Our Plastic Period–Charles Moore and the Alguita

Charles Moore...ferried three researchers, his first mate and a journalist here this summer in his 10th scientific trip to the site. Photo: Lindsey Hoshaw for The New Times

Charles Moore is on his 10th trip to visit the Pacific Gyre–the spot in the Pacific Ocean that holds a growing island of plastic trash caught in its currents, previously written about in this blog here and here. A good article today in the New York Times explains what Mr. Moore has been doing since his first trip in 1997, when he accidentally stumbled upon this phenomenon. His work and that of others has inspired some of the rich and famous to get involved, namely Ted Danson with his Oceana project and David de Rothschild, whose brainchild the Plastiki Expedition he created when he read a 2006 UN report on trash in the oceans.

The issue of plastic in the oceans seems to be growing in the public awareness, although can any of us say that something has really changed? When one thinks about the enormous usage of plastic, not only here, but throughout the developing world, it is difficult to see a solution to what may be an insurmountable problem. The plastic doesn’t just float and somewhat degrade into smaller and smaller bits, it is ingested by sea creatures and travels up the foodchain. It is also becoming evident that our casual and regular use of plastic in water bottles and food packaging may be having an insidious effect on us as chemicals leach into our bodies. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times says tellingly that he has confronted extreme African poverty and disease, as well as dangerous warlords but is frankly terrified of the growing amount of bisphenol A or BPA accumulating in his tissues.

One day we may look back on our Plastic Period like boomers on the days of thalidomide babies. While I am not advocating that we all go the way of “No Impact Man” , I am heartened that there is some serious research being done to study the causes and effects of what may become known as our “Plastic Period.”