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The oceans: our largest trash dumps

July 4, 2014
By Capt. George Tunison , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

I recently visited The Captains School in Cape Coral for my license renewal and while waiting I happened upon a wall chart concerning the projected breakdown times of trash in seawater and was amazed. I had to reach for my glasses to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Here's but a few stats to ponder. Accord-ing to the chart, an aluminum can takes 200 years to "go away." A plastic six-pack retainer 450 years, a Styrofoam cup 5 years, a plastic milk jug 500 years and finally, mono fishing line, and an estimated 600 years! Even a floating dolphin magnet like a sheet of plywood takes up to 3 years to dissolve.

But does it (plastic) actually go away? Unfortunately the answer is no. As it's baked by the sun, plastic eventually falls apart into smaller and smaller pieces finally breaking down into its chemical components and entering the food chain at the molecular level.

Nice to know that besides high levels of mercury and PCBs in your canned tuna sandwich you're also getting a good dose of dissolved plastic compounds.

Where are the largest trash dumps in the world? The oceans. The area in the Pacific known as the Pacific gyre or The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a slowly moving clockwise spiral of currents created by a high-pressure system of air and sea currents that trap garbage in a huge never ending circle of floating, suspended, partially broken down and dissolved mass of plastic, is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

Many estimate it to be even larger as it's nearly impossible to measure the true size due to much of the plastic is in the dissolved or nearly dissolved state and can't be seen. Only with water testing can it be found and evaluated.

Surveys say that plastic makes up 90 percent of all trash floating in the world's oceans. The United Nations Environment Program estimated back in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 bits of floating plastic bits! By 2015 that number will be much higher.

The average American uses 130 plastic bags a year, each one taking over 400 years or more to decompose. In addition, 2.5 million plastic bottles are used every hour in the U.S. Unfortunately, most of these bottles are thrown away.

Greenpeace researchers say of the countless millions of pounds of plastic produced worldwide each year 10 percent or more ends up in the drink. Seventy percent of that eventually sinks, damaging life on the ocean floor. The rest floats; much of it ends up in gyres and the massive garbage patches that form with plastic trash eventually washing up on a distant shores.

Tiny Midway Island of World War II fame, halfway between Hawaii and Japan, removes over 20 tons of plastic trash from its beaches yearly. Millions of seabirds roost there and millions of chicks die each year from ingesting or becoming tangled in plastic trash along with turtles, sea lions and other marine life.

On the local level we all see lots of fishing line broken off and left in the mangroves, floating cans, bottles and other plastic trash every time we go out on the waters.

We see millions of gallons of toxic water flow down our river each summer due to paid politicians protecting private interests instead of letting Lake O's overflow take its natural course southward to be purified along the way by the Everglades then released as clean water to replenish Florida Bay.

We protest the Lake O discharges yet daily the same folks that rail against the river pollution pay to have lawn chemical trucks spray untold thousands of gallons of poison on local lawns year-round only to have it washed into the very same river with every afternoon soaking rain and eventually into their redfish barbecue.

Round and round we go, where it will all eventually stop, no-one knows

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or, or



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