Ocean currents determine our weather and help us travel the seas. Due to the Coriolis effect ocean currents in the Northern Hemisphere move clockwise and in the Southern Hemisphere turn counter-clockwise, creating gyres. There are five gyres in the Earth’s oceans, and all of them are found to have plastic debris in them.
The discovery of ocean plastics began when Captain Charles Moore had extra fuel in his boat and decided to travel across the center of the Pacific Gyre instead of with the current. He found plastic there, which prompted a new generation of ocean science and activism around our use of plastics. In only 50+ years our lifestyles, and the lifestyles of many animals on our planet, changed drastically as a result of plastic. While our lives have gotten easier with the ability to just throw “away” our garbage, animal communities struggled to survive with the plastics that entered their homes. Albatross are known to feed lighters, shotgun shells, and other plastics found in the ocean to their chicks. Fish are found with small plastics in their guts, and turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. Scientists are even finding microplastics in the Great Lakes; small plastic beads from exfoliating face washes and other cosmetic products that flow down drains and into the larger watershed.
My friends in the rainforest region of the world prefer to buy plastic furniture so they avoid furniture made from rainforest trees. Plastic is a valuable and non-renewable resource; too valuable to make into objects intended for a single use. Many people and organizations are working on finding creative solutions to this problem, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium– who hosts an annual Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit for teachers in the hopes of educating for a better future. With some creativity we can work around this problem. Like Einstein said,
We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Grade 5 students did some hands-on learning about currents this past week, and made connections between our lives and the health of the ocean. Students set up a flat world with continents, named the oceans, found a place to live, and named a spot to put their waste. Then they became the rain, added ice caps, and made wind which moved the water in currents, and watched their waste become an integrated part of the ocean. They found that there is no such place as away.
The ability to use models to better understand our world creates a new way to look at the Earth’s systems. Keeping systems in mind, we might just have a chance at making changes for the better.