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Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oce ans Paperback – September 4, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1997, Moore, captain of the oceanographic research vessel Alguita, discovered what became known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive "plastic soup... lightly seasoned with plastic flakes, bulked out here and there with 'dumplings': buoys, net clumps, floats, crates and other 'macro debris'" floating between Hawaii and California. This now-famous discovery led Moore, already a long-time environmentalist, to become a scientist-activist focusing on what others concerned with oceanic plastic proliferation had ignored: the "plastic confetti" created by ultraviolet light and ocean chemicals granulating the hundreds of millions of tons of plastic waste that have washed, blown, or been dumped into the ocean. In this sobering, impassioned book, Moore chronicles his attempts to mitigate the insidious effects of these bits, which are ingested by ocean creatures and can work their way up the food chain to poison humans. Moore, the grandson of a president of Hancock Oil, is also able to guide the reader through a history of plastic, the chemical process of plastics production, and its indestructibility and threat to our world. He covers some of the same ground as Susan Freinkel’s Plastic, but his scientific background takes his investigation deeper. (Nov.) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Capt. Moore, a lifelong seafarer, was spurred to activism when his catamaran stalled in a remote area of the northeast Pacific and he noticed a visible proliferation of plastic bits and other trash floating on the water's surface. Dubbed "The Great North Pacific Garbage Patch," it was an ominous indicator of the cavalier way in which humans dispose of tons of plastic trash. This initial discovery led the author on a decades-long investigation into plastic production, distribution and chemical makeup, which revealed a level of pollution--in the sea and otherwise--far more insidious than people realized. The rise of "disposable" products coupled with inexpensive mass-production processes resulted in an unprecedented number of plastic bottles, lighters, shopping bags, diapers and other detritus being thrown away each year. Too much of it winds up in the ocean, where cool salt water drastically slows down decomposition rates. Growing numbers of vulnerable animals are ingesting these materials, and often suffering malnutrition, unhealthy offspring and death. Evidence suggests that the entire food chain may be affected, since millions of micro-plastic bits are consumed by tiny sea creatures, which are eaten by bigger fish or birds, and so on. This "toxic Trojan horse" effect extends to air and land, as well, since plastics pervade so much of our lives and often leave toxic traces behind. The author is an impassioned, fiercely inquisitive writer, detailing the many unorthodox ways he's managed to get these issues into the news and in peer-reviewed science journals. His account is chilling, but with an underlying message of optimism: If human behaviors change, we can still save the oceans, and ourselves. Fast-paced and electrifying, Moore's story is "gonzo science" at its best. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"The US Navy may be the worst ocean polluter the world has ever known..." By its own account the Navy has secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents into the sea. Add to this 400,000 chemical filled bombs, land mines, rockets and 500 tons of radio-active waste.
If a toaster, computer or television screen fail their designated purposes they are discarded; 180 million computers are thrown out every year. They contain myriad toxic metals, Landfills and ocean floors are the most out-of-sight and out-of-mind receptacles.
In later chapters author Captain Moore muses about solid waste of 250 million tons generated by municipalities, 83 million tons of packaging are added yearly to landfills, in 1982 an estimated 639,000 plastic containers were dumped daily from merchant ships, McDonald;s serves 47 million customers daily in 36,000 restaurants (229 countries), Unilever hosts 55 billion packages annually (150 million items daily), 7-eleven is the world's largest franchiser with more than 36,000 facilities in eighteen countries.
On page 204 Captain Moore lists an estimated one million seabirds lost yearly to longline entanglements, to which he adds 100,000 turtles and marine mammals as derelict fishing gear depletes fish stocks and sabotages the food chain.
Captain Moore has masterfully transported us thru more that 350 pages of disturbing ocean portals where one observer posits that "the human race may well be doomed by plastics."
The author might be better served by embracing a wider swath in his narratives of toxic sources that reside endlessly in our rivers, oceans, soils and skies. It may be important to note that attacking ecological, and other issues, singularly at the point of discovery has driven us to where we are over the decades. It is the relentless expansion of humanity that expresses all social, political, ecological, economic and financial challenges. Eliminating plastics from our oceans by fiat is wishful thinking. Just one example of plastic's growth without end can be seen in India's newfound economic prosperity, a country where plastic waste estimates are 4.5 million tons per year. India's sacred cows are dying from street foraging where plastic bags are integrated into grazed trash heaps.
On page 239 the author ponders "whether the world and its inhabitants are being poisoned by plastics."
So, if you want to get into the excitement of the book skip to Chapter Six.
By the way, Apple's Steve Jobs is not idolized in this book because he--and others--were pushing iPods (a new one each year) "containing a myriad of toxic metals as well as waning resources like copper and oil [and, of course, there's plastic]--innovation and [non]disposability join hands for one reason: profit" (p. 96).
This is, of course, a non-fiction book. So, I will relate it to you via quotes that will, hopefully, shake you up as much as they did me:
Page 135: "More food processing means more food packaging, mostly plastic."
Page 139: "In this topsy-turvy world, what cheers investors bring environmentalists to tears."
Page 149: "Plastics are winning and are predicted to overtake paper as the reigning packaging material by 2014."
Page 150-1: "We need to stop cultivating innovation for its own sake and start thinking MORALLY [emphasis mine] and ecologically about the innovations we embrace. Is it worth trashing the planet? Each purchase should be a moral decision."
Page 152: In the north central Pacific waters is a place referred to as "Plastic Stew." But plastic is ubiquitous in many places in the ocean.
Page 157: "Albatross chicks by the tens of thousands perish each year, stuffed by their well-meaning parents with plastic non-food"--that comes from both land and water vessels.
Page 160: "Tens of thousands of northern fur seals [are] being killed by abandoned [plastic] nets."
Page 168: "Companies [ships] are not legally required to report [plastic container] spills [because] they are considered non-toxic. The ship owner escapes liability for any cleanup."
Page 172: "Whale feeding mostly happens near the sea surface where plastic fragments mingle with and mimic legitimate organisms."
Page 200: "...Plastic debris is second only to commercial fishing as a killer of marine life..."
Page 204: "...An estimated million seabirds are killed each year by entanglement in longlines [net lines] and 100,000 turtles and marine mammals."
Page 277: "Most of the 300 billion pounds of plastics produced each year start out s pellets. If a tenth of a percent escape to the oceans, that's a 150,000 ton annual deposit."
Page 259: "The United States lags behind Europe in technology [that converts some plastics to less harmful chemical compositions]."
Page 300: "There's just not enough profit in recovering, sorting, cleaning, processing and remanufacturing infinitely variable plastics. This is why we need extended PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY [emphasis mine] so industry won't make things that it can't economically recover."
Page 305: "Long-term value means not only durability, but recyclability. This takes the onus off consumption as the problem and puts it on industrial design, which must devise recyclable compounds for each product--to achieve zero waste."
Finally, the book deals with the new field of "green chemistry" and the idea of recycling entrepreneurs.
I gave this book a 4 because the writing undulates between exciting and boring. The subject itself, though, micro-plastics in the ocean, deserves serious attention.
And, although the information contained in the book has frightening implications for the planet, the book is not a downer. Moore presents real solutions from personal to policy level (not silly ideas like using huge nets to remove trash from the oceans). The reader can leave feeling not just informed but empowered. And, as everyone knows, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it.
Here in California, Capt. Moore's work is already having an effect - single use plastic bags have been banned in many cities, the ubiquitous single use plastic water bottle of the "healthy crowd" is largely replaced by stainless steel reusable bottles, enlightened restaurants are using biodegradable take-out containers made of sugar cane pulp. These are the first small steps in a long journey, but thanks in large part to Capt. Moore, the journey has begun.