Your Plastic May Be Ruining Your Favorite Fishing Spot | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
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A bundle of plastic caught in a rope in the ocean Photo Courtesy: 5Gyres.org

Plastic Pollution is clogging up the ocean and drowning fish.

How many times of day do you do it? Drink from a plastic bottle, eat with a plastic fork, carry your lunch in a plastic bag, how many times do you use plastic once and throw it away? 

Plastic was first introduced in the 1950s as a miraculous material that was so cheap it could be trashed after each use. When the stuff started piling up, the world recognized that plastic is toxic and it never completely biodegrades. 

Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a team of researchers recently published a study of all the plastic that has ever been made. The numbers are staggering: over 9 million tons from 1950 to 2015. Of that total, just nine percent has been recycled. Most of the plastic we’ve produced is still floating around the planet and global plastic production is on the rise. A massive amount of plastic waste ends up in our waterways. Each year, eight million tons end up in the ocean.

So much plastic is in the ocean that it ends up collecting in massive floating islands of toxins. In 1997 Captain Charles Moore was sailing the North Pacific when he discovered an area of concentrated plastic waste larger than Texas. 

In 2017, Moore, founder of the Algalita Research Foundation, located an equally large area of floating plastic in the South Pacific. Mark Benfield, an LSU oceanographer, led a 2017 survey of plastic waste in the Gulf of Mexico that determined the waters off Louisiana have concentrations of plastic approaching the highest reported in world. This putsg the Gulf on par with highly polluted locations like the Mediterranean and Black Sea and the estuaries surrounding China's Yangtze River.

Once plastic pollution enters the ocean, it is swept up into massive, circular current systems called gyres. As it spins, the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces. Mass-produced plastics do not biodegrade. However, abrasion and sunlight causes plastic to disintegrate into very tiny particles forming a plastic smog that permeates the water. The problem can’t be scooped up and removed. 

Salt water causes plastic to become even more toxic. The material can absorb and leach toxic chemicals like PBDEs and phthalates, which are linked to endocrine disruption and even cancer. Researchers frequently find marine mammals, fish and seabirds that have suffocated or starved because of plastic they’ve mistaken for food. When small organisms and fish eat the plastic, the toxins in the plastics work their way up the ocean food chain to us.

Luckily, a lot has changed since the 1950’s. Companies that once contributed to plastic pollution are taking action. Costa del Mar, one of the largest sunglass manufactures, switched to a bio-plastic made of castor seeds instead of petroleum based plastic. They also started the Kick Plastic program to raise awareness and educate the public. 

According to Peter Vandergrift, Fly fishing Community Leader at Costa, “Americans may be recycling more than ever before, but we’re also making more trash than ever before.” We’re still producing way more than we’re recycling. “As fishermen, we’re in a unique position to do something about it,” Vandergrift continues, “The oceans are our backyard, our playground, and you can bet we’ll be there to keep an eye on it.”

Monofilament fishing line is another big-time plastic polluter. The Berkeley Foundation uses tons of plastic making a wide range of fishing products. In addition to carefully managing how much plastic they use; the company runs a monofilament recycling initiative that collects old line and recycles it into fishing-gear. If you’ve stuffed your old mono in a recycling tube at your favorite fishing spot, the line likely ended up in a Berkeley tackle box or line spool.

While it’s great to see big companies taking the lead, it’s up to each person to make a difference. How can you reduce plastic waste? Stop buying single-use plastic products and start picking up plastic anytime you see it. 

I’ve taken my commitment to the next level by joining the 5 Gyres Ambassador program. Ambassadors are volunteers trained to combat plastic pollution on the local level.

As a 5 Gyres Ambassador, I’ve set off on a kayak fishing adventure paddling from Alexandria, Virginia to Key West, Florida. Since I have a day job and a family, I’m doing the trip in stages, covering 100 miles each summer. While fishing and paddling, I’ll be raising awareness of plastic pollution along the way. I’m not asking what effect plastic has on the environment, I’m asking what effect I can have on plastic pollution.

To spread the word about plastic pollution and pick up lots of forks and straws, Tim Torma is embarking on a 1,000-mile expedition for Key West, Florida for the 5Gyres institute. 

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