sea.




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During the past half-century, a growing portion of what we eat, drink or use has come in plastic packaging - petroleum-based containers that are sturdy and long-lasting, yet are used only briefly and then thrown away.  Daily, we use and discard billions of plastic bags and bottles, and much of this trash ends up littering the environment or, increasingly, being washed out to sea. Many scientists have documented the growing volume of plastic garbage floating in the oceans.  Now a young couple is taking a fresh look at the problem to see if something can be done to solve it. 

Marcus Eriksen is not really fishing. He is catching plastic trash in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of kilometers from the nearest land.

Eriksen is on a global expedition to document and publicize the growing accumulation of plastic trash in our oceans, and to study its effects on marine and human life.

“These are the five sub-tropical gyres in the world where the majority of the plastic in the world accumulates,” he said.

“The gyre is formed by ocean currents that couple with the spinning of the earth's rotation.  And what happens is that you have, effectively, a massive whirlpool, a large spinning system, where debris can accumulate,” said Anna Cummins, who along with her husband Marcus Eriksen, is a co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, a California-based non-profit organization that promotes research into plastic pollution in the oceans.  

Cummins says that in less than 100 years, we have replaced most of our re-usable products and natural materials with plastics that are used just briefly.  At the end of their short use cycle, plastic bags or bottles have little intrinsic value; the large majority end up in solid-waste landfills or as litter in creeks and rivers.  A lot of this waste also washes out to sea, where it enters swirling ocean currents and over time, travels thousands of kilometers.  

“This becomes a problem in the marine environment because plastics are designed to last forever," Cummins said.  "They don’t break down, they can’t be digested by marine organisms and they persist in the ocean for thousands of years.”

In their journeys across the world’s oceans, Eriksen and Cummins have been trawling the top 20 centimeters of the water's surface with a fine mesh net.  Hundreds of samples of the debris they've collected are now being analyzed in a California lab.

“What shocked me the most on all these trips is to cross an ocean for thousands and thousands of miles and find that every single sample we pull up has plastics,” Cummins said.

Some plastics in the ocean stay in large pieces for a long time.  But many break into smaller particles.  

Some plastics in the ocean stay in large pieces for a long time, but many break into smaller particles
5 Gyres Institute

“The plastic out there is not a condensed island of trash, [it] is really spread out," Eriksen said. "[It] is a plastic soup, from continent to continent.”

Animals mistakenly eat the smaller pieces of plastic, or feed them to their young.  Hundreds of sea birds, fish and turtles die every year from consuming this toxic trash.  

“Roughly 43 percent of all marine mammals, 86 percent of all sea turtle and 44 percent of sea bird species are found with plastics in or around their bodies,” Cummins said  “Thirty-five percent of the samples of fish that we collected in the north Pacific had plastic in their stomachs.”

5-Gyres Institute and its research partners are now documenting the way plastics are entering the ocean food chain and studying their possible impact on human health.

“I had a chance to do what's called a 'body burden analysis' on my own blood," Anna Cummins said. "We looked into my blood serum to find, do I have the same chemicals that we know stick to plastic.  And we found in my blood trace levels of PCBs [Polychlorinated biphenyls - a man-made organic chemical], DDT [dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane - a synthetic pesticide], PFCs [Perfluorocarbons - linked to infertility] and high levels of flame retardant.  We don’t know how these chemicals entered my body. As a woman I know that these chemicals in my body will pass on to the next generation.”

As part of their effort to raise public awareness of the plastic trash problem, Marcus Eriksen and his partners built an ocean-going raft using 15,000 empty plastic soda bottles. They named the vessel "JUNKraft," and in 2008, they set sail from California to Hawaii - traveling right through the North Pacific Gyre.

“The North Pacific Gyre is surprising," Eriksen said. "If you go only 1,000 miles [1,609 Km] off the coast of California, which is 7,000 [11,265 km] miles from Japan, you still get a lot of Japanese and Chinese plastic because of [the] currents.”

Eriksen and Cummins recognize that cleansing the seas of plastic would be nearly impossible, since oceans cover two thirds of the planet.  That plastic trash will be with us for a long time, they concede. But there are other solutions.

“The solutions do not begin in the ocean, they begin on land,” Eriksen said.

“We need to improve our recycling infrastructure" said Cummins.  "Here in the U.S. we only recover and recycle roughly five percent of our plastics.”

Besides more plastic recycling, the husband and wife team advocates the wider use of biodegradable materials and the re-design of products so they are more fully recyclable.  They also believe people around the world need to become more aware of plastic trash and its serious environmental and health impact.

In March, Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen will begin the last of their ocean expeditions, this time sailing through the South Pacific Gyre.  On their return, the two activists plan to share their research findings with the scientific community and to publish a book about their ocean experiences.


Language Notes

portion (n) 部份

sturdy (a) 結實的;堅固的

document (v) 記錄,記載(詳情)

expedition (n) 遠征;探險;考察

accumulation (n) 積累;積聚;堆積

塑膠容器的設計本是堅固與耐用(sturdy and long-lasting),但現在僅提短暫使用之後,就被丟棄。每天都有大量的塑膠袋跟塑膠瓶被丟棄,最後成了污染環境的垃圾或是被沖刷到海洋裡。環保人士與海洋研究員Marcus Eriksen展開全球性的長征活動(expedition),希望可以記錄(document)塑膠垃圾在海洋裡累積(accumulation)的情形。

gyre (n) 旋迴

ocean current (n) 洋流

debris (n) 殘骸;碎片;破片

Eriksen指出,海洋裡的塑膠物質主要在五個位於副熱帶的海洋旋迴(gyre)裡累積。洋流(ocean currents)加上地球的自轉(rotation)就會型成巨大的旋渦(a massive whirlpool),塑膠垃圾的碎片跟殘骸(debris)就會在這些漩渦裡聚集。

intrinsic (a) 固有的;內在的;本身的

landfill (n) 廢物埋填地(或場)

organism (n) 有機體;生物;(尤指)微生物

同行的研究員Anna Cummins表示,近百年來,短暫使用的塑膠已經取代了本來可重複使用的產品(re-usable products),還有天然的材質(natural materials)。塑膠品本身沒有價值(intrinsic value),所以大多數就直接進入垃圾掩埋場(landfills),或是成了河流、溪川裡的垃圾(litter in creeks and rivers)。許多也沖流到海洋(. . . washes out to sea),進入了洋流的循環,在海面上綿延開數萬里的距離。這些海洋裡的塑膠垃圾不會分解(they don’t break down),也無法進一步被海洋生物(marine organisms)分解消化,最後就會在海洋裡持續存在(persist)數千年之久。

trawl (v) 用拖網捕魚

particle (n) 顆粒;微粒

condensed (a) 濃縮的;壓縮的

Eriksen跟Cummins在海上航行時,放下細目魚網(a fine mesh net),魚網入水深只有20公分。他們把收集來的垃圾作為分析的樣本(samples)。較大的塑膠塊會慢慢瓦解成碎小的顆粒狀(particles)。這些海洋的垃圾不是以高密度的(condensed)垃圾山的樣貌出現,而是像塑膠的湯一樣,散佈(spread out)在大陸陸塊間。

toxic (a) 有毒的

serum (n) 血清

concede (v) 承認

infrastructure (n) 基礎設施,基礎建設

biodegradable (a) 可生物分解的

在許多海洋生物的屍體周遭或屍體裡,都可以發現這些有毒(toxic)垃圾的蹤跡。研究人員也進一步追蹤記錄塑膠這有毒物質進入食物鏈(food chain)的方式,分析這對人體健康的影響(impact on human health)。研究員抽血(blood serum)化驗的結果,也發現在人體裡有許多塑膠化學物質的蹤跡。解決的方案不在海裡,而是始於陸地;除了要加強回收垃圾的基礎建設(recycling infrastructure),也要多使用可生物分解的材料(biodegradable materials)。


Let's Give it a Try!

Fill in the blanks with one of the words in the list above.

These tasks were repetitive, lengthy and lacking any __________ interest.

Emergency teams are still clearing the __________ from the plane crash.

Causes of the disease have been well __________.

Many pesticides are highly __________.

Steam __________ into water when it cools.

He was forced to __________ (that) there might be difficulties.

Select the area between the two arrows to reveal the answers:

-->intrinsic ; debris ; documented ; toxic ; condenses ; concede<--


Source: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/environment/Plastic-Trash-in-Oceans-Enters-Marine-Food-Chain---116260219.html

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