Plastics in the lunchbox. Plastics in the sea.

art, community, oceans, outreach

While eating lunch at work recently, my co-worker pulled out a sandwich wrapped in a colorful sash of woven materials. This wrapper, probably part of a rice sack from a distant place, was washable and reuseable. And – I thought – perfect. Looking into my own lunchbox, plastics abounded. Sure I washed and reused a few plastic bags made from recycled plastic. But was this enough? It turns out, no. The use of plastics leaves many negative effects in our streams, rivers, and seas.

For some time, scientists have known plastics are accumulating in the ocean. A recent study found plastics are floating deeper than previously assumed. Pieces of plastic can extend 20 meters below the sea. One mass near the northwest coast of the United States is about twice the size of Alaska. These particles are ingested by fish, birds, turtles, and other marine wildlife. Often these animals do not survive.

Above Photo: G. Proskurowski, Sea Education Association

Awareness is rising fast and people – myself included – are changing plastic-ey ways. Heal the Bay is working to spread awareness in California, and many creative outreach efforts are happening in Portland. The RiPPLe effect is an annual art gala that showcases creations made of plastics and other trash collected during a river clean-up. This project was started by Jenn Rielly. The International Plastic Quilt Project is promoted by another non-profit to challenge people to live without plastic for one week. Participants collect any plastic encountered and make a quilt piece. The quilt piece becomes part of a traveling exhibit.

All of this talk about plastics and water has certainly made me think. While I might not get around to making the quilt piece, I am going to go sans plastics for a week. Let’s give this a go.

Gulf Oil Spill of 2010

oceans, water pollution, water quality

An oil rig called the Deepwater Horizon, located 40 miles from the Louisiana coast, exploded on April 20th. This explosion left eleven people dead and copious amounts of crude oil and natural gas flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from a deep-water well. Today, the oil and gas mixture continues to stream into the Gulf.

Rates of discharge from several leaks range anywhere from BP’s estimate of less than 5,000 barrels a day to Steve Wereley’s (a scientist from Purdue) estimate of less than 100,000 barrels a day. Steve analyzed underwater video provided by BP to arrive at his estimate. Most people in the United States use oil for daily activities such as driving or heating. And oil is utilized for many industrial processes. Catastrophes like this one are one liability of relying on oil to meet energy needs.

Images from the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010

“The oil slick appears as a dull gray on the water’s surface and stretches south from the Mississippi Delta with what looks like a tail.”
Above Photo: NASA

“A satellite image taken May 17th shows oil slick being entrained in the Loop Current with a broad conveyor-belt-like extension of the slick sweeping in a gentle arc to the southeast and reaching 222 miles from the location of the leaking well.”
Above Photo: SkyTruth on flickr

“A map of the northern Gulf of Mexico showing the nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms in 2006.”
Above Photo: NOAA Ocean Explorer

“Soldiers of the Louisiana National Guard continue constructing the interlocking water diversion system near Venice, LA at the southwest pass of the Mississippi River Delta on May 14th.”
Above Photo: The U.S. Army on flickr

“Ships make their way through surface oil near a barge funneling off oil from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in this aerial view over the Gulf of Mexico, May 18th.”
Above Photo: Reuters/Daniel Beltra on flickr

“Fort Jackson, LA  International Bird Rescue Research Center
Above Photo: PBS on flickr

“Campaigner Lindsey Allen walks through a patch of oil from the Deepwater Horizon on the breakwater in the mouth of the Mississippi where it meets the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, May, 18th.”
Above Photo: Greenpeace on flickr