Landfill in the Sea

"The bigger chips turn to smaller chips," Moore explained. "And we eventually get dust. Our concern is that this dust then goes to the molecular level and invades the entire food web in the ocean."

On a recent cruise in Long Beach Harbor, Moore and his crew used simple fishing nets to dredge up plastic waste headed out into the Pacific. He found container after container.

"Jerky. Plenty of jerky bags. Looks like a power bar. There's a granola bar," he said. "And the Ziploc baggies won't stop. Look at these Ziploc baggies one after the other. Baggies, baggies, baggies."

Moore said the amount of ocean trash is only increasing, which is a reflection of the increase in disposable packaging. He tracks the trends not at the store, but in the water.

A 'Throwaway' Lifestyle

"It's much easier to keep freshness in potato chips if you put a thin coating of metal on the inside of the bag. As soon as that started happening, we started finding these metalized chip bags out in the ocean," Moore said.

The Alguita returned from its most recent voyage with its rigging strung with found objects — Moore just hates to leave junk floating out there.

He turns his findings over to the SEA Lab in Redondo Beach, which analyzes the content and concentration of plastic in the water.

"No matter whether you're studying the surface, 10 meters, 30-meter samples or 100-meter samples, every sample that we've looked at in the pacific ocean has had plastic in it," said SEA Lab manager Gwen Lattin.

They even find what are called "nurdles," pellets of unmanufactured plastic spilled on factory lots and railway sidings that have washed out to the ocean.

"The levels are increasing, the amount of packaging is increasing, the throwaway concept of living is proliferating and it's showing up in the ocean," Moore said.

He offers no hope of cleaning it up. Straining the ocean for plastic would be beyond the budget of any country, and it might kill untold amounts of sea life in the process.

The solution, Moore says, is to stop the plastic at its source, stop it on land before it falls in the ocean. And in a plastic-wrapped and packaged world, he doesn't hold out much hope for that either.

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