Caught in the Gyre


In David de Rothschild’s book, Plastiki — Across the Pacific on Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans, he writes about the five great oceanic gyres, especially the North Pacific Gyre, twice the size of Texas, which concentrates 3.5 million tons of discarded plastic. He also offers this chilling definition of a gyre’s grim hold on our plastic wastes: “A gyre is a place where currents meet and form a whirlpool type system — this forms a meeting place for ocean debris. Millions of tiny and large pieces of plastic accumulate here; due to the currents they remain trapped, breaking down over time to become smaller and smaller pieces of plastic until they eventually become plastic dust. This ‘dust’ will never go away but will instead stay in the ocean accumulating toxins and working its way into the food chain as more animals digest these invisible and dangerous items of plastic waste.

Plastiki also reports this astounding incident:

Did junk food kill a 36-foot gray whale that washed up dead on a beach near Seattle in May 2010? Biologists aren’t sure whether the whale mistook garbage for food or accidentally swept it in during normal feeding, but when they cut open its stomach, here’s what they found: 5 lengths of fabric, 2 lengths of duct tape, 1 sock, 3 feet of electrical tape, 1 sweatpant leg, 1 golf ball, 2 towels, fishing line, 15 inches of green rope, 1 Capri-Sun juice packet, 3 feet of nylon rope, 1 red plastic cylinder, 2 grocery bags, 30 scraps of plastic bags.

Sad to say, Plastiki is full of the most depressing environmental news imaginable, but it’s also an incredibly inspiring book as well. The Land Library often goes to our own shelves for the pure inspiration of the remarkable lives of our fellow creatures. The following works of natural history gives us hope, and further fires our commitment to do a little less harm to this fragile planet of ours. What a world this is, to contain lives such as these!

The Great Sperm Whale: A Natural History of the Ocean’s Most Magnificent and Mysterious Creatures by Richard Ellis (his latest book, after a lifetime of whale studies), The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Phillip Hoare, The Grandest of Lives: Eye to Eye with Whales by Douglas Chadwick.

gray whale
Gray Whale, artwork by Richard Ellis


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