The tragedy of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 in recent weeks has had search teams from around the globe out looking for the already infamous and historical plane. Relatives of the plane’s passengers as well as governments and the media have kept this news item in the forefront of our minds as onlookers from all over wait and wonder what happened to all those people, and why there is not yet one sign of the metal that surely must be somewhere in the Indian Ocean, according to reliable and official data.
The search for MH370 has not, as we said, turned up a hint of the plane in question, but it has turned up a whole lot else. One day there was debris in this location, the next day another. Governments and fishermen kept spotting square kilometers of floating items concurrent with each other in small enough areas to make the world think the mystery had been solved. It has turned out each time, however, to be a false alarm. It is not debris from the plane being spotted, but ocean debris, an issue environmentalists and marine biologists alike have been trying to impress upon us for a long time.
There are five ocean “gyres” - or massive whirlpools in the world’s oceans - which trap garbage within them as they rotate, alternately containing and spitting out bits of debris left by humans over many, many years. Unfortunately the speed at which we are littering has increased, due likely both to population increases and the increased volume of items of consumer packaging we now have. The gyres are in the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic and the Pacific (the latter two each having a North and South gyre). The areas of flotsam which stay within the same massive water boundaries year after year grow bigger, and are known as 'garbage patches'.
Once per year the Ocean Conservancy has an annual “International Coastal Cleanup.” This takes place in the fall, when volunteers clean coastlines around the world over a 24 hour period. What they find, and where, makes up the only comprehensive picture of what litters the world’s waterways and coasts. Scientists estimate that if no one ever littered again and not one more item of garbage got into our rivers or oceans, the world’s waters would still have these garbage patches for hundreds of years to come. The following are the items humans most often throw into the water or leave lying around on beaches. Remember that these shocking figures apply to the items found over just a one-day clean up period by the Ocean Conservancy.
10 Paper Bags: 298,332
9 Beverage Cans: 339,875
8 Glass Beverage Bottles: 521,730
7 Straws/Stirrers: 611,048
6 Cups/Plates/Cutlery: 692,767
5 Caps/Lids: 958,893
4 Plastic Bags: 1,019,902
3 Plastic Beverage Bottles: 1,065,171
2 Food Wrappers & Containers: 1,140,222
1 Cigarettes: 2,117,931
Cigarettes are the No. 1 item found amidst debris cluttering the world’s waterways. Given that they're supposedly made of paper and tobacco, and further given that the Ocean Conservancy only cleans up once in the fall, wouldn’t you think these items should be more than soggy; surely they'd be shredded, disintegrated and just plain not there? That fact that more than two million are found intact in one day suggests the volume of cigarettes in the ocean at large is much, much larger than that figure. Personal health should be an incentive to stop use of this product butt if your health isn’t incentive enough, how about everyone else’s, including marine life?
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