This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Garbage Threatens Sea Life

About 70 percent of the earth's surface is covered by ocean water, and we use it routinely as our place of refuse (not refuge, but refuse). In a relatively short span of time, this habit is coming back to bite us. Scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography here in San Diego have just published results of their latest estimates of garbage in the Northwest Pacific ocean. The story was covered locally by the San Diego Union-Tribune (front page above the fold, no less) and internationally by BBC News.
The quantity of small plastic fragments floating in the north-east Pacific Ocean has increased a hundred fold over the past 40 years.
Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography documented the big rise when they trawled the waters off California.
They were able to compare their plastic "catch" with previous data for the region.
The group reports its findings in the journal Biology Letters.Researchers analyzed plastic particles reported or collected by various sources since 1972 and discovered not only a sharp growth of the “plastisphere” but also that a common insect, the sea skater, is increasingly laying eggs on the artificial flotsam. That has allowed sea skaters to boost egg densities in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a phenomenon that hasn’t been documented until now among invertebrates using plastics in the open ocean.
While it is not yet entirely clear what all of this means for sea life, the consensus is that it isn't good. It is already the case that fish caught in the region have been found to have ingested plastic, and the increasing insect population is not likely to be beneficial to sea life, either. Given the worldwide reliance on fish and other sea life as a source of food (and other key products), it seems likely that our sea-borne garbage is lowering our long-term sustainability, especially in the face of continued global population growth and the demand for higher standards of living.

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