Saturday, March 10, 2007

Berkeley Marina Clean-Up

I participated in a service project today at the Berkeley Marina, and spent part of the day cleaning up the shoreline, being introduced to the ocean's toilet bowl and the power of plastics, and learning about a house made of straw.

Earlier today, a crew of 20 of us swarmed parts of the coastline at the Marina, picking out trash accumulated on and around the rocks. I'd like to be exaggerating when I say this, but in an hour we literally removed a total of 10 heavy bags of flotsam from the shoreline. Plastics made up the bulk of what we found, mainly food packaging and assorted bags, along with the occasional hypodermic needle.

Our coastline is sometimes referred to as "the rim of the toilet bowl" due to proximity to the North Pacific Gyre, a phenomenon of the Pacific Ocean's currents that traps floating waste into a large swirling swath of area between Hawaii and the West Coast. Waste accumulates in its large center, and occasionally spills out onto nearby coastlines, such as ours, and deposits presents for motivated college students like ourselves to pick up.

Normally waste stuck in this never-flushing toilet bowl will, over time, biodegrade.

[Enter, Plastics]

Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break up into smaller and smaller pieces, until their likeness to small foodstuffs that the lower food chain prey on is uncanny. They enter the food chain, and bring with them a number of health issues, such as introducing toxic pollutants attached to their surface. In this swirling toilet bowl the issue is most prominent: in the gyre in 2001 it was shown that the mass of plastics exceeded that of zooplankton (the dominant animalian life in the area) by six times.

Today we were also lucky enough to check out the Marina's Straw Bale Building. A "green house", it was made from recycled materials, and is even insulated entirely with straw bales. It is an environmentally-friendly answer to some environmental concerns:

* Forests in the world are declining, lumber costs are high, construction and demolition waste accounts for 20-25% of solid landfill volume.

* Rice straw bales--the primary building material, unlike many other agricultural byproducts, do not decompose quickly under natural conditions. Farmers have had little choice but to burn the leftover material. Over a million tons of rice straw are burned annually in California, releasing 47,000 tons of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere (2nd worst air polluter in California; 1st are cars).

* Energy conservation: the building is fire resistant and provides exceptional insulation, saving heating and cooling costs throughout the year.

All in all today was very productive and educational, not too mention friggin' gorgeous. How 'bout that weather?

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