You’d pretty much have to have been living on some other planet to be unaware of the 9-point earthquake and subsequent tsunami that rocked northern Japan a few weeks ago. We won’t be boring you with rehashes of that tragic event. But we do want to fill you in on the latest aftermath. For example, there’s now a flotsam island some 70 miles long floating out into the Pacific, made up of houses, and plastics, bodies and cars, polluting as it goes, and creating dangerous hazards in the shipping lanes. The U.S. Navy’s 7th fleet is keeping an eye on this latest mess, and describes that it covers more than 2.2 million square feet of ocean surface. Experts estimate that the rubbish may take as much as two years to hit Hawaii. It may be another year after that before it hits the U.S. West Coast. Meanwhile, there’s a very real threat to ships large and small of hulls being breached, props being fouled, and marine mammals and other ocean creatures being adversely affected by this huge island of rubble.
While we’re on it, did you know that the Japanese government elected to dump over 11 milion liters (2.5 million gallons) of radioactive water into the Pacific ocean? Yep, water that’s 500 times more radioactive than the legal limit was unceremoniously poured into the world’s oceans. Just a couple days later, radioactive fish were found some 50 miles offshore. “We had no choice,” they claim. Sure ya did. Barrel it up and bury it in YOUR back yard, until a combined effort of Japan and the rest of the world figures out what to do with it. But because they didn’t want it in their back yard, they poured it into ours? All due sympathy to the people of Japan during this tragedy, but it’s still not OUR nuclear plants that are melting down. Junichi Matsumoto, of Japan’s TEPCO makes an attempt to justify the choice, saying “We think releasing water with low levels of radiation is preferable to allowing water with high levels of radiation to be released into the environment.” That may be true, Mr. Matsumoto, but it wasn’t a binary situation. You didn’t have to make that choice. Nice try, but we’re not quite that lacking in logic. Matsumoto claims that the urgency was from a leak they thought was happening. But none of that stopped them from bottling the radioactive water and keeping it out of the Pacific. Using the ocean as one’s dumping ground is never appropriate, but radioactive wastes are even more dangerous. Potential results range from giving cancer to sea mammals and fish, to causing genetic mutations that could literally alter the entire food chain’s balances.
Taking this action at all was unacceptable. Doing so without conferring with the rest of the world was simply too typical of the Japanese perspective that suggests the world exists for them to exploit anywhere and any way that they like. We are not against the Japanese people. We have a number of friends in and from Japan, and feel deeply for their circumstances. That said, the nation of Japan continues to act with blatant disregard for marine life. The nation issues permits to kill over a thousand whales each year for “research”, (not including the untold thousands of dolphins which need no permit.) This whale hunting and killing takes place in Antarctic waters long ago set aside as marine sanctuary by the entire world. They go there, we have been told, because the waters are cleaner, so the whale flesh will have less mercury.
The earthquake in Japan, and the aftermath which continues, is just one example of the ways in which a relatively small local event can have global repercussions. We must, as a species, shift our perspective, our way of looking at the oceans. This planet cannot survive (nor can we) if we continue to use it as our dumping grounds.