Trash talk

Posted Jan. 06, 2010, at 6:16 p.m.

There’s something in the waters of the North Pacific Ocean, and by all accounts, it should not be there. It’s as big as the state of Texas, it has claimed the lives of millions of marine creatures, and it’s made entirely of plastic.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a swirling mass of plastic bags, bottles, caps, packaging and other items, and it has been growing larger and more deadly for decades. The man who discovered the patch, Capt. Charles Moore, will speak at the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8.

“There were shampoo caps and soap bottles and plastic bags and fishing floats as far as I could see,” Moore has recalled, speaking of his discovery of the patch in 1997, during a yachting competition. “Here I was in the middle of the ocean, and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic.”

According to numerous scientists, there are now around 10 million tons of plastic in the patch, with more flowing into it every year. Since his discovery, Moore has spearheaded the investigation into the patch — from the ways in which plastic contamination affects the food chain to the rate of increase of plastic each year. In 1997, plastics outweighed zooplankton in the oceans 9-to-1. That level now is 8-to-1.

The harmful chemicals released by many plastics as they degrade have far-reaching consequences for oceans all over the world, from the Pacific to our own North Atlantic here in Maine.

“At MERI, we have been examining the levels, effects and trends of many of these toxic chemicals in harbor seals and their prey fish in the northwest Atlantic region since 2000,” said Dr. Susan Shaw, MERI founder and executive director. ”We are so pleased to welcome Capt. Moore to talk about the challenges our oceans face as a result of our throw-away culture of plastics and what we can do about it.”

A reception honoring Moore will be held at MERI, located at 55 Main St. in Blue Hill, at 6 p.m. Friday, with the lecture at 7 p.m. 2010 is also the 20th anniversary of MERI’s founding, and Moore’s lecture will kick off the anniversary celebrations and this year’s Ocean Environment Lecture Series, which brings in marine science experts from all over the world. For more information, visit www.meriresearch.org.

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