My summer in California

My name is Trevor Finney and I visited California this summer with the goal of documenting the level of plastic pollution along the coast from Los Angeles to Eureka. My theme is natural resources and I felt this would be a good opportunity to see first-hand how efforts to cleanup the pacific coast are going, and look into micro-plastic pollution in the area as well. I collected water samples from different locations that were notorious for having high concentrations of micro-plastics (e.g. the bay area) and look forward to getting those spectrometry results back from the lab.

One of the main things I learned from this trip was that most plastic pollution is not large items that you can see. Most plastic bits that have been in the ocean for a long period of time have broken down into minuscule pieces that float in the upper levels of sea water. This is just as true in California as it is in the middle of the pacific where the great garbage patch is located. The majority of the pieces of plastic that we can see no longer resemble the original item they came from, rather they are multicolored, pebble sized pieces that cover beaches.

One piece of good news is that local organizations have largely cleaned up the most polluted areas of California. Areas like Clam Beach north of Eureka and East Beach in Santa Barbara (pictured below) look a lot better than they used to. However this is only the tip of the iceberg as we cannot see that most the plastic is too small and hundreds of miles out from the shore.

I also now feel that in this situation, people are to blame but not entirely responsible as individuals. We are responsible for the 13.3 quadrillion fibers [1] that are released into the ocean every year from choosing to wear polyester, but it is the large corporations too that are to blame with 20 of them producing over half of all the plastic pollution globally [2]. The mismanagement of waste and our unwillingness to refuse plastic is a complex issue, but it doesn’t get resolved if we don’t talk about it, if we are not aware of its implications.

Boating introduces pollutants, stresses out wildlife, and decreases water quality. I came on this trip to see the effect of humans through waste and plastics but it is hard not to see the diverse ways we are causing environmental detriment in our everyday lives. The natural landscape of California’s coast before people has been mostly lost to development.
My friend told me to keep an eye out for masks littering the landscape and it wasn’t hard to do so. They have also been the culprit in getting wrapped around the necks of wildlife.

Plastic pollution in California often comes from inland sources, carried by rivers and streams. The eastern half of the great garbage patch between California and Hawaii is composed of mostly plastics no longer than 1 centimeter. Similar particles can be found along California’s coast from all across the pacific. This piece comments how the interconnectedness of plastic pollution due to the ocean gyres transporting materials across international waters. The consequences of our environmental neglect and mismanagement of waste having lasting effects as plastics take hundreds of years to degrade and can cause immense detriment to the wildlife in our seas.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/16/plastic-waste-microfibers-california-study
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/18/twenty-firms-produce-55-of-worlds-plastic-waste-report-reveals

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