A Sharp-Beaked Seagull and a Powerful Lesson in E-waste
Some day when I’ve retired to a seaside shanty (at the current rate the ice caps are melting, that might be in central Ohio), I imagine I’ll be hanging out at a pub by the beach with the other fishermen and scallywags, comparing stories of our lives. I envision one old guy on the bar stool next to me showing off a nasty scar by his elbow, claiming “I got this from a barracuda.” The guy on the other side of me will hold up a prosthetic arm and say, “I lost this to a great white shark.” And I’ll point to a hook-shaped line along the knuckles of my left hand and say, “This came from a vicious tangle with a seagull.”
During a Florida vacation with my wife and daughter many years ago, we spotted a flapping, splashing, squawking buoy out just beyond the breaking waves. At eight years old, my daughter was quite appalled at the suffering of any of God’s creatures and when she saw that the erratic bobber on the surf was a seagull in distress, she insisted that I help it.
So I waded out into the waves and swam close enough to the bird to realize it was behaving strangely because it had become entangled in a huge wad of plastic trash. I managed to get close enough to snag the edge of the garbage islet to drag it and the gull to shore, where I diligently attempted to free the bird. Within moments, I learned that seagulls have pretty sharp beaks when they don’t realize you’re trying to help them.
I remembered the seagull last week when reading an interesting news article about a plastic card that had been set adrift in the Pacific Ocean from California in the 1970s as part of an experiment to measure the flow of oil in the event of a spill. The card was found a few weeks ago in Alaska and the story went on to explain how plastic will float around on the currents for years, as had this card, without disintegrating.
I was already aware of the threat of bits of plastic to our marine environment from recently reading two books on the topic of the huge plastic masses that are floating in the world’s oceans right now due to discarded rubbish. I would definitely recommend reading Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn, and the more recent Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans, written by Charles Moore and Cassandra Phillips.
In the newspaper article, it was casually mentioned that an albatross found on Midway Island in the Pacific in 2004 was found to have more than 500 pieces of plastic in its stomach. That poor bird could certainly win with that tale in a contest with my seagull, which merely had two legs hopelessly snagged in water jugs, plastic netting and six-pack rings.
At Redemtech, we focus a lot on what happens to plastics associated with the construction of computers and other electronics. That’s because so much of it ends up in landfills or being incinerated, where carcinogens are released into the air we breathe. And don’t think toxic e-waste only endangers the land and atmosphere. Thousands of tons of e-waste enter the world’s oceans, rivers and other bodies of water each year, much of it as run-off from primitive “recycling” operations.
Most of the plastic debris in our oceans is identified as plastic particles that are suspended at the surface or just beneath the waves. Pollutants range from lost fishing nets to micro-pellets that, like all plastics, never biodegrade. These bits of plastic are ingested by more than 180 known marine species, being mistaken for food.
If plastic pollutants are eaten by fish caught in our oceans, guess where in the food chain they wind up?