28 July 2012

Essential for Ocean Freight and Logistics Operators to Back Latest Pollution Threat  

Simple Practical Help Wanted from the Shipping Community

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WORLDWIDE – Sometimes the normal stories which one associates with a freight publication such as the Handy Shipping Guide shrink into insignificance when one faces the reality of some of the environmental issues which affect the tenuous grip which the human race has upon this planet. Whilst organisations such as the IMO produce measures to control the pollution produced by ships, and the pollution from aircraft and road haulage outfits comes under scrutiny from beyond the world of logistics, there is one enormous problem which offers an insidious threat to many forms of life of which most people are completely ignorant.

To many people the word ‘gyre’ is mostly unknown and those that do recognise it are likely to associate it with the Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (…did gyre and gamble in the wabe..) but it in fact refers to several huge, swirling vortices in the oceans of the Earth, vast whirlpools where, eventually, all the floating detritus which man and nature produce combines into gigantic mats of junk, an agglomeration of garbage spinning endlessly in the remotest parts of the oceans.

The best known part of a gyre is probably the Sargasso Sea, the centre of the great North Atlantic gyre where the mysteries of the reproductive cycles of the European and American eel unfold, even today not fully understood, and home to juvenile creatures of many species, notably loggerhead sea turtles. Both this and the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ as its sibling in that other great ocean is known, hold huge amounts of plastics, entirely the produce of mankind and his carelessness.

Much of this material is termed ‘non- biodegradable’ which may appear factually correct but plastic, in any form, is now known to pose a much greater threat than was ever considered so previously. It is only just being realised that all plastic eventually transforms into pollution on a molecular scale. As such it can infiltrate all marine forms of life by unavoidably becoming part of the food chain. If we changed the word plastic to ‘chemical’ or pharmaceutical’ then perhaps enough people might realise that the tragedies caused by such drugs as Thalidomide and Trovaflaxin will pale into insignificance given sufficient time as the effects of all this junk works its way through the DNA of ever higher forms of life.

Hope however springs eternal and, just as with more obvious environmental catastrophes such as Deepwater Horizon, mankind can be as inventive when trying to salvage a situation as it can be naïve in creating such. A new group, Action by Sea has been set up by a combination of shipping and environmental experts to try to help resolve the matter using any methods practicable.

Action by Sea intend to obtain a suitable vessel, limited of course by budget, to carry and test out Japanese equipment which is readily available, which converts the plastic detritus into usable kerosene. The current technology can turn 5kgs of plastic into 5 litres of fuel every hour and it is hoped that by trialling the equipment in the Great North Atlantic Gyre it can be shown to be a commercially feasible operation. If the group manage to prove that the trash which swirls uselessly around actually has some value then the hope is that a major threat to the environment can eventually be eliminated.

To study the scale of the marine debris accumulation in the area, the 5 Gyres Project, dedicated to eliminating plastic refuse from the environment wherever possible, conducted a research expedition to the North Atlantic Garbage Patch in January and February 2010, collecting 35 samples over 3,000 miles between St. Thomas, Bermuda and the Azores. In addition, the Sea Education Association (SEA) has been doing extensive research on the North Atlantic gyre.

Nearly 7,000 students from the SEA semester program have been dragging 6,100 fine meshed nets through the Atlantic for more than two decades. The findings from these two bodies of research were conclusive: the gyre in the North Atlantic Ocean contains plastic marine pollution in a pattern and amount similar to what has been found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Action by Sea is calling on anybody who will be in a vessel in the area of the North Atlantic Garbage Patch to take part in some basic research that can be added to their database. The research will literally consist of dipping a simple net overboard and recording any rubbish that you collect. Obviously it goes without saying that any extra financial or practical help will doubtless be welcome – a vessel surplus to requirements would be nice – and who better than the maritime community to offer such assistance. Douglas Lindsay speaking from Action by Sea emphasised the malignant nature of the pollution saying:

"Plastic is persistent even when it breaks down into microscopic particles, and it is this persistent non-degradable soup which is the biggest menace. Also, the process of breaking down takes years and the plastic junk hangs around while this happens. Dealing with this microscopic stuff is one of our biggest problems as ordinary nets cannot scoop it up and most other ways, such as suction pumps and reverse osmosis, are likely to be very damaging to small marine life. We’re still investigating that one."

Contact Action by Sea if you feel there is anything you could do at info@actionbysea.org  

To take the Plastic Promise from the 5 Gyres Project just click HERE.

The call is out – ignore it at our peril!

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