Despair and Hope in Marine Debris

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Despair and Hope in Marine Debris

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Oahu
Mar 28, 2011

The Law of Polarity. I’ve also heard it referred to as The Law of Opposites. Whatever you call it, I experienced it for two days last week in Waikiki at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in the form of despair, on the one hand, and hope, on the other.  

Despair. Some 8 million items of marine litter are thought to enter the world’s oceans and seas every day, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Marine debris enters the ocean indirectly by rivers, sewage, storm water and wind. It is dumped deliberately and accidentally into the sea. Think plastic bags from take-out joints and single-use plastic bottles left at the beach, fishing nets discarded at sea, industrial waste products dumped in streams. Even abandoned fishing vessels.

Hope. Marine debris is such a recognized problem that there is now an accredited university course on marine debris at the Univeristy of Hawaii-Hilo.  “Marine debris is a multi-disciplinary problem,” said Karla J. McDermid, instructor. “We need many kinds of people to solve it by asking questions like, when will this new debris from Japan hit Hawaii? Can we detect and intercept and collect at-sea debris? How can we best clean our beaches? How can we best stop the flow from land to sea? How can we change our throw-away mentality?”

The Law of Polarity claims that for everything in the universe, there is an opposite. In electricity, there is a positive and negative charge. In humans, we have females and males. In life, good and bad. Hot & cold. Light & dark.

Despair. The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” extends over an area twice the size of Texas, reports David de Rothschild in Plastiki: Across the Pacific on Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans, and contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic garbage in every square mile of ocean. Every pound of plankton found here is outmatched by 6 pounds of plastic litter. We know albatross regularly ingest plastic, mistaking it for food, and feed it to their chicks, many of whom starve to death, because while plastic may fill their bellies, it does nothing to provide nourishment.  

Hope. For 25 years, the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Clean-Up has tapped 9 million volunteers from 152 countries and locations to clean 145 million pounds of trash from the shores of lakes, streams, rivers and the ocean on just one day each year. 

Indeed, the Law of Polarity states there is a unity in the polarity. In other words, in order to have electricity, we need the positive and negative charges. We need females to have males and males to have females in this world. And we need bad to recognize and know good.

Despair. At least 267 marine species are affected by entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all seabird species and 43 percent of all marine mammal species. [UNEP] That includes the endangered Hawaiian monk seals about which I’ve written extensively. Last year, in the main Hawaiian Islands, we know of, at least, one drowning death due to entanglement in a gill net off Bellows Beach on Oahu.

Hope. Derelict fishing nets in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument are recovered and shipped back to Honolulu where Schnitzer Steel Hawaii cuts them into small pieces and transports them to the City and County of Honolulu’s H-Power energy-from-waste facility, where Covanta Energy converts these nets into electricity for 600 Oahu homes.

What’s more, the Law of Polarity posits that the result of the unity of these opposites is action. In the case of marine debris, it’s the very despair that I experienced that leads to action and the cleaning up and care-taking of our marine environment.

Despair. Americans consume 70 million bottles of water every day. That’s nearly 9 billion gallons of bottled water a year. Sadly, only one in six plastic water bottles in the U.S. is recycled. The rest, some 22 billion empty plastic bottles a year in the U.S. end up in landfills and incinerators, or as trash in the street waiting for the next rainstorm to sweep them into our seas. [Plastiki]

Hope. If there was one word echoed throughout the halls and meeting rooms of the conference, it was collaboration. To that end, conference delegates, UNEP, NOAA and international marine debris experts committed to the sharing of technical, legal and local knowledge and solutions in order to develop “a comprehensive global platform for the prevention, reduction and management of marine debris,” called the Honolulu Strategy.

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