Time to Go Biodegradeable?

Sydney, Australia--Oceanographic scientists say they have discovered a vast, floating "reef" of the world's disposed condoms in the middle of the South Pacific, about halfway between Tahiti and Antarctica. The phenomenal mass is almost two miles long, an eighth of a mile wide, and in places up to 60 feet deep, the oceanographers say.

Mason Froule, Australian marine biologist at his country's Oceanographic Laboratory Outpost on Macquarie Island, South Pacific, said the bizarre accumulation is explained by a scientific term called "like aggregation"-- that is, the massing of similar objects over short or longer periods of time due to wind or ocean currents, magnetic fields, buoyancy and other conditions.

"It's fairly common in the world's oceans," he said: natural events such as red tides, for example, are instances of "like aggregation."

"People with pets that shed lots of hair can see it in their own homes," Froule added. "The dog sheds everywhere in the room, but after falling out, the fur soon collects in a few clumps and masses."

Froule said ocean "reefs" of styrofoam and detergent residues have been observed in the South Pacific and elsewhere for many years, but they are usually broken up by storms before they become large or hazardous.

He believes the huge concentration of condoms, not reported before, is more resilient than other "aggregating" ocean materials, and may have been developing for decades.

Froule said parts of the newly discovered reef are matted together so densely that "you could almost land a plane on it."

"I suppose it would be funny if it didn't pose the hazard it does to marine life and navigation," Froule stated. "I pity any freighter, submarine, or dolphin, for that matter, that might run into it."

The biologist said he and his Australian scientific colleagues will have the reef mapped by satellite and monitored from now on to see if it expands, breaks up, or drifts from its current location (reported at 63 degrees latitude and 154 degrees longitude).

Froule said there would not be much point in trying to break up the pulpy mass with explosives or other devices. "It seems pretty indestructible," he said.

The world's industrialized nations are estimated to consume and dispose of nearly 300 million condoms a year. Industry analysts say about a third of the discards become waterborne.


Return to Infrequently Asked Questions
Washington Apple Pi IFAQ