Keeping the ‘Garden’ in ‘Garden State’

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Sea Bright One Year Ago

Today is a weird day.  I feel thankful, blessed, guilty and angry all at the same time.  It is the year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.  I rent an apartment on one of the Barrier Islands in New Jersey – a small shore town 3 miles long – called Sea Bright.

One year ago today I evacuated from Sea Bright back to my parents in North Jersey.  Safe and sound, without power but among family and friends, I anxiously awaited my return to the shore.  I had just moved to Sea Bright three weeks before the storm and was beginning to make the town my own.  I had met a few locals who took me, The Benny, under their wings and showed me the ropes.  I couldn’t wait to go back.  I didn’t think Sandy would be that bad; all I did to ‘prepare’ was buy two bottles of wine.

Then Sandy hit.

Though the two bottles of wine did come in handy, in retrospect, a few other preparations, like filling my car with gas, would have been helpful.  The house I rent out of took ten feet of water in the basement, but my landlord was able to fix what needed to be fixed and I moved back within three weeks of the storm.

I immediately began volunteering in town.  I felt guilty that I was able to return to my apartment, while families who had lived and worked and owned businesses in Sea Bright for generations were displaced, their homes and livelihoods forever changed.  And I was angry at the bureaucratic processes that my fellow New Jerseyans had to go through to get help.

National Guard - 'Tent City' in Sea Bright one year ago

The National Guard – ‘Tent City’ in Sea Bright

I’m not sure what I expected volunteering in town to be like right after the storm, but what I experienced was unbelievable.  The National Guard had posted up in Sea Bright, making the town look like a war zone.  Trailers of supplies were in rows for folks to take what they needed or to drop off what they didn’t. Sea Bright was busy: police officers, the National Guard, volunteers from all over the US, locals trying to rebuild their lives, the press, and elected officials all attempting to navigate their way around town.

I learned that despite what aid comes in from the local, state and federal level; New Jerseyans and Sea Brighters take care of their own.  Like my Sea Bright Rising sweatshirt says, we were “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”  Even among the confusion, anger, and bewilderment of everyone in town, Sea Bright residents came together and formed their own support network through community.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.  I felt good energy in town and I felt that slowly but surely Sea Bright would be okay.

A year later, 40% of Sea Bright residents still have not returned home after Superstorm Sandy.  This holds true for many other towns throughout the coastal community up and down the Jersey Shore.

If you would like to help the Jersey Shore’s ongoing recovery process, check out volunteer opportunities with Occupy Sandy NJ or Coastal Habitat for Humanity.

So what do we do now?  What have we learned?  How do we prepare for the next storm?

A lot of folks are talking about talking about rebuilding more resiliently and sustainably to keep New Jerseyans safe from the next storm.  Many of these discussions focus on Barrier Island towns like Sea Bright.  Do we retreat and let the land be reclaimed by nature?  Did we have a right to build on Barrier Islands in the first place?  Should we all migrate inland?  Now, I am extremely biased because I love Sea Bright, but I think there are solid points on both sides of this controversial argument.

All folks should be able to make their own decision about where they choose to live, raise a family or own a business.  However, I think in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it is vital for everyone to understand the risks of living in a flood plain and the vulnerabilities of the New Jersey coastline.  It is especially important for folks to understand these risks as they relate to climate change and sea level rise.  The climate system is changing and will continue to change as humans continue to interact with it.

For more information about climate change and sea level rise in your area, check out ClimateCentral.org and resources from the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance.

A lot of these issues; climate change, sea level rise, responsible recovery, land use planning, resiliency and so on were raised at a conference I attended today.

The topic of buyouts came up in every session of the day.  Regardless of your opinion on where folks should or should not live, state acquisitions of properties in certain floodways that are prone to flood or storm damage could help New Jersey prepare for the next storm.  I’m certainly not saying that every resident on the Barrier Islands should retreat so that the land can return to nature or that we should all migrate inland tomorrow, I am merely entertaining the idea of buyouts because I know that climate change and sea level rise are occurring.  As a 20-something environmentalist, it is important for me to keep track of these trends so that I can prepare myself for the years to come and to plan for my own future.

Moving on to a less controversial topic along the same lines…

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

More natural buffers, like marshlands, could help mitigate floodwater from future storm events.  Increased plots of open space in North Jersey could help reduce pollution runoff into local waterways and ultimately the ocean.  Less impervious surfaces could help rainwater to be absorbed back into the groundwater table and reduce local flooding from smaller storm events.  Farmland and sustainable farming practices could also reduce soil compaction.   Creating areas of open space that support native plants could help to filter runoff and slow down the rate of flooding events, all the while filtering toxins out of rainwater before it recharges the groundwater table, and therefore the water that we drink.

Sounds great, right?  Except…New Jersey currently has no money for new projects like these.  All of the open space funds from the last voter approved ballot measure in 2009 have been allocated completely.  The Assembly has not held a hearing that would allow for voters to choose to renew funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation programs.

New Jerseyans: Call your two State Assembly representatives and tell them that open space, farmland, and historic preservation are important to you. 

  • Ask them to urge the Assembly Speaker to post the open space funding bill, ACR 205, for a vote before the end of this year so that you can have a chance to vote to renew open space funding in the November 2014 election.
  • Then, please call Speaker Oliver directly and ask her to schedule the open space bill, ACR 205, for a vote this year.  Find your legislators here.

For more information about the critical need for a stable source of open space funding and to keep the ‘garden’ in ‘Garden State,’ please check out New Jersey Keep It Green.

Guest Blog: Saving the Environment, One Local Pond at a Time

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Guest Blog By: Linda Grand

Linda Grand is an incoming senior at the University of Delaware majoring in Environmental and Resource Economics.  She is vice president of Students For the Environment on campus and is participating in undergraduate research at UD.  On 20-something Environmentalist, Linda writes about her experience educating folks on the water quality of her favorite pond growing up.

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People ask me all the time how I became the environmentalist that I am today. I would never know how to answer this question and would just ramble on about liking the outdoors and nature. However, now that some aspects of environmental activism have been closer to home, I have come up with a better response to this question.

I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey in a town called Hillsborough with a pond across from my house. Not only did I learn to ride my bike along the path that circumscribes this pond, I’ve walked around that pond more times than I can count, and in the winter, I would ice skate on it and sled around it. Therefore, this pond is very dear to me, and I think growing up next to it was what started to get me entranced with nature and protecting the environment.

A couple of months ago my neighbor, Katherine, reached out to me asking if I would be interested in helping her with a new project aiming to save the pond. She called the project “The Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative.” The project has two key focuses: to create a broader close-knit neighborhood and to educate people about the stormwater pollution that is causing algal blooms to develop in our pond.

When rainwater goes on impervious surfaces such as driveways, streets, paths, and sidewalks, instead of seeping into the ground it is referred to as stormwater. Stormwater pollution occurs when that rainwater becomes polluted with litter and excess sediment that runs off of impervious surfaces. Polluted stormwater was running, untreated, into storm drains that lead straight into our local waterways, like the pond near my house!

The pond is currently suffering from algae blooms.  Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus from lawn fertilizers and pesticides) flowing into the pond create algal blooms that deplete the dissolved oxygen on which the ecosystem depends.  The excess nutrients can be traced back to neighboring housing developments and Canada geese that feed on the mowed lawn areas that surround the pond.  The algal blooms are not only detrimental to fish and aquatic wildlife, but they tend to be smelly and are not aesthetically pleasing.

As soon as Katherine proposed the Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative, I jumped on board. We worked together with a local non-profit organization called BoroGreen to plan a Family Fun Day to make the Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative a reality. The goal of the Family Fun Day around the pond was to create an atmosphere where one could meet new people and learn about how they can take simple steps to help protect the pond. After months of planning this event, it was a huge success with over 30 people from all sides of the pond in attendance.

Activities during the day included: face painting, a gift giving game, hula hooping, music and more. One event that was a huge hit was learning how to make a window farm to plant herbs out of some tubing and used plastic water bottles. Then, while enjoying a potluck full of delicious food, we casually talked to people about the state of the pond and what they could do to protect this cherished public good.

People left the event with biodegradeable soap samples and fliers about how they can help the pond. Topics discussed included: rain barrels, lawn care tips, and how to prevent stormwater pollution. Rain barrels catch rainfall on rooftops, thus reducing runoff in heavily developed areas.  Water collected in the rain barrel can be used to water plants and lawn. In addition, we asked our neighbors to lower their lawn fertilizers use.  We advocated for them to do a soil test on their own lawn to help find out the appropriate amount of fertilizer to apply to their lawn.

Overall, the Family Fun day was a huge success. It was grassroot organizing to the core. I am excited to be working on the Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative, and I am hopeful for it to expand and grow in years to come.

Guest Blog: Electronic Waste, Where it Ends Up and What You Can Do About It

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Guest Blog by: Craig Dsouza

Craig Dsouza just graduted from the University of Delaware with a Masters degree in Environmental Policy.  Read his blog ‘People and the Planet: The Spotlight on India’ here. On 20-something environmentalist, Craig writes about a common environmental issue in his native country: e-waste in India.

A worn out old personal computer, the last of the 20th century, smudged gray with dirt of the years sits on a pile of similarly broken down devices in Guiyu, China. This gadget, once “magical” to the eyes of its owners, now finds itself awaiting its last days as a modern technological marvel. It won’t be long before its constituents are broken down rather crudely and go their separate ways.

The shell of plastic is pulled apart to get at the circuit board within. Therein lays the gold, literally gold, 220mg of it winding in and out of threads of other precious metals such as silver (Ag), Palladium (Pd). Quantities of these materials are seldom worth the effort to separate them, especially when a blowtorch is the worker’s best tool. Copper and steel from the PC however are extracted and set aside for later resale. Some mass of toxic heavy metals including lead, mercury, PCBs and other toxic chemicals enter into the air or leach into the bare ground below the wage laborer who sets apart her finds carefully in a sorted pile. She then moves on to the next machine and repeats the process. Later plastic is set aside for recycling. Unrecoverable junk from the rest of the heap is dumped out in the open.

The threat posed by such toxics to the health of workers and the environment is real. The lure of better wages however, has won out over the threat of ill health. Crackdowns on the illegal imports of e-waste into China ramped up in the wake of a 60 Minutes piece in 2008, which highlighted the prevalence of transboundary waste transfers from the U.S. to China. This cut down but did not eliminate imports completely. What will it take to achieve this?

What Comprises E-waste?

E-waste is comprised of discarded parts of any of a number of electrical devices we use in our daily lives. This includes television sets, computers, refrigerators, mobiles devices, air-conditioners, batteries and many more. Discarded devices can be repaired and put up for resale or broken up into its constituents, metals and plastic which are resold as primary commodities. The cost of repair and resale value dictates which alternative is picked. Some of the constituents of e-waste cannot be reused and must be disposed away safely.

Where is E-Waste Produced?

The world produces an estimated 40 million tons of e-waste each year, the U.S. leading the pack with 3 million tons followed by China at 2.3 million tons. This is set to change in the next few years with developing countries projected to leap ahead by 2016. This is cause for further worry with poor safeguards in the recycling process being a staple in developing countries.

Where does E-Waste End Up?

70% of the world’s e-waste finds its way to China where cheap labor and poor law enforcement allow for waste imports. Large quantities of e-waste are also taken to India, Pakistan and Nigeria.  This happens despite the presence of laws on either end prohibiting the trans-border transport of e-waste, through loopholes that allow for the transport of ‘used’ or ‘second hand’ electronics in an operating condition.

What is the Harm Anyway: Dangers Posed by E-Waste

In the unsophisticated waste recycling process in developing nations, smelting of plastics produces dioxins which are among the most toxic chemicals on earth. Ash laden residues with heavy metals contaminate the soil and water bodies. Children living in the vicinity of e-waste processing operations were found to have blood with dangerously high lead levels. Brain damage, kidney disease, mutations and cancer are among the other noted risks of unprotected waste handling.

Why Recycle?

Why recycle e-waste (Health and Jobs)

Photo Credit: Basel Action Network (BAN,2005)

Besides the health benefits to safe recycling there are also environmental benefits. The recycling of e-waste conserves large amounts of precious metals that can be reused thus alleviating the great strain that is placed on the environment for resources.

The recycling of metals results in significant energy savings ranging and CO2 savings as well. CFCs and HCFCs which are now banned still remain in older refrigeration devices and must be disposed of properly. E-recycling also has the potential to create thousands of local jobs.

What can you do?

For questions about any of the facts listed in this post, or for further reading, please contact Craig Dsouza at craigds@udel.edu.

Liquefied Natural Gas Port in the Atlantic Ocean? No Fracking Way!

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Growing up in New Jersey, it didn’t quite feel like summertime until I was eating Kohr’s ice cream on Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach or riding a bike on the promenade in Cape May.  My family and I have gone down the shore every summer since I was born.

I have spent a lot of time with my feet in the ocean in awe of its systems, trying unsuccessfully to grasp the power and enormity of it all.  I think that every child should get to experience the great moments of finding a conch shell fully intact, seeing a pod of dolphins swim across the current, and watching sandpipers scurry across the sand.

In order for future generations to even have a fighting chance at one of these shore moments, a recent project proposed off the coasts of New York and New Jersey by Liberty Natural Gas called “Port Ambrose” must be stopped.

Photo Credit: Clean Ocean Action

Photo Credit: Clean Ocean Action

On June 14, 2013, the Maritime Administration (part of the US Department of Transportation) announced Liberty Natural Gas’ Port Ambrose application. Port Ambrose is a proposed deepwater port to be used for the import or export of natural gas which has been liquefied. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is dirty; the carbon footprint of LNG is almost as bad as coal.  In liquid form, this dirty energy source can be shipped across the world and sold for the largest profit overseas.

The Port Ambrose facility would be located off the coast of Long Branch, NJ and Jones Beach, NY.  This location also happens to be near the entrance to the New York Harbor, in two active Coast Guard training areas, in the middle of a proposed offshore wind area, and within several important fishing areas and wildlife migration routes.

With fishing areas and wildlife migration routes in the area proposed, it is important to note that the installation of new pipeline facilities for Port Ambrose would disrupt hundreds of acres of seafloor and cause re-suspension of sediments in the ocean, which increases the turbidity of the water and negatively impacts water quality.  Establishing new pipelines in the ocean would also generate serious underwater noise pollution.

In the ocean, hearing and sound are vital for the survival of marine life. Sound is used for everything from migration to reproduction to feeding. Over 700 fish species produce low frequency sounds — sea turtles, Squid, octopus, shrimp, crab — and even coral and fish larvae have been found to respond to sound. All of these species would be affected by the noise pollution caused by Port Ambrose.

Port Ambrose would bring not only noise, but water pollution to the Atlantic Ocean.  If approved, Liberty would be required to test the pipeline from the Port for any safety and control issues.  For these pipe tests alone, the port would discharge 3.5 million gallons of chemically-treated seawater.  Water pollution would also increase in inland regions, as LNG exports drive up the costs of manufacturing and electricity and increase the intensity of hydraulic fracturing, a major source of water pollution, for shale gas expansion.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a water-intensive process where a mix of millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals (including ones known to cause cancer) are injected underground at high pressure to fracture shale to release the natural gas found in the rock formation into a nearby well.  Oftentimes, this chemical stew is released into the surrounding groundwater through faulty pipes.

Beyond the well, fracking brings industrial activity into communities through the clearing of land to build new access roads and new well sites, drilling and encasing the well, fracking the well and generating the waste, trucking in heavy equipment and materials and trucking out the toxic waste — all contributing to air and water pollution risks and devaluation of land.

The synergy of the environmental impacts from fracking AND a deepwater port is the last thing New Jersey and New York need, especially now, as the region is recovering and rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy.

It is time to wean ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuel, stand up to Big Energy, and develop more renewable energy sources.  Port Ambrose would simply feed our addiction.  Let’s preserve Jersey Shore moments for generations to come, encourage Governor Christie to reaffirm his veto and for Governor Cuomo to veto Ambrose.

Take Action:

To learn more about Port Ambrose and how to get involved in the fight to Block the Port, contact Lindsay McNamara, Program and Communications Associate at Clean Ocean Action via e-mail at communications@cleanoceanaction.org.

Clean Ocean Action (COA) is a 501(c)3 working to “improve the water quality of the marine waters off the New Jersey/New York coast.”

Keeping an Eye on Plastic Pollution

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Plastic art by Mary Ellen Croteau

Plastic art by Mary Ellen Croteau

After posting about plastic pollution earlier this week (In Case You Missed It: Disposable Plastic Still Sucks), I realized that it is important to clarify where plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean comes from.  It seems that most people assume plastic pollution comes from beach goers who litter, but that is often not the case.

Plastic pollution, like cigarette filters, tampon applicators and condoms, are signs of a different problem: nonpoint source pollution.  Nonpoint source cannot be traced back to one point (like air pollution from a smoke stack or water pollution from a chemical company can), it instead comes from a combination of sources.

When rain or melted snow travels over the ground through a watershed, the runoff picks up and moves pollution, flowing through waterways and ultimately into the ocean.  Bringing cigarette filters and other pieces of litter that were tossed out the windows of cars upstream, downstream.

When condoms and tampon applicators are found on a beach, they become indicators for a different type of problem: combined sewage overflows (CSOs).  CSOs occur when sewage and stormwater systems are combined.

Stormwater systems are the network of piping, systems and facilities that manage runoff from paved surfaces and roofs.  These systems were designed to move water as fast as possible, but as paved surface area (and development) continues to increase, and the infrastructure is not updated, not as much water can be held in the pipes.  This water flows directly into waterways.

When stormwater systems are combined with sewer systems, and a heavy rain occurs, the water and sewage releases directly into waterways and into the ocean.  When a CSO event happens, whatever people have flushed down their toilets (like tampon applicators, condoms, etc.) show up on our shores.

It is therefore important to remember that even those of us who do not live close to the ocean have an impact on it and the marine ecosystems it supports.  We must all be mindful of our daily habits and encourage others to realize that we are all downstream and we should all keep an eye on plastic pollution.

For information about the artist who created the plastic eye pictured above, click here.

In Case You Missed It: Disposable Plastic Still Sucks

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“I am in 7th grade and my school is doing a project where each student has to research and try and solve one problem in the world.  I have chosen plastic pollution.  We waste way too much plastic and it is really harming our environment.”

I received the e-mail above earlier this week.  At first, I was overjoyed to receive such an e-mail.  A strange thing to say, since it speaks on the harmful effects of plastic in our environment, but it is from a 7th grader.  Children showing an interest in the environment gives me hope for the future.  It is so important that we teach our children well (cue CSNY) and teach them the value of the ecosystems around them.

Once I got past my initial excitement over being able to speak with a middle schooler about  plastic pollution, I got to thinking about why plastic is “really harming our environment.”

Over and over again throughout college my classmates and I tried to convince our peers to stop drinking bottled water.  I have written a number of posts about my bottled water crusade (click here to read more), if you are curious.  I have written on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and about how plastic ends up in huge concentrations in the ocean, but I hadn’t seen the ocean pollution problem first hand…until I started working for Clean Ocean Action.

Clean Ocean Action is an environmental nonprofit based in Sandy Hook, NJ.  Our goal is to “improve the degraded water quality of the marine waters off the New Jersey/New York coast.”  COA has a number of different pollution prevention programs, one of which being our Beach Sweeps program.

Beach Sweeps has been around for 28 years and has grown each and every year.  It is a New Jersey statewide beach clean up, where volunteers head out to over 60 different beaches (rivers and bays, too) with a bag for trash and a bag for recyclables and pick up trash for a few hours. The volunteers also collect data on what they find.

Beach Sweeps happens twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The data that we collect comes from a few thousand volunteers over the course of 7 hours.

In only 7 hours (during 2012), Beach Sweep volunteers  removed over 350,000 pieces of debris from NJ’s shoreline.  The majority of the debris removed was disposable plastics – representing 82.7% of the total waste found.  To see what else volunteers found, check out COA’s 2012 Beach Sweeps Report.

The majority of the debris removed was disposable plastics including:

  • 49,362 cigarette filters
  • 22,308 straws and stirrers
  • 38,349 caps and lids

In just SEVEN HOURS.  Imagine how much goes in and out with the tide EACH DAY.  The number of plastic in the ocean must be incredible. To see what else ended up in the ocean, click here.

But why worry?

TrashFound

Photo Credit: Joe Sapia

Plastics do not biodegrade – they photodegrade, meaning they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never truly go away.  As they break down, they release toxic chemicals into the ocean.  These toxic chemicals are absorbed by the marine life that accidentally eat the plastic pieces.  The animals often mistake plastic bags or pieces of bags as prey.

For example, sea turtles feed on jellyfish, and often mistake floating plastic bags in the ocean for them.  Other pieces of plastic, like 6-pack rings, can entangle marine life and hurt them or even kill them.

So what can we do?

  • Stop using single-use plastic bags.  I often see people bringing reusable canvas bags to the grocery store, but not as much in retail stores.  Bring reusable bags for ALL shopping!
  • Use a Brita pitcher – or better yet, drink tap water – to avoid buying plastic bottles.
  • Avoid buying items in individual wrapped packages, which generate more waste, try to buy in bulk.
  • Educate others on the dangers of plastic in the ocean.
  • Participate in beach clean ups like the Beach Sweeps on Saturday, April 27!

Together, we can try like the 7th grader who e-mailed me and solve one problem in the world; plastic pollution.

Scientific Ocean Studies a Load of Garbage?

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The Pacific Ocean is home to copious marine flora and fauna, vital fisheries for human consumption, and…a vast pool of litter? The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is in the gyre (large system of rotating ocean currents involved with large wind movements) of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone in the central North Pacific Ocean. The rotational pattern of the gyre brings in waste material from coastal waters off North American and Japan. The waste gets trapped in the Garbage Patch by the wind-driven surface currents that slowly move floating material toward its center.

Photo Credit: iesgoyaenglishblog.blogspot.com

Photo Credit: iesgoyaenglishblog.blogspot.com

An enormous portion of the waste is plastic material, some of which becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic life as it disintegrates. Nueston (organisms that float on top of water or live right under the surface) eat the plastic and then the waste enters the aquatic food chain. Longer lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of sea turtles and Black-Footed Albatross, along with many other marine birds and animals.

Not only do the plastics have a toxic effect on wildlife, some are mistaken by their endocrine systems as estradiol, leading to hormone disruption. Many of the fish that eat the plastics are then consumed by humans, causing adverse human health effects. Interestingly enough, plastics in the ocean also assist the spread of invasive species that attach to floating debris and drift to new regions to colonize other ecosystems.

A paper published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1988 predicted the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but the magnitude of the patch has been heavily disputed within the scientific community.

The estimates of the area of the patch have varied widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to identify the affected area. There is no specific standard for determining the difference between “normal” and “elevated” levels of pollutants or a standard for what constitutes being part of the patch. Who’s to decide what constitutes a “higher than normal” degree of concentration of debris in the ocean?

I may be a bit of an idealist, but I believe there should be trace amounts of waste in the ocean. We as humans have a responsibility to our planet to take care of it; there is no excuse for poor (or no) recycling of plastics and improper waste disposal. Therefore, my personal “higher than normal” degree would be very different from others who are not as concerned for the planet. It is easy to see how scientists may not reach a uniform conclusion on the difference between “normal” and “elevated” levels of marine pollution.

Conducting studies to determine the amount of pollution in the ocean alone is extremely thorny. Most of the debris is small plastic particles that are suspended at or just below the surface,undetectable by aircraft or satellite. Because of this, samples are taken to try to determine the degree of waste concentration and later used to calculate the area of the patch. Samples are verified by mesh net size, making similar net sizes essential among scientists for making meaningful comparisons across various studies.

After analyzing sample data, some scientists have claimed the Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas (half a million square miles) or the equivalent of 20 times the size of England. Greenpeace cites studies that have concluded the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one. Greenpeace also publicized the following claim: Of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean.

Angelicque White, an assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State, participated in a few expeditions examining the effects of plastic on microbial communities, research that was funded in part by the National Science Foundation through C-MORE, Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education. White disagrees that parts of the ocean are filled with more plastic than plankton and the claim that the patch has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950’s. Her recent research has shown that, when looking at the actual area of the plastic itself, rather than the entire North Pacific subtropical gyre, the hypothetically “cohesive” plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas. White also dismissed a recent claim that the garbage patch is as deep as the Golden Gate Bridge is tall, calling it “completely unfounded.”

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch raises an important question in the environmental community: How far is too far? Do scientists have some sort of obligation to their field of study; therefore exaggerate their findings to increase public awareness? Maybe the incentive of more research grants finding their way to high profile problems is enough to stretch the truth or conduct an agenda-setting study? Or do these bogus studies just create controversy among scientists and journalists, instead of shedding light on an issue? Professor White believes genuine scientific concerns are undermined by scare tactics of groups like Greenpeace, asserting that the garbage patch is so large there is now more plastic than plankton in the Pacific. White said, “There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists.” Science should reveal the truth about the processes and problems of both naturally-occurring and anthropogenic phenomena — not produce a load of garbage.