From small waste to large debris – everything is thrown in the huge reservoir of the planet. The action of elucidating the disappearance of flight MH370 also revealed the degree of water pollution.
Every object floating in the Indian Ocean could provide answers to questions about the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane, which was lost in early March 2014. However, the remains found so far turned out to be a simple waste.
Specialists are not surprised. Garbage has come to suffocate the planet’s oceans. Also, the most remote marine regions – far off the coast – have been turned into landfills. Plastic waste is mainly found in water. “Approximately 280 million tons of plastic are produced annually. It is estimated that 20% of this material is then thrown into the sea,” said marine biologist Thilo Maack of Greenpeace Germany.
But objects on the surface of the water are only the visible part of the problem. Huge amounts of waste are stored in the depths. “It is estimated that there are up to 300.000 tons of plastic on the North Sea bottom alone,” Maack added.
The Pacific – the world’s landfill?
Currents and waves carry a large part of the waste, partly even from one continent to another. In the North Pacific, the garbage layer is huge: the size of the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is about equal to the area of Central Europe.
“By name, people imagine a real garbage island that can be seen from outside the Earth through satellite imagery,” says Wendy Watson-Wright, director of the intergovernmental organization IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanohraphic Commission) – part of UNESCO.
However, it is a mistake, says Watson-Wright. Unfortunately, Garbage Patch is made up of small floating particles which makes the situation more difficult. “The water would probably have been much easier to clean if the rubbish had been deposited on a separate surface instead of this plastic waste soup,” explains the IOC director.
The Pacific, the world’s largest ocean, occupies almost 30% of the Earth’s surface. Rubbish removal in large portions it would be impossible. Even if humanity will target only large landfills, it would still be a huge challenge.
Of course, large plastic objects can be fished from the water – believes biologist Thilo Maack, but the problem would not be far from solved. “The plastic disintegrates. Someday the particles will reach the size of plankton. If we filtered the plastic, we would also filter the plankton and these microorganisms would not survive.”
It depends on us
Plastic is not biodegradable. “Even if we didn’t produce plastic at all, the problem wouldn’t go away,” says Maack. The cooling effect of the water complicates the process of plastic destruction by sunlight and heat. Thus, the complete decomposition of a piece of plastic could take several hundred years.
Plastic debris in water has devastating effects on animals. And a lot of species disappear every year. Especially turtles take plastic bags as food, says Thilo Maack: “They consume large amounts of jellyfish and they often confuse the plastic bags with their favorite food.”
But seagulls that nibble everything they find on the surface of the water are affected, too: “They swallow plastic plug, fragments from toothbrushes or lighters.”
The only way the situation could be remedied would be to change the mentality, environmentalists say in unison. A titanic job both for all the governments of the world and for each one of us. And the challenge starts with your own house clearance and sorting the waste properly.
The action of searching for the missing plane is only the beginning
“In addition, those who produce plastic also should participate in the sanitation action, respectively in the recycling process,” says Thilo Maack.
The largest objects fished in the Indian Ocean during the search for Malaysia Airlines’ plane were over 20 meters long. Waste that gave false hope to the families of the missing passengers, but that showed the whole world how dirty the planet’s waters are.
“The case of flight MH370 has given us hope that the problem of garbage, dumped every day in the sea by people and their indifference, is coming back to the attention of the public,” concludes Wendy Watson-Wright. And both people and the governments and states of the world will be much more responsible in the future.