I’ve spent countless hours photographing wildlife in Seattle and throughout the Puget Sound region. The landscape of the Pacific Northwest is truly breathtaking. I am often filled with a sense of awe while sitting on the shores of Puget Sound. I see the diversity of the landscape and wildlife of this region and soak in the beauty whenever possible. When the sun comes out in Seattle, there are few places more beautiful. There are towering snow-capped mountains, misty forests, saltwater shores and enormous fresh-water lakes-the landscape is alive here.
I see the birds migrate into and out of the Puget Sound region, see the whales come and go, and marvel at all the baby animals each spring. The natural spaces in and around Seattle are a treasure to the people and animals that pass through them. Sadly, not everyone agrees with me. There are people who treat these beautiful places like a trash can. They toss trash into the lakes and Puget Sound with no regard for the impact they are having. I’m thankful that these individuals are in the minority, but the impact of their actions is far-reaching.
Last week a majestic Gray Whale breathed its dying breath in Puget Sound and its body washed up on a beach in West Seattle. This time of year we are blessed to occasionally see Gray Whales during migration as they head north to their feeding grounds. It’s not unusual for a few whales to die during migration. Some wind up emaciated and too weak to make the trip. The Gray Whales are returning from the warm southern waters where their calves are born. They go without feeding for long periods of time on their way to the cold nutrient-rich waters north of here. The Gray Whale that died in Puget Sound wasn’t emaciated, nor did it have an empty stomach. Unfortunately its stomach was filled with garbage. This beautiful creature had ingested junk. Plastic bags, sweat pants, duct tape, towels, and surgical gloves were found in the whale’s stomach.
While it’s unclear if the garbage actually killed the whale, the fact that trash doesn’t belong in a whale’s stomach isn’t debatable. Gray Whales are filter feeders, which means they take in sediment from the bottom in shallow waters and filter out most of it keeping only the small organisms that are of nutritional value to them. More and more plastic is showing up in waters everywhere and it is impacting the food chain. Enormous whales are ingesting it and baby Albatrosses have been found dead with stomachs full of it. There is an area in the Pacific Ocean larger than the state of Texas full of plastic. The north Pacific gyre is full of plastic, chemical sludge, and other debris that has become trapped in the gyre’s currents. Most of the plastic in the gyre is particulate that is suspended in the upper water column.
On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, it would be great for people to reflect on the choices they make when they are wielding their wallets. Is the product you are about to buy encased in tons of unnecessary plastic? Is there an alternative product that isn’t? If more people would refuse to buy products that are packaged this way, the companies making these products would have no choice but to change their ways. As consumers, we speak with our pocketbooks-it’s the language that large companies speak and understand. Money is a universal language. Companies need to make an effort to use more environmentally friendly packaging, and as consumers, we need to encourage them to do that by not purchasing products that have a lot of plastic packaging that will wind up in the landfill and potentially in a whale’s stomach.
I gave up my favorite toothpaste when they began using packaging that was plastic. I hated to do that because I liked the flavor and the way it made my teeth feel. I felt there was no way to justify buying tubes of toothpaste that came in plastic packaging that would be discarded the minute I got it home. Instead I buy toothpaste that comes in a paper box that I promptly recycle after opening. If everyone could find one item that they purchase that is packaged irresponsibly and commit to replacing it with something less harmful to the environment, it would have a tremendous impact. Millions of tiny gestures meant to impact the Earth in a positive way will have an impact. Think about it. Will you give Earth a present on Earth Day? Give it a try and ask a friend or family member to do the same.
Source: Personal Experience