Plastic Paradise

Plastic on Hawaiian beach

Today’s guest bloggers are Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s Water Quality Director, and Sarah Sikich, Coastal Resources Director. Here they discuss their experience traveling to Hawaii last week and participating in the 5th International Marine Debris Conference.

Sarah: It’s unreal – spending a week in Hawaii for work! Not to mention meeting some of the leading researchers, government agencies, environmental organizations, and explorers working on marine debris and plastic pollution issues. Was there any research presented that you found particularly memorable?

Kirsten: It’s hard to pick just one presentation but one that stands out is the work being done by Dr. Jan A. van Franeker from the Netherlands.  He gave several revealing talks on his research with Northern Fulmars, a marine bird species. He found that in the North Sea, the “average” Northern Fulmar flies around with 0.3 grams of plastic in the stomach, rising to 0.6 grams in more polluted areas.  If you scale this bird up to the size of an average human, that would equal 30 grams of plastic, resembling a lunchbox full of plastic sheets, foams, threads and fragments!  How about you, did any of the presentations stand out?

Sarah: I’m glad to see how much research is being focused on endocrine disruptors and plastics. Many researchers in the field have raised concerns about whether chemicals associated with plastics are leaching into the tissues of wildlife and fish ingesting this trash. Previously little work had been done to determine whether this was actually occurring. Several scientists presented preliminary research at the conference showing that chemical plastic additives (like phthalates and Bisphenol A) and PCBs that stick to plastics are present in the tissues of animals that have ingested plastic materials. Potential hormone system disruption is also of concern. Pretty scary stuff.  But, at least we were learning about it in blissful, tropical Hawaii. How did the conference location influence your experience?

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