The search for flight MH 370

The hunt for missing flight MH 370 proved quite the media-frenzy fodder for CNN. What a marathon that network put on, despite the scarcity of any real news.  That didn’t stop CNN from tagging every insignificant nuisance “breaking news” or from reaching out to drag every retired aviation “expert” back into the talking-heads fray, and asking them the same question in a hundred different ways.

However, this pointless coverage blitz did accidentally manage to uncover a real story: Our oceans are filthy. Remember those promising leads CNN and others reported? How many times did we learn about floating debris that could have been pieces of the plane only to have it turn out that the debris was simply garbage.

Man-made waste is collecting in floating, continent-sized areas of oceans around the globe. These vast “Garbage Patches” accumulate when the winds and water currents combine to create vortices that trap massive quantities of debris rather than allow it to scatter and disperse. But they do not appear as obvious floating masses. Rather, they form a thin layer of plastic particulates suspended just beneath the surface, but with enough larger debris left afloat to repeatedly lead the MH 370 search teams astray.

The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of these aquatic landfills. Conservative estimates say it covers 270,000 square miles; other studies put the figure at a staggering 5.8 million square miles. As a point of reference, the continental United States measures 3.7 million square miles. It is known that similar accumulations exist in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans as well.

Findings dating back to the late 90’s show that in areas with high concentrations of debris, the plastic particulates can outnumber plankton by 6:1. Plankton are the literal foundation of the marine ecosystem, as well as producers of 50 percent of the air we breathe. Left unchecked, this loss of plankton is likely to have dire consequences for all ocean life and, by extension, the entire planet.

Moreover, the floating refuse is only the tip of the garbageberg. The majority of man-made waste, around 70 percent, eventually sinks to the ocean floor. Vast quantities of agricultural and residential chemical run-off, raw sewage and industrial waste constantly pour into the oceans. And that inflicts severe damage on marine habitats, even resulting in ocean “dead zones” unable to support any aquatic life. These dead zones are commonly found outside of major coastal cities all over the world.

Along with other adverse human influences on the marine environment, pollution has reached a critical mass. From drastically diminished catches of mercury-laden fish to the utter destruction of marine-life habitats, urgent attention is needed. Concerted efforts must be taken to both stem the tide of ocean pollution and repair the existing damage.

Meanwhile, a jetliner on the ocean floor, however tragic, should hardly command the extended and full attention of the media supposedly charged with supplying us with news that actually matters.

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