Last Wednesday, a 37-foot gray whale died after getting stranded on a west Seattle beach. Biologists who examined the whale found a significant amount of garbage in the whale’s stomach, including towels, duct tape, surgical gloves, sweat pants, a golf ball, and, shockingly, 20 plastic bags! Unfortunately, finding deceased marine life with a stomach’s full of what you might find in your trash and recycle bins is not uncommon.
According to experts, we have a “trash island” in the Pacific bigger than the size of the United States. Last week it was announced that we now have a second marine garbage patch in the Atlantic. While we might be quick to point our fingers at fishermen and boaters, it’s estimated that only 20 percent of ocean debris is from sea-based sources, the rest comes from those of us on land. Living in coastal California, we need to be conscious of the fact that every item that blows off our picnic table or goes down our storm drains could potentially end up in the ocean.
The California Coastal Commission reports that close to 90 percent of floating marine debris is plastic. Many mammals, birds, and fish mistake this floating plastic for food. Sea turtles especially have the tendency to confuse a plastic bag with a jellyfish, which is one of their favorite foods. Animals can die of starvation after ingesting plastic, as it gives them a false sense of being full.
Since plastics take hundreds of years to breakdown, this material may kill marine animals for generations once it reaches the ocean. According to Greenpeace International, more than a million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement. What’s worse, experts say, is that these plastics act as a “chemical sponge” and can concentrate the most damaging of the pollutants found in the world’s oceans—persistent organic pollutants (POPs). When an animal eats these pieces of plastic debris, they will also be ingesting highly toxic pollutants.
It’s not just marine life that’s affected; trashing the ocean has a negative consequence on humans as well. Since high bacteria levels increase in the oceans as debris is washed out to sea, swimmers must be constantly aware of deteriorated water quality. I know that my surfer/swimmer husband (as well as other ocean-loving people) tend to avoid contact with the ocean for three days after a rainstorm because it becomes so filled with bacteria.
Be Part of the Solution
• Clean up after yourself. Pack your beach bag putting some thought into what could potentially blow into the ocean—i.e., bring your snacks in reusable, heavier bags rather than bringing lightweight disposable plastic bags. Of course, dispose of all waste materials in the proper place. Never litter, even if you’re not at the beach. Inland trash can also end up in storm drains and then be washed out to sea.
• Don’t dump chemicals in storm drains. In most cases this goes right out to the ocean. Make sure you discard chemical waste properly.
• Say no to balloons. A conservation officer once said to me: “When I see a child holding a balloon, I always think the balloon should read, ‘I hate animals.’” His point was that every balloon that ends up not being disposed of properly once deflated (or worse, it gets loose while inflated) has the potential to injure countless wildlife and marine life.
• Always dispose of your fishing line, nets and hooks properly. These discarded products are a potential death sentence for marine birds and other wildlife.
• Bring your own reusable bag to stores. Encourage legislation that eliminates the use of plastic bags at grocery stores.
• Use less stuff. This may be easier said than done, but many of our pollution problems are really problems of misplaced resources. For every item we recycle or reuse, that’s one less piece of trash that can become a part of the marine debris cycle threatening people and wildlife. Remember the order of priority: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Kick the habit. Cigarettes and cigars pollute your lungs, the air, land and waterways.
• Get involved with a beach clean up. Heal the Bay sponsors monthly beach clean ups. For more information, visit healthebay.org. The Ocean Conservancy will hold an international coastal clean up on September 25, 2010. For more information, visit theoceanconservancy.org
• Buy a “Whale Tail” license plate. Proceeds from the plate support the annual Coastal Cleanup Day, which turns out thousands of volunteers to clean our beaches and waterways. For more information, visit coastal.ca.gov.
The good news is that it’s not too late to make a difference. By doing a few simple things like keeping trash and debris where it belongs and encouraging your friends to do the same can truly make a difference to the health of our oceans and the inhabitants that must thrive there. Having just celebrated Earth Day on April 22, this would be a good time to commit to helping make the world a cleaner and safer place for all.
Watch Out for Foxtails
La Cumbre Animal Hospital cautions pet owners to be on the lookout for foxtails. Foxtails are grassy weeds that grow in yards, ditches, vacant lots, or almost any crack or crevice that has some soil in it. There are several different varieties and sizes, but they all cause similar problems. Foxtails can enter any opening on your pet’s body (ears, eyes, nose, mouth, anal glands, etc.) and they can also penetrate the skin (even under heavy, thick fur). Foxtails are particularly troublesome for dogs. In cats they are most often found under the eyelid. Once in the body, the foxtail starts causing moderate to severe irritation and tissue reaction (pain) as the body tries to reject it. Symptoms include head shaking, “pawing” at an ear, gagging, sneezing, or excessive licking/chewing of a foot. The only effective treatment is removal. This usually requires a sedative or anesthetic. Failure to remove foxtails can cause serious damage such as loss of eyes, deafness, and deep painful abscesses inside the body. Since foxtails are an annual plant, the easiest way to rid your yard of them is in the early spring when they are green. Mowing or cutting them down and then removing the cuttings from your yard will give your pets a safe, foxtail-free place to be. The beach, mountains, and many trails are also full of foxtails. Take adequate precautions when returning from outings in these areas.
Recommendations to prevent foxtail problems and pain:
• Remove foxtails from your pet’s environment.
• On long-haired dogs, clip the hair under the ears and between the toes before going out.
• After outings into “foxtail territory,” check ears, coat, and between the toes. Remove all visible foxtails
• Comb or brush deep into the coat to help remove foxtails that may have already buried themselves.
By taking these actions immediately after your pet has been where there are foxtails, you increase the possibility of finding foxtails before they have a chance to penetrate the body.
• Soon you will be able to buy stamps at the post office that help to buy food for shelter pets. You can pre-order them online right now. For more information, visit stampstotherescue.com.