This past spring while on vacation with my family on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, I took a walk on the beach and picked up all the plastic I found that had washed up. It was a pretty clean beach, but I did find lots of pieces of Styrofoam, and zillions of bottle caps and those little plastic things with the ring you pull off the top of a juice or milk carton.
Plastic debris in the ocean doesn’t just wash on the shore. It can travel thousands of miles, and can be ingested by seabirds and other marine animals. I was shocked to learn that 40% of Laysan albatross chicks die from ingestion of plastic debris from the ocean. The plastic in the chicks’ stomachs leaves no room for food and liquid.
Laysan albatross nest on Midway, an atoll over a thousand miles from any city, halfway between Japan and North America, the site of an important World War II battle. An albatross may fly hundreds of miles to find food for its young. They scoop up plastic debris floating on the surface, mistaking it for food.
Here are just of few of the things that have been found in the stomachs of the chicks: bottle caps, golf tees, plastic dinosaurs, fishing line, cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, Lego blocks, and highlighter pens.
Below are some of the suggestions from the Monterey Bay Aquarium for limiting our use of plastics. I am not a paragon of virtue myself. I buy those reusable bags from the supermarket and forget to use them. But I’m thinking of buying a half dozen and keeping them in my purse, so I’ll always have one.
- Limit your use of disposable plastics, like plastic bags and water bottles.
- Look for products made from recycled materials that have little or no packaging, or packaging that is recyclable.
- Try to avoid Styrofoam products—bring your own mug to the coffee shop, and a container for leftovers when you eat out.
- Know which plastics can be recycled in your city and recycle!
- Make sure all non-recyclable plastics are securely disposed of.
ADDED SUGGESTION (from me). Be especially careful to dispose of bottle caps and other small pieces of plastic while you are on a boat, at picnics, at the beach, and at home.
See the Algalita Marine Research Foundation for more information about plastic pollution in the ocean.