The swirling gyrus contains a growing collection of human waste: garbage from countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean, from the west coast of Africa to the east coast of the US, slowly dissolving in its gills and stomachs on its long journey towards microplastics of aquatic animals.
We participated in a Greenpeace expedition to the Sargasso, where scientists studied the plastic pollution and habitat of turtles. Our mission was to better understand what lives in the Sargassum ecosystem, what it threatens and how it affects us.
Into the Blue
My cinematographer Brice Laine and I thought we had an understanding of how humanity's dependency on the Earth has affected plastic. We have reported from the most remote regions of our planet, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, where we have witnessed the discovery of microplastics, fibers and PFAS (chemicals used as stain and water repellents in things like cookware and outdoor equipment).
The Sargasso Sea is another place where only a few people live. This oval-shaped body of water constantly changes with the currents and is about 1,000 miles wide and 3,000 miles long. At the bow of our ship, the Esperanza of Greenpeace, the water looks impeccable and inviting. Since we've never been to such waters – the open ocean, which is often thought to be a desert of biodiversity – we're looking forward to it.
There are small swarms of juvenile trigger and filefish and other species that haunt or hide only in the Sargassum. There are many species that we do not see that are too small and suitable for mixing in this lush nursery, such as young shrimps and crabs, tiny frogfish and what we really hoped for but did not find – little turtles.
In most of the Sargassum, the highly visible pieces of garbage are embedded: shampoo bottles, fishing gear, thick hard containers or thin soft bags, among many other types of plastic. One of the scientists points to fish biscuits in a small plastic wrap that we pull out. But what really irritates you is when you dive down and look in the blue and you realize that you are surrounded by tiny glittering pieces of plastic, which are called microplastics means sunken. And it's scary.
Greenpeace scientists say they have found "extreme" levels of microplastic pollution in the Sargasso Sea, although they are still reviewing their findings. In a random sample, they discovered nearly 1,300 fragments of microplastic – more than in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage patch of the previous year.
Their analysis shows that Greenpeace's pollution stems from disposable plastic bottles and plastic packaging.
Outside the Esperanza, the manta trawl engulfs sluggish water samples from the sea surface filtered through the ooze. An hour later, the collection shows us the bleak reality of what's in the water.
"In most of the samples sampled in which there are Sargassum, we have seen many plastics because they get tangled up in the Sargassum, "explains Celia Ojeda, a marine biologist with a PhD in marine conservation, pointing to the tiny pieces floating on top of a sample.
"It's a really nice blue, you can not imagine what it is underneath, and when you get the test, you're really scared of the numbers," she says.
Together with research assistant Shane Antonition, who works at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, Ojeda spends hours searching the Sargassum and collected items in the manta trawl.
She grabs the tiny pieces with tweezers and carefully places them on paper to count.
Antonition was part of a similar study years ago. "The more I learn, the more I see how Earth resembles a spaceship and how fragile these systems are and how much we rely on those ecosystem services to stay alive, so we learn more about our effects." on Earth and use of these discoveries to inform the change that may prevent further deterioration of our environment, "he says.
From trash can to plate over the ocean
Only about 9% Most of the disposable plastics land in landfills or are burned in large, toxic fires, some of which find their way into our rivers or oceans, either rinsed in water or blown by wind currents.
"This works into the food chain. "Ojeda explains. "The fish and shrimp eat the plastic, we eat them or the fish they eat, and that will somehow end up in our bodies."
Plastic pollution is hardly a new phenomenon. A study off the coast of Bermuda in the early 1970s found 3,500 plastic parts per square kilometer. A recent, unpublished study by the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo found that nearly 42% of the fish samples had microplastics.
The abundant evidence that humans are contaminating one of our major food sources is overwhelming – they not only bring potential toxins into our own bodies, they also pollute whole ecosystems and kill precious marine life.
How can you protect the ocean?
The key to combating ocean plastic is that it does not even get there, but the solution is not just recycling.
"We have to reuse and refill," says Ojeda. "Consumers do a lot of things, but if you go to the supermarket as a consumer and you can not buy anything that's not wrapped in plastic, it's not your fault. You're a person, it's companies that need to." Take the step, you must lead the change – and governments must drive the business forward.
"For the oceans to recover, we need to stop them now (plastics) If we think we can stop them in 10 years, we can drain them, no, we have to give up disposable plastic, then the oceans will have time to clean up. "
"We need to investigate how much we do not understand the fate of plastic," says Robbie Smith, marine ecologist and curator of the Bermuda aquarium and zoo. "Recycling is terrible, even in the US The countries face reality, but are not yet ready to close the tap."
"We We need to study the plastics we use and eliminate those that can not be recycled. We need to clean up land-based sources (landfills and the like).