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Marine debris is a global problem

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 14 April 2010

More than 10 million pieces of rubbish were plucked from the world’s waterways in a single day last year. But for Philippe Cousteau, the beach sandals that washed up in the Norwegian arctic symbolised the global nature of the problem of marine debris.

Turtle ingesting a plastic bag. Californians Against Waste claim that one marine mammal is killed every five minutes by plastic marine debris.

“We saw flip-flops washing ashore on these islands in far northern Norway near the Arctic Circle,” said Cousteau, a conservationist and grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

Cousteau was commenting on marine debris statistics released yesterday by the Ocean Conservancy group. “People don’t wear flip-flops in the Arctic, at least not if they’re sane,” Cousteau said. “I think people are starting… to realise this is a global problem.”

The report detailed the amount and kind of rubbish that volunteers gathered on one day last year along coastlines of six continents and the banks of inland waterways, stressing that as much as 80 percent of marine litter started on land.

“Trash travels, and no beach, lake-shore or riverfront is untouched – no matter how remote,” Vikki Spruill, Ocean Conservancy’s CEO, wrote in the report’s introduction.

Last year 10 239 538 pieces of rubbish were retrieved from shorelines on one day, September 19, by about half a million volunteers in the conservancy’s annual international coastal clean-up. This year’s clean-up day is September 25.

More than 40 percent of that total was collected in the US, including everything from bottle caps and cigarette butts to washing machines, construction materials, nappies, condoms and medical waste. The US had the most volunteers, nearly triple the number in the Philippines, which had the second-most.

Nearly 20 percent of the items collected threaten public health, including bacteria-laden medical waste, appliances, cars and chemical drums. Some debris is a threat to marine creatures, which can become tangled in dumped fishing nets and line or swallow plastic.

As plastics broke down in the oceans, they looked a lot like organisms called plankton that formed the base of the food chain, Cousteau said. “Fish and other animals are ingesting them and in so doing ingesting the toxins that these plastics absorb. And then guess who eats the fish?”

Cousteau said these plastics contained chemicals that could affect hormones, and also lacked any nutritional value, so marine creatures could die with stomachs full of plastic.

– Reuters

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