More on our plastic ocean: bottle caps

DOWNEY - Last week we departed from our ongoing discussion of the human impact on our world's oceans to offer some suggestions about how to keep some of our trash and plastics out of the ocean, which continues to provide increasing evidence of how much we've polluted it.Specifically, we've referred on more than one occasion to Captain Charles Moore's 2011 book entitled "Plastic Ocean," which tells the story of his 1997 discovery of what has come to be known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," and his ongoing efforts thereafter to bring ocean pollution, plastic ocean pollution in particular, to the world's attention. Amidst the ongoing challenges of providing rigorous scientific confirmation of the harm of this pollution--however obvious that might seem to the naked eye--he tells many accessible stories of his personal experience of ocean pollution. One of them relates to Coastal Cleanup Day, which is familiar to Downey residents who participate in Keep Downey Beautiful's monthly cleanups. Every September, Keep Downey Beautiful partners with Heal the Bay in affiliation with the Ocean Conservancy to clean up a segment of the Rio San Gabriel River. On that same day, not only statewide, but also nationally and internationally, caring citizens contribute a Saturday to clean up beaches world-wide. That was the scene of this story from Captain Moore, who lives in Long Beach, excerpted in its entirety from "Plastic Ocean." "We're at a broad white sand beach lined by million-dollar homes. A beach popular with families on weekends and volleyball players There's not a lot of visible trash on the sand, though the strand line as usual, gleams with hurdles and bits of plastic. The thought occurs: just what are all these volunteers going to clean up? I decide to conduct a little experiment and show the younger set that science can be fun (and sometimes profitable). I challenge about half a dozen kids, there for the cleanup, to collect bottle caps only. I hand out used plastic shopping bags and promise a nickel for each cap they find. The total cost will be about $20, I figure, assuming they'll scavenge maybe 400. But these kids are avid, focused, competitive, and hell-bent on making a few bucks. An hour and a half later, their haul has me forking over close to $60. From 300 or so meters of broad, clean-looking beach, these incentivized plastic hounds gather nearly 1,100 caps, none attached to a bottle. It's like trawling surface waters in the mid-Pacific and getting ten times the plastic bits you thought were out there. The responsible citizens who'd left the beach with their redeemable bottles - California is a bottle bill state - walked away from the worthless caps. Among intact objects I find in the open ocean, polypropylene bottle caps are number one; ditto for recognizable objects found in the stomachs of dead Laysan albatross chicks." If Moore's story were a movie, his closing reference to deceased Laysan albatross chicks would be an unmistakable sign of a sequel. Because if you know anything at all about the effects of ocean plastic pollution, you know how horribly it has impacted the Laysan albatross. So a sequel it will be, in our next installment.

********** Published: April 4, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 51