Roving Exhibit Highlights Ocean Plastics Problem

2019-08-23T10:01:49+00:00 June 11, 2018|

Photo credit: Allison Hays/Consortium for Ocean Leadership

The Ocean Plastics Lab, currently on the National Mall in Washington, D. C., illustrates the pollution threat and points to solutions.

(From By Randy Showstack) — Plastic seems to be everywhere in the oceans, from urban harbors to remote beaches, from the middle of the oceans to the depths of the seas. It endangers marine creatures that ingest plastic or get entangled in it, harms coral reefs, and potentially presents a hazard to human health as microplastics move up the food chain.

Testifying to the ubiquitousness of plastic, scientists in April reported on the finding of a plastic bag nearly 11,000 meters beneath the surface of the ocean in the Mariana Trench. Earlier this week, an autopsy of a pilot whale in Thailand revealed 80 plastic bags in its stomach among other plastic items. And right now, a long-distance swimmer, Ben Lecomte, is on his way from Japan to San Francisco, aiming to swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to bring attention to it.

An international traveling exhibit now in Washington, D. C., also is calling attention to plastics pollution in the oceans and what can be done about it. The Ocean Plastics Lab, which is on the National Mall from 4 to 17 June and open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily, graphically presents the problem by leading visitors through different sections of the exhibit to see the waste, detect its impacts, and examine potential solutions.

Several walls in the science-based exhibit, for instance, are covered with debris representing the mess of plastic already in the oceans and the estimated 4.8–12.7 billion kilograms more entering the oceans annually. Elsewhere in the interactive display, visitors can scan bar codes to see how long different types of plastic last, find out what kinds of plastics float or sink, and learn about research into plastics and solutions to the problem.

Addressing the Issue as a “Matter of Urgency”

Experts estimate that an average of 8.7 billion kilograms of plastic gets deposited into the oceans every year. In other words, “about 35 shipping containers of plastic end up in the sea every hour, and the plastic which for so long seemed to just disappear is reappearing in all sorts of places,” said Boris Ruge, minister and deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Germany, Washington, D. C., during the exhibit’s opening ceremony on 4 June. The exhibit is an initiative of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German Marine Research Consortium, and the European Commission and has more than 60 partners from around the world, including the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.

“We must address this issue as a matter of urgency, and science can play a decisive role in strengthening public awareness. This is exactly what the Ocean Plastics Lab is intended to do,” Ruge said of the exhibit, which already has been to Belgium, France, and Italy.

Important Personally and Professionally

Attendees at the ceremony included Tim Gallaudet, acting administrator of NOAA. Gallaudet, a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, told Eos that he is personally and professionally concerned about the issue.

“I’ve been to plenty of beaches and areas of the ocean that are just deplorable, not in their natural state and quite polluted,” Gallaudet said. “Personally, it’s something I think is important to fix and remedy.”

Gallaudet highlighted NOAA’s efforts on the issue, including the agency spending more than $17 million over the past decade to remove 6,500 metric tons of marine debris from U.S. ocean and coastal areas. “At NOAA, we’re trying to champion the blue economy: It’s our fisheries, it’s recreation and tourism within our [marine] sanctuaries, it’s …

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