My series is a documentation of the destruction “MAN” has caused to the river.
My series is a documentation of the destruction “MAN” has caused to the river. I plan to bike the Los Angeles River bed, and photograph whatever sense of pollution I find. Last Fall 2011 I took an Environmental Biology course which enlighten me about certain environmental issues we are having in our world. This course really hit home for me, I took somethings to heart. In the course I learned about the different types of pollution. This series originated, more or less, as the result of going bicycling with my younger sister on the weekends and the mixture of learning about the environment. While, bicycling the trail, I noticed you can actually go down to the water. Once I got down to there, I was intrigued by the way things appeared. We think of a river as a natural watercourse flowing towards the ocean, providing life on its way to its destination. The truth is, this river has been manipulated and in a sense it is now man-made. It is full of filth and it disgusts me. What I’m really trying to do is bring attention to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch as well the problems it brings such as degradation, leaching, bio-accumulation, and bio-magnification.
Degradation is defined as the act or process of degrading. Well what exactly does that mean? It means that the chemical compounds in an object (e.g. Plastic, Metals) are breaking down. Most plastic products, from sippy cups to food wraps, can release chemicals that act like the sex hormone estrogen, according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives. This release of chemicals is referred to as leaching.
Plastics will degrade into small pieces until you can’t see them anymore. As a result of the ocean being a cold, dark place, the process of degrading happens slower. Do plastics fully “go away?” Full degradation into carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic molecules is called mineralization. Most commonly used plastics do not mineralize or go away in the ocean and instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces. We call these pieces “micro-plastics” if they are less than 5mm long. Bio-based and truly biodegradable plastics break down in a compost pile or landfill, but are generally not designed to degrade as quickly in the ocean. In the following table the types of plastics are labeled, there common uses, and what they leach.
Bio-accumulation refers to the accumulation of substances, such as pesticides, or other organic chemicals in an organism. Bio-accumulation occurs when an organism absorbs a toxic substance at a rate greater than that at which the substance is lost. Thus, the longer the biological half-life of the substance the greater the risk of chronic poisoning, even if environmental levels of the toxin are not very high. Bio-accumulation, for example in fish, can be predicted by models.
Bio-accumulation should not be mistaken with Bio-magnification which is the buildup of certain substances in the bodies of organisms at higher trophic levels of food webs. Organisms at lower trophic levels accumulate small amounts. Organisms at the next higher level eat many of these lower-level organisms and hence accumulate larger amounts. At the highest trophic levels the increased concentrations in tissues may become toxic.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area. The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography, since it consists primarily of suspended particulates in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to ever smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average. How trash makes its way to the garbage patch is pretty straightforward. When a plastic cup gets blown off the beach in, say, Los Angeles, it gets caught in the California Current, which makes its way down the coast toward Central America. Somewhere off the coast of Mexico it most likely meets the North Equatorial Current, which flows toward Asia. Off the coast of Japan, the Kuroshio Current might swoop it up and yank it eastward again, until the North Pacific Current takes over and carries it past Hawaii to the garbage patch. These are the currents that make up the North Pacific Gyre. Moore says it takes a year for material to reach the Eastern Garbage Patch from Asia and several years for it to get there from the United States. Now multiply that one cup by billions of plastic items over years and years. Actually, about 65 years, starting after World War II, when we really began to make plastic products en masse. Beyond plastic degradation and its toxic ramifications, other refuse issues ensue. Twenty-mile castaway fishnets snare sea turtles, dolphins, and other animals, endangering their populations; birds mistake trash for food, eat it, and die; jellyfish get sick; gnarly junk washes back to shore, some of it hazardous waste. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t just a problem for those living in the middle of the ocean; it’s a problem for those of us who are land-bound as well.
In conclusion The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a result of bio-accumulation which is leading to leaching and bio-magnification. It is affecting the oceans ecosystem and our food chain. If we don’t figure out a way to stop this from happening who knows what we might leave for our future generations.
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