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A report released last week by the international nonprofit Greenpeace highlights the problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. One of the organization’s research vessels, the M.Y. Esperanza, currently engaged in a 15-month voyage to document major problems faced by the world’s oceans, has just returned from the world’s newest and largest marine reserve in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with some bad news. This relatively clean marine environment is threatened by a growing "trash vortex," in which plastic is gathered by ocean currents from around the North Pacific and endlessly circulates through an area the size of Texas.
“During the course of the
expedition, we have seen coastlines covered in rubbish, but out at sea the problem becomes even greater—with turtles, albatrosses and many other marine creatures becoming entangled in floating plastic or even choking on it,” warns Greenpeace International scientist Adam Walters, who has been traveling aboard the Esperanza. “The danger to marine life has been known for decades, but the scale of the problem has not been realized. With plastic consumption rapidly increasing globally, plastic has become ubiquitous in the ocean,” he adds.
Greenpeace has congratulated the U.S. government for creating the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands national monument and marine reserve, but it wants to see further action. The group is campaigning for governments around the world to work together in setting aside 40 percent of the world’s oceans as marine reserves, as well as to raise public awareness of the impact of land-based pollution on marine environments, even far out to see as in the case of the Northwestern Hawaiian Island ever-expanding trash vortex.
“It’s ironic that this debris ends up floating past the largest marine reserve in the world,” says Buffy Baumann, an ocean activist with Greenpeace USA. “While we applaud the creation of the national monument, we need international action to create properly protected marine reserves around the world. In order to counter all the threats to the oceans—from pollution to overfishing and habitat destruction—the world needs to realize that ocean protection must begin on land,” she concludes.