Forget Godzilla. What About Japanese Tsunami Debris?

Already on Hawaiian beaches, and in Hawaiian ocean life. And coming soon to a west coast beach near you. It’s like a malign Butterfly effect.

Here’s CNN:

In her lab, Jantz sliced open the stomach of a lancetfish for CNN. You may never have heard of the lancetfish, a sometimes 4- to 6-foot long fish with enormous teeth. But bigeye and yellow fin tuna eat lancetfish. Tuna ends up on our plates.

Jantz pulled out a 12 by 12 piece of indigestible black plastic. “It would be difficult to pass through the system,” said Jantz. “I’ve found several fish with the same black plastic bag, just like this, even larger. If it gets to a certain size, the fish is going to feel like it’s full.”

Jantz conducted a study that included 64 fish of varying species. Twelve percent of them, she said, contained plastic. When she looked just at lancetfish, 45% had plastic. “One concern that we have and don’t know is if any chemicals from the plastic are absorbed into the tissue of the fish, which is a problem if consumed by a fish that we consume. That’s definitely the next step, what is the impact?”

Across the island in David Hyrenbach’s lab, the impact of plastic debris is apparent among the animal species he studies: birds. Hyrenbach cut open the bellies of some albatross for CNN. Plastic pieces spilled out of the belly of a 2-month-old albatross. Eighty percent of the stomach was packed with plastic.

Hyrenbach, an assistant professor of oceanography at Hawaii Pacific University, pulled out a small bottle top. “Toothpaste top?” he said. “No, cap of a medicine tube.” He reached into the stomach again. “Oh, it’s a brush, you see?” There were the unmistakable bristles of a hairbrush.

“Morally, this is terrible. How is this possible? Majestic, far ranging, beautiful birds, in a pristine place of the pacific, the northwest Hawaiian islands, you open them up and this is what you find,” said Hyrenbach.

He grabbed a box, packed with toy soldiers, lighters and brushes. He explained that he pulled all the items out of albatross from Hawaii. “Every bird I looked at had plastic. Some had a little bit. Some had a lot. Everybody we looked at had plastic.”

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Tsunami Delivery

We all know how much stuff humanity has. And when a tsunami hits alot of it floats away. Currently, the Pacific Ocean is acting as a conveyor belt for an enormous tide of man-made junk that is headed from Japan to either fetch up on California beaches, or dwell for eternity in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I guess it is a good sign (of growing awareness that stuff matters) that the New York Times editorial board is alarmed, saying:

Scientists at the International Pacific Research Center, based at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, created a computer model to predict where the debris would go. Their animation shows a cloud looping across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii, out to the West Coast and back to Hawaii. They say it may make its first landfall this winter in Midway Island, then in Hawaii in 2012, and the West Coast in 2013. In September, a Russian ship sailing to Vladivostok spotted a fishing boat marked “Fukushima,” a TV, a refrigerator and other trash, validating the predictions.

But awareness is really only the first step toward actually doing anything about all the stuff we think we need (the second should be a progressive consumption tax). In the meantime, it will keep piling up across the natural world.

Here’s what the animation model–a real life disaster movie–looks like.

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