ENCINITAS – “One of the things that really impresses me now, is the fact that we’ve altered the habitat,” said Charles Moore, a self-described seafarer who inadvertently discovered what is now commonly referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
“Not only are we killing things by ingestion and entanglement,” he said, “but we’re also creating a new world.”
Moore picked up a derelict fishing buoy that he’d collected from one of his expeditions to the “patch,” mid-way between Hawaii and the West Coast, and pointed to coral that had grown on it. “It’s a coral reef out in the middle of the ocean,” he said. Moore added that the fish typically associated with reefs in waters only 100 meters deep are now being found on these floating reefs out in the deep ocean.
The Long Beach resident had discovered the “garbage patch” on a voyage from Honolulu, Hawaii to Santa Barbara, Calif. in 1997.
“It wasn’t an ‘Aha’ moment,” Moore said of the discovery. “It was just this inability to come on deck and not see something floating by; a small thing, but where it shouldn’t be. That was the problem.”
Moore details the discovery of the massive plastic pollution debris field in his new book, “Plastic Ocean,” co-authored by Cassandra Phillips, which he spoke about to a crowd-filled room at the Encinitas Public Library, Oct. 22.
Moore takes issue with the media-created “great garbage patch” term, saying that what it should really be called is a “plastic soup,” because of how the plastic debris appears strewn throughout the water. He said the “patch” was not a mountain, or island or swirling vortex of trash that could be cleaned up.
Very few people know about the garbage patch, Moore explained. “It’s something that’s new. It took a long time for us to believe that this change we’re noticing in our climate was due to human activity; very hard to believe. This is an easier sell because it’s visible…It’s not hard to make the connection that fish are getting tangled up in this, that we’re turning the beaches into plastic sand; that there’s a coral reef habitat in the middle of the ocean; that there are deleterious consequences of our trash.
“So it’s not a hard sell, but it’s not widely known. It hasn’t reached the level of a worldwide understanding.
“My mission is to make this understood by inlanders and people in developing nations so they don’t make the same mistakes we do of allowing plastic to proliferate with no infrastructure to take it back.”
Miranda Manross, 9, and her mother Karen were in attendance during the lecture. “It was really good,” Miranda said. “It’s really amazing how big all the plastic in the ocean is – just humongous.”
Miranda, who plans to become a certified diver, is already helping to reduce her plastic footprint by using a re-useable water bottle instead of drinking bottled water.
Harriet Seldin, committee member of the Encinitas Environmental Commission, which co-sponsored the lecture, said she knew the problem was bad, but after hearing Moore speak realized it was worse than she had thought.
As for ways people can help, Moore suggests buying items in bulk, using recycled grocery bags, keep storm drains clean and reduce consumption by avoiding excessively packaged products.
There have been four other patches of plastic pollution debris discovered throughout the world’s oceans. Moore’s foundation, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and the 5 Gyres Foundation continues to study the harmful impact plastics have on the oceans, ocean life and people.
“Plastic pollution is something that is not going to be solved rapidly, or simply,” Moore said.
For more information on Moore and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, visit algalita.org. “Plastic Ocean” is available Oct. 27.