Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman
There is a battle going on at Midway’s Sand Island. It’s different from the great military battle of the Second World War. And, this one may not be winnable.
It’s a battle against an unpredictable enemy, one with unlimited reinforcements, which replenishes itself when cleared away, and which attacks from several fronts.
The enemy in this modern day war is plastic, and it comes to the island from the ocean, some of it simply washing up onto the shore.
Plastic bags and plastic bottle caps. Cigarette lighters. Plastic food packaging. Candy wrappers. Tooth brushes. Tossed into the sea from cruise ships. Dumped into streams and rivers, offering a direct route to the sea.
Some face washes and body scrubs, even tooth pastes, contain tiny dots of plastic called microbeads that are able to pass through water system filters. Before the law banning their use was passed in 2016, three hundred million tons of microbeads of plastic had been washed annually into waterways in the United States. They may be banned, but they are still floating around out there in the ocean.
Another, and inadvertent, source of plastic on the island is the Laysan albatross parent returning to feed his young chick. The albatross cannot know, but when he flies out to sea in search of food, there is a good chance that the highly nutritious liquefied oil he will carry back to feed his chick will be laced with some object – or multiple objects – of plastic that he ingested with his meal of squid or fish eggs.
What the albatross also cannot know is that he will pass the plastic on to his baby.
Examination of the boluses expelled by Laysan chicks to clear out undigested food prior to fledging has revealed the existence of plastic objects that were inserted during feeding.
According to EPA marine debris expert, Anne Marie Cook, an estimated ten thousand pounds of plastic debris is brought onto the island in this feeding manner.
Sometimes the plastic will cause no harm. But sometimes the chick will become ill. Many die. Anywhere you see a big pile of plastic, but nothing else, that’s where an albatross has died, Dave Wolfe, the deputy manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge told author Carl Safina.
So you might ask why they don’t just pick it all up. Plastic is ubiquitous on Midway, Wolfe explained to Safina. If I picked up every bit of plastic I found on Midway, I would not do anything else. Even then, a new crop of it would appear with the next high tide.
As a solution, plans for cleaning up the ocean have been put forward. But none of the ideas could be implemented in any practical manner. No surprise there. I imagine it would be like trying to scrub an elephant with a toothbrush.
It also seems to miss the point. The ocean didn’t pollute itself with plastic. It wasn’t just an isolated spill. Oops. Let’s clean this mess up and go on our way.
People did this, and people are going to have to become involved in the solution.
As Aldo Leopold suggested, this is an ecologic ethical issue that will take a complete reversal of attitudes, from viewing the ocean as a source of entertainment and amusement to understanding that the sea and all its life are essential to our health and wellbeing. It will entail our giving up our exploitative behaviors.
(You can read Leopold’s concept of an ecologic ethic in my post of December 20, 2017.)
According to Leopold, an ecologic ethic, by encompassing all of life, is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.
Can we limit our freedom of action? This film by Chris Johnson asks the same question: