Perils of Pacific Plastic Pollution: Facts, Myths, and How You Can Help

Perils of Pacific Plastic Pollution: Facts, Myths, and How You Can Help

Post Conference Overview
Miriam Goldstein, graduate student at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, presented her research on plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. Goldstein’s 2009 research project in the Pacific gyre, twenty years after MARIPOL outlawed plastic dumping in the ocean, revealed a large concentration plastic in the ocean. The gyre contains mostly very small rather than large pieces, and Goldstein and colleagues propose this is problematic because fish consume the small pieces. Once ingested the plastic leeches toxins into the food chain, causing a variety of problems among different species including humans. Currently “eco-solutions” to human plastic consumption, such as bioplastics and corn-based plastics are not viable because of the complications associated with their disposal.

Original Summary
Plastics have only been produced in quantity since World War II, but detectable amounts of plastic debris were documented in the open ocean as early as 1972. The same qualities that make plastic a useful product, such as its durability, have also caused it to persist in the marine environment. While plastic pollution is found throughout the world’s oceans, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a remote area nestled between the trade winds and the westerlies, has been dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” I will discuss why plastic is accumulating in the remote open ocean, what the “Garbage Patch” looks like based on the 2009 Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), and impacts to the marine ecosystem based on current scientific research. I will also discuss current efforts to control marine plastic pollution through prevention, legislation, and technology. I will end with a discussion of how sail training vessels can get involved in marine debris research.

Speaker: Miriam Goldstein

Miriam Goldstein

Miriam is a fifth year Ph.D. student studying Biological Oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. For her thesis work, she is researching the impact of plastic debris on zooplankton communities and invasive species transport in the North Pacific Central Gyre. She is the principal investigator on the SEAPLEX cruise, which explored plastic debris in the North Pacific Central Gyre in August 2009. Miriam is an active science popularizer and educator, and has appeared on CNN, CBS, NPR Science Friday, and PRI’s The World, among many other media outlets. Her popular writing has appeared in Slate Magazine and Open Laboratory, and she currently writes for the web’s leading marine science blog, Deep Sea News. During the 2009-2010 school year, she was an NSF GK12 Fellow in a local 9th grade earth science classroom. Miriam holds an M.S. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a B.S. in Biology from Brown University. Before coming to Scripps, she worked as a construction project manager in New York City, an outdoor educator in New Hampshire, and an environmental consultant in Boston. Miriam is originally from Manchester, NH.

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