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Hawaiian shores: More plastic debris killing birds, fish and marine life

For decades, the world’s oceans have increasingly become a disgraceful dumping ground for cruise ships, vessels and tankers. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, whose reefs and shores are deluged by plastic debris, have long been a haven for marine wildlife.

An astonishing amount of debris from tsunamis, like the one that hit Japan, is also entering the deadly stockpile daily. Plastic items, trash and other pollutants have literally formed “garbage islands.”

In a first-ever move to get EPA funding for ocean debris cleanup, the Center for Biological Diversity recently filed a petition to designate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as the nation’s newest environmental Superfund site.

The designated site includes the portion of the gigantic Pacific Garbage Patch floating within US waters. This patch is a swirling mass of litter in the Pacific Ocean larger than the state of Texas.

According to the group’s petition, plastic debris kills or injures thousands of seabirds, marine mammals and turtles every year while contaminating the environment with toxic chemicals.

“The waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands contain thousands of pounds of plastic bags, bottles and other toxic litter that’s deadly to seals, birds and other marine wildlife,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center attorney. “Something this big and disgusting needs the kind of attention that only a Superfund designation can provide.”

As garbage is tossed into the Pacific Ocean, currents pull the debris into a vast, undulating mass of “plastic soup."

Countless sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals and other animals are hurt and killed. Some wildlife get entangled and drowned, while others are strangled or suffer from lacerations and infection. Still others starve after consuming plastic because it creates false feelings of being full.

Studies have shown that nearly all Laysan albatross chicks in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a staggering 97.5 percent, have plastic in their stomachs, fed to them by their parents who mistake plastics are food.

Once consumed by marine life, fish and birds, the toxic source of chemicals contained in plastic-bits moves up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals.

Furthermore, such toxins can then be passed to humans who eat fish, including tuna and swordfish.

“These deadly garbage patches have been ignored for decades and only gotten bigger,” said Jeffers. “If we’re serious about stopping plastic pollution from killing wildlife, we need to start the cleanup now.”

In 2006, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, a 1,200-mile chain of scattered isles was designated a national marine monument. The area is home to more than 7,000 marine species, of which one-quarter are not found anywhere else on Earth.

Currently, plastic pollution is competing for ocean acidification as the most deadly threat to marine life and the ocean's aquatic food chain.

For more information on the EPA’s Superfund program click here.

Related article:

Global warming turing oceans into food chain death traps

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