Marine Preservation / Policy / Science

Searching for MH 370 in the world’s largest trash can

Are the oceans a limitless resource?

No. Clearly not, but we still have policies intact that treat them as such. We are overfishing down the food chain. Blue fin tuna is worth a small fortune and we dredge the deep sea to catch a fish called the Patagonian Toothfish to sell at market. Perhaps you know it by its newer, more marketable name: Chilean Sea Bass. This fish lives somewhere between 145 and 12,000 feet below the surface. It isn’t that easy to get stuff down that deep to catch, but we do. Why do we do that? Mostly because we can’t just go off the shore of the north east US anymore and catch cod. A good deal of our fisheries are collapsing. We know it and we are starting to make policy changes to help prevent this from happening.

But what about garbage? Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? (Hint: It is only great due to its size). A trip through the garbage patch
A trip through the garbage patch

This is what it looks like for miles and miles. Kelsey Ellis wrote a great piece about this a while back (here).

So, what does all of this have to do with finding a missing plane?

As I’m sure you are well aware of by now, the missing airliner disappeared about a month ago and authorities have been unable to confirm where it went. They have been searching the oceans for signs of the aircraft. This is an extremely difficult thing to do given the large radius in which the plane may have gone down. However, authorities have run into another issue. The oceans are full of trash. It was reported a while ago that pieces of the plane were found Southwest of Perth Australia, but those pieces were later investigated and determined to be ocean debris. Authorities scanning the Indian Ocean have run into the same problem. Everywhere you go in the ocean there is trash. Our own bad practices are hampering our efforts. The ocean has long been treated as a dumping ground. You make think that ocean disposal only occurs in developing nations, but it doesn’t. Due to the overwhelming cuteness and likeability of marine megafuana, dumping plastics that can kill turtles, seals, dolphins, and birds is illegal in the Unites States, but it is not illegal to dump other things. We can thank these guys for the plastic regulations
We can thank these guys for the plastic regulations

What other things can you dump? Hazardous sewage and pretty much any other thing you may have on a boat. Here is a list of regulations for ocean going vessels:

It is illegal to dump:

Inside 3 miles and in U.S. Lakes, Rivers, Bays and Sounds
and anywhere on the Great Lakes no matter how far from shore:

Plastic, dunnage, lining, and packing materials that float
and any garbage except dishwater/graywater/fresh fish parts.

3 to 12 miles

Plastic, dunnage, lining, and packing materials that float
and any garbage not ground to less than one square inch.

12 to 25 miles

Plastic, dunnage, lining, and packing materials that float.

Outside 25 miles



Now, this list is pretty abhorrent, but remember, many other countries have no regulations and not everyone follows the regulations. Anything that humans consume can end up in the ocean (and pieces of it probably do). We use the ocean to transport goods all the time. Sometimes there are storms and containers or pieces of containers fall off of ships. On occasion a ship sinks, dumping whatever it is carrying (plus oil, gas, etc…) into the ocean.

There are miles and miles of garbage floating on the surface and even more sitting on the bottom. Some of this stuff leaches hazardous chemicals into the environment. This is the same environment that we fish in. Fish can ingest these hazardous chemicals and pass them on to us (the consumer). We see the same things happening with heavy metals in the Great Lakes. Polluting the oceans and all waterways doesn’t just make them less pretty and kill some animals, it can also harm or kill us. We need to stop the feedback loop before it gets to that point. It is in our own self-interest. A cleaner ocean would not only allow us to find closure for the families affected by the tragedy of MH 370, but it will also allow for preserved biodiversity, more successful fisheries, and a healthier planet (and human race).

What can we do to clean up the ocean? It’s huge and many of the things that are polluting it are difficult if not impossible to clean up, but people are trying.

-Locals and divers in Bonaire are working to keep their coastlines and reefs clean. See our previous post.

-A while back we posted a review of ways to keep reefs clean. There are initiatives all over the place where people are doing these things. If you live near a coast or are a diver ask your local dive shop or environmental group about beach or reef cleanup events.

-Check our TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch for some videos about the effects of plastic on the ocean and coasts.

-A 19 year old student gave a TED talk about creating an ocean garbage patch cleanup array. Check it out:

Now, this array is probably not feasible and it has been attacked as an idea that actually will not work. Cleaning the garbage patches is perhaps an impossible fools errand. Fixing our dirty ocean starts at home. We need to change our perspective and use less, but you have to appreciate the way this kid thinks. We need more people who are willing to throw down and solve a world problem.

-In case you were wondering if any of this ocean plastic was useable for anything, one company (Method) is attempting to collect it and make it into a soap bottle

One last thing…

If you want to learn a thing or two about the perception of plastics and non-reusables, check out “Bag It“, a documentary that makes you realize just how much plastic you use.

4 thoughts on “Searching for MH 370 in the world’s largest trash can

  1. Pingback: MH 370 and the case for oceanic observation | UNder the C

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  3. Pingback: Green Your Weekend: Eliminate Microbeads | UNder the C

  4. Pingback: Fake Plastic Fish: how consumerism ruins the ocean | UNder the C

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