THE GARBAGE DUMP OF THE SHIPS (PART ONE)
Refuse from the ocean (marine remains) is not only unpleasant garbage, it is also a serious problem to both marine and coastal environments, and it keeps getting worse. It assembles in huge amounts at the marine bottom, in the water and over the shores around the world. It causes death, pain and suffering. The marine garbage is a present danger to animal life, but it also brings another menace that remains unseen. The quantities at the bottom of the seas are gruesome, where it kills and hurts without being noticed. The 'phantom fishing' brought by discarded or lost fishing nets is only one of many other examples.
Marine refuse threatens biodiversity and is a constant source of toxic substances. The hazard to marine and coastal biodiversity is due to the destruction of coastal 'hatcheries', wherein new life would emerge in different circumstances. Garbage can also carry invader species from one sea area to another. It destroys and makes it dirty, bringing great economic losses. Garbage in the seas moves rapidly along the marine currents and winds. It travels by sea and through the oceans. It is not only to be found around highly populated areas but also in very remote and faraway places, away from its obvious sources.
Navigation is one of the greatest (although not the only) supplier of solid waste/garbage that will turn into marine rubbish. The term 'Rubbish' includes all kinds of food, domestic and operational litter, generated during the normal tasks performed in a ship and which is subject to be continuously or periodically dumped. To throw most of the wastes into the sea is permitted, with the only exception of plastic objects anywhere at sea, which is totally forbidden, along with other kind of rejects from ships into coastal waters and several 'Special Areas' as the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea, the North Sea, the Red Sea, The Caribbean region and the Antarctic area, which are subject to severe restrictions. Governments are forced to provide the proper installations to collect these residues within the land.
It is very difficult to gather a detailed and reliable information in order of calculating the absolute numbers of garbage and residual waters quantities that are generated by navigation that should be collected and treated in the ports that exist around the world. The existing information is incomplete, outdated or partial concerning the maritime and docking areas. The customary operations of the ships have an outcome of oily residues, water residues, garbage and other trash usually associated to loading and unloading activities.
The amounts of plastic junk that the sea throws into the beaches point out the important quantities of garbage that is illegally dumped to the sea into the sea and the beaches. Plastic is cheap, resistant to degradation and could stay afloat for great distances on the water. Plastic has also been found on some unpopulated islands in the South Pacific. Marine birds, fishes and marine mammals get easily entangled in the plastic can rings, nylon strings and plastic belts.
Although synthetic and plastic materials have existed for little more than a century, in the year of 1988 30 million tons of these materials were produced each year in the USA alone. The versatility of these materials have triggered its increasing production rates during the last three decades. This increase as well as its durability are the main reasons to regard them as a serious foe to environment.
At the beginning, the damaging effects brought by plastics to the environment were utterly ignored. Not even the plastic industry was able to foresee the great growth the production and employment of plastic products will attain during the past thirty years. Regarding the marine environment, the feeling of marine life abundance added to the vast extension of the oceans, misled people into discarding the impending dangers the proliferation of plastic wastes could bring.
The following data provides the real dimensions and extents of pollution caused by marine littering:
- The waste amounts produced daily by an average sized loading ship is of about 2,5 to 3,25 kilograms per employee.
- Garbage and other loading residues are produced in an approximate rate of one ton for every 123 loaded tons.
- It has been estimated that more than 8 million articles of solid garbage are disposed into oceans and seas each day around the world, form which a number of about 5,5 million tons are dumped by commercial ships, comprising 4,8 million tons of metallic cans, 640 thousand tons of plastic items and 300 thousand tons of glass containers.
- Research institutes estimate that the amount of garbage thrown into the seas totals thrice the fishing volumes extracted from it.
- The production numbers of plastic had so steadfastly grown since its first years of production more than 40 years ago, that in 1970 the plastic produced to make bags was already enough as to wrap up the entire planet with it. Furthermore, the global production of polyethylene by that year will suffice to envelope the total area of all the oceans.
- The Academy of Sciences of the United States of America estimates the world's total amount of garbage entering the oceans in about 6,4 million tons per year, 5,6 million tons of which are dumped by merchant ships.
- Some 46.000 thousand plastic objects are estimated to be floating within every square mile of the ocean. A number between 60% and 80% of these debris comes from land sources and almost half of all this garbage is composed of plastic.
- According with the data obtained during the year of 1997, commercial and fishing vessels in addition to petroleum platforms actually spill 70 thousand tons of refuse into the North Sea every year.
- The researches for classifying wastes generated by USA ships reveal that freighters produce 111.700 million tons of refuse yearly and ports can receive up to 368.000 tons of waste every year only from foreign ships.
- During the 'Beachwatch' cleansing campaign performed in 1998 in the United Kingdom, 322.751 garbage objects, with an approximate added weight of 25 tons were retrieved within a 167 kilometre shoreline extension. The annual cost rates for cleansing the U.K. beaches has been estimated in a number around 60 million dollars.
- In the Pacific Ocean, some concentrations of plastic objects have been accounted in numbers of 21.000 objects per square mile.
- A cleansing exercise performed in the shoreline of Texas, collected 15.600 plastic 'six pack' rings from a 1,8 mile stretch along the coast.
Garbage and other solid debris from ships can be as deadly as hydrocarbons and other chemical substances to marine life. The most dangerous element is plastic, which is able to stay afloat for years. Fishes and marine mammals can sometimes take plastic objects as nourishment, let aside being entangled with cords, nets, bags and other plastic items. Sometimes even seemingly harmless objects as the plastic rings used to pack beer and soda cans can prove to have terrible effects.