The world's trash problem has even invaded some of the most remote places on earth. The great oceans—areas once considered so vast that they could never be affected by human activities— are becoming polluted with nonbiodegradable, toxic plastics. One of the largest areas of ocean pollution is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a floating mass of plastic waste located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. According to researcher Charles Moore, who first discovered the garbage patch in 1997 during a yacht race, this pollution is growing and may already cover an area up to one and one-half times the size of the United States, to a depth of 100 feet (30m) or more. More conservative estimates say it is the size of Texas. Either way, it is a remarkable amount of garbage.
The plastic debris in the garbage patch, mostly land-based items such as plastic bags, balloons, bottles, packaging, and other materials, poses a terrible threat to birds and other marine life. As reporter Justin Berton explains: "Sea turtles mistake clear plastic bags for jellyfish. Birds swoop down and swallow indigestible shards of plastic. The petroleum-based plastics take decades to break down, and as long as they float on the ocean's surface, they can appear as feeding grounds."46 According to Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy: "Animals die because the plastic eventually fills their stomachs. ... It doesn't pass, and they literally starve to death."47 Plastic items such as fishnets can also ensnare sea turtles, dolphins, and other marine animals, causing injury or death. In fact, a 2006 report by the environmental group Greenpeace, "Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans,"
found that at least 267 marine species had suffered from some kind of ingestion or entanglement with marine debris.
In addition, many experts fear that these plastics are making their way into the human food chain, as ocean fish eat the plastic bits, absorb chemicals and pollutants, and in turn are eaten by people. As Charles Moore's Algalita Marine Research Foundation explains: "Plastic debris releases chemical additives and plasti-cizers into the ocean. Plastic also absorbs hydrophobic pollutants like PCBs and pesticides like DDT. These pollutants bioaccumu-late in the tissues of marine organisms, biomagnify up the food chain, and find their way into the foods we eat."48 Studies have shown, in fact, that both people and animals around the world carry numerous industrial toxins in their bodies as a result of widespread environmental pollution.
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