The text on this site is presented as an archival version of the script of "Ocean Planet," a 1995 Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. The content reflects the state of knowledge at the time of the exhibition, and has not been updated.
A decaying albatross chick, fed plastic garbage by its parents,
reveals the objects that killed it, Leeward Island, Hawaii
photo © Frans Lanting/Minden Pictures
Medical waste, Coney Island, 1988
Needles and syringes suspected to have washed from New York City
streets and sewer systems after heavy rain storms, washed up onto
Long Island and New Jersey beaches during the summer of 1988.
Although medical trash turns up infrequently on beaches,
estimated costs from lost tourism and recreation that year were
as high as $3 billion §.
photo © Michael Baytoff
Biologists who performed an autopsy on an emaciated male sperm
whale beached at Sea Side Heights, New Jersey, found this party
balloon, ribbon still attached, blocking the animal's digestive
courtesy of Marine Mammal Stranding Center
Almost 300 miles from the nearest inhabited island and over 3000 miles from the nearest continent, Ducie Atoll in the South Pacific is one of the most remote islands. Yet when a scientist visited in 1991, he found over 950 pieces of trash in a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) stretch of beach. Here's an inventory of the litter §:
Buoys: large 46 small 67 pieces 66 Crates (bread, bottle) 14 Plastic bottles (drinks, toiletries) 71 Glass bottles (from 15 countries) 171 Jars 18 Broken plastic pieces 268 Bottle tops 74 Pieces of plastic pipe 29 Pieces of rope 44 Shoes 25 Fluorescent tubes 6 Light bulbs 6 Aerosol cans 7 Food/drink cans 7 Pop tops 2 Gasoline cans 4 Gloves (1 pair) 2 Canned meat (leaking but intact) 1 Cigarette lighters (not working) 3 Doll's heads (1 male, 1 female) 2 Copper sheeting from shipwrecks 8 Truck tire 1 Plastic ninepin 1 Glue syringe 1 Small gas cylinder 1 Construction worker's hat 1 Plastic coat hanger 1 Toy soldier 1 Half a toy airplane 1 Tea strainer 1 Football (punctured) 1 Car floormat 1 Asthma inhaler 1
Yankee ingenuity turns trash to publicity Plastic tampon applicators, launched by sewer overflows after heavy rains, commonly turn up on the beaches of New Jersey and Cape Cod. Activists are raising money and awareness with these lowly leftovers.
Tampoon, a post-consumer recycled fishing lure produced by Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey-based conservation group
Mustang Island cleanup, Texas
photo © Linda Maraniss, Center for Marine Conservation, Washington, D.C.
Falmouth's Morse Pond School sixth graders
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Red Cross beach cleanup, British Virgin Islands
photo © BVI Red Cross
Susquehanna River cleanup
Broome County, New York
Naval ships stow processed plastic trash
Federal and international law prohibits throwing plastic waste overboard. To handle mountains of plastic trash until ships reach port, the U.S. Navy has developed onboard processors to compact and sanitize plastic trash. This equipment will be on all Navy ships by 1999, and has military and commercial applications worldwide §.
One day's worth of plastic trash from a typical crew of 300 on a U.S.
Navy destroyer Compressed into blocks, thirty days' worth can be stored
in the space that would be filled by one day's worth of uncompacted
plastic trash §.
A 300-person Navy destroyer generates about 35 cubic feet of
plastic waste per day, which is compressed into 5 to 6 disks §.
photo © Debbie Lurz, U.S. Navy
International Treaties Concerning the Environment and Climate Change
Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan
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