Plastic is Forever

Nick Vu | Staff Photographer

Nick Vu | Staff Photographer

With British Petroleum’s catastrophic mishap destroying the ocean environment in the Gulf of Mexico, concerns have risen over the dramatic effects human pollution has on our planet.
Though “going green” has already started a revolution in politics, economy and society, it doesn’t seem to be enough.

UC Irvine professor in civil & environmental engineering and director of the Urban Water Research Center, William Cooper, provides hand-on analysis of the problem on the local level.
According to ZotZine, he and his students count and catalog plastic trash to document what kind of waste ends up in the ocean and determine how rapidly the debris fields are growing.

“Plastics and diamonds are forever,” Cooper said in The OC Register interview, “Once we dump plastic into a storm drain, or it falls off a ship into the ocean, it literally will stay there for an indefinite amount of time.”

Cooper did this research at Crystal Cove Beach in February with recently graduated social ecology major, Tova Handelman.  She joined Professor Cooper, her adviser, on the trip to complete her undergraduate research project on marine debris.

Handleman described that one of the biggest threats to the ocean is plastic pollution due to the non-degradable nature of plastic.

“Plastic in its nature is made to have a really long shelf life,” Handleman said.

She went on to explain that though plastic is non-degradable, it does photo degrade which means it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces from the sun.

Sea animals, such as fish, eat these tiny pieces of plastic and bigger animals eat smaller animals that have ingested this plastic.

This results in what Handleman explains is called “bioaccumulation,” which affects lives on every level of the food chain, including humans that eat such sea animals.

“Fish we receive in our supermarket have higher levels of plastic … we are also eating the effects of plastic pollution,” Handleman said.

According to ZotZine, Cooper says the key to protecting marine life, and humans, is to change people’s attitude toward the ocean.

Considering recent events such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a change of attitude is in the best interest of not only the environment, but for human health.

Record levels of potentially harmful chemicals have been detected by UCI researchers in the air around the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, UCI’s University Communications reports. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the high levels of nickel in the Gulf  may cause risk to aquatic life.

A direct concern to humans would be the chemicals washed up to the shore that have affected the air and may cause short-lived effects like headache, eye, nose and throat irritation or nausea, according to EPA.

Professor Cooper’s research is essential to life on earth and ZotZine highlights this point in Cooper’s interview.

“People think the ocean is infinite, but it’s not,” Cooper says. “If we don’t stop abusing it, we’ll kill it — and all life depends on it.”