Outdoors: Plastic pollution becomes caught up in currents – Burlington Times News

The Sargasso Sea has become a huge enemy in the fight against plastic pollution.

A strange and unique creation of nature, the Sargasso is some 700 miles wide, 2,000 miles long and located in the North Atlantic, with no shores. It is bounded by ocean currents on all sides.

To its west is the Gulf Stream Current, on its east is the Canary Current, northern side is bounded by North Atlantic Current, and the south by North Atlantic Equatorial Current. The island of Bermuda is located on its western fringes. 

With such ocean currents on all sides, this sea area unlike the harsh cold North Atlantic, is strangely warm with stable weather conditions and with calm and weak winds. Another strange phenomenon which is nowhere else seen in the world, is this vast water area is covered with some dense seaweed which forms a thick mat on the surface.

This free-floating golden-brown seaweed is knows as Sargassum and therefore such name of the sea. Although the Sargasso Sea remains calm with its surrounding currents, a subtropical gyre is formed here. As a result, the entire sea area with its mat-like weeds slowly rotates clockwise. The rotation also depends on the surrounding weather conditions. 

Closer to the center of the North Atlantic Gyre, big patches of sargassum come floating by. This seaweed with little airbubbles is part of a unique ecosystem. It thrives in a salty sea without surrounding land, the only one of its kind in the world. The Sargasso Sea is collecting plastic debris owing to the clockwise currents. Plastic flocks together with patches of sargassum which in turn, flock together in so called windrows, long lines of brown islands, floating on the water, hand in hand.

It has been proven that this seaweed isn’t blown into this area from the shores by the water currents. They are actually native to this area and grow here vigorously, hundreds of miles away from the shores. Although there are other such currents as in the South Pacific and in North Pacific that circle around, but there is no record of such thick formation of seaweed in any such areas. 

It’s also known that due to the ocean currents, vast amount of marine plants, trash and more and more of the world’s plastic waste get drifted into Sargasso Sea from the nearby ocean areas and become embedded in these weeds. Once these move into the area, it is unlikely that they are ever able to move out due to the nature of the currents on all sides. 

• GOOD NEWS: There is some good news from around the plastic-laden world.

Costa Rica has developed a type of “green asphalt.” The asphalt, which contains a plastic which makes it more durable, was developed by the University of Costa Rica’s National Laboratory of Materials and Structural Models and its project partners.

A similar asphalt is already used in countries including England, India and Canada, but Costa Rica is pioneering its use in Latin America. The Costa Rican blend uses PET plastic derived from recycled plastic bottles. Every ton of asphalt uses 1,000 plastic bottles.

It would seem this would be a perfect way to provide needed pavement for roads while vastly diminishing plastic bottle waste.

Meanwhile, Starbucks is meeting the global pressure on big business to become more environmentally friendly by replacing plastic straws with biodegradable alternatives and specially designed cover lids. The company is the largest food and beverage outfit to announce the elimination of such single-use items to date. These have particularly become targets because of the harm they do to marine life if they end up in the ocean.

In Rotterdam, the Recycled Island Foundation has been using aquatic drones capable of cleaning 1,000 pounds of trash from the water per trip.

In regard to the European Union, the European Parliament voted to ban a wide range of single-use plastics. Plastic utensils, straws, drink stirrers and plates are some of the items that will be banned by the new measure. Spurred by public support for a single-use plastics ban, the EU plans to have the measure take effect in 2021. All member countries — including Britain, if the Brexit transition period hasn’t ended — will be required to work the ban into national law.

In Egypt, the government has reduced seasonal smog levels in Cairo. Every year at the end of rice harvest season, farmers burn their byproduct rice straw, creating vast clouds of black smoke that cover the city.

To combat this phenomenon, the government is subsidizing the purchase of this straw by traders, who then resell it as animal feed.

Whatever would be the TDN (Total Digestible Nutrient) in such a feed?

Glenn Ayers is director of the Rockcastle Wildlife Plantation and outdoors writer for the Times-News. Email: [email protected] or telephone: (540) 297-7465.