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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field Note: Big White Dog Wants to Play!

Published: October 31, 2017


By Mark Seth Lender


Plastic and other pollutants litter this rocky Arctic habitat. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender describes how plastic is common even in the Arctic, where he met a playful polar bear.

Throughout the high arctic you will find the remains of manmade things. Metal, sawn wood, whole trees lost from logging operations thousands of miles away. Rarely, glass. There are also wads of tangled fishing line, bottles, polypropylene rope, mesh from fishing nets, packing materials, all of it made of plastic. Out of place for color, which is markedly unnatural. Out of place for shape. Most of all, because unlike wood and steel and even glass which eventually return to the earth and the sea without harm, plastic will remain for thousands of years.

Nobody knows the ultimate consequence.

Plastic in this pristine place is a product of our thoughtlessness, let loose, tossed away, without regard. For the sake of convenience. To avoid having to clean up after oneself.

I encountered the young polar bear of this story on a terminal moraine left by a retreating glacier at the northern end of Hinlopen Strait in the Svalbard Archipelago. And as described, the beach was littered with the evidence of our disregard.

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Original LOE audio essay, "Big White Dog Wants to Play!":
http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=17-P13-00043&segmentID=4

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