The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

garbage ocean.jpg

Plastics that originate on land oftentimes end up at sea

Did you know that there is a pile of garbage about the size of Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Yea… I didn’t until recently. However, if you just booted up Google Earth and are trying to find it, you won’t. The reason for this lies mainly in the description: many online articles describe this phenomena as a “floating island” of garbage, others claim that it is at least “twice the size of Texas.” While these descriptors aren’t flat-out deceptive, they present a visual that is not entirely accurate. First off, the mass of garbage, which is primarily comprised of plastic, is not floating in the sense that a boat does: instead, it is suspended in the ocean much like those little exfoliating beads in bottles of boutique hand soap. This means that the garbage extends from the surface of the water all the way down to the bottom… as a suspension of plastic and other nasty things. Second, because of its three dimensional nature and the fact that it is constantly shifting location, it is difficult to ascertain how large it actually is.

 
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A sea turtle cavorts in the open sea… along side a few plastic shopping bags


Despite these uncertainties, what is known is that the garbage is
located in an ocean current vortex known as the North Pacific Gyre,
which acts as a natural “trap” for refuse in the ocean. Natural
materials such as driftwood can get trapped in there, but they
biodegrade harmlessly. The garbage, on the other hand, is mainly
comprised of non-biodegradable plastic that contains persistent organic
pollutants (POPs). Even more insidious is this: POPs are capable of
long-term transport, where they persist in the environment and have
been shown to bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue. As this occurs,
biomagnification of the POPs can result in irreversible damage to both
human health and the environment.

 

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A carcass of a young albatross shows that it likely died from ingestion of plastics, which may have clogged the stomach and lead to starvation

So what can be done about this growing problem? First off, we need to
stop the problem at its source by limiting the usage of
non-biodegradable plastics. A large percentage of the trash in the gyre
is comprised of plastic shopping bags, which can easily be replaced by
environmentally friendly shopping bags. Recycling anything you use that
is made of plastic is another great way to keep this “floating garbage
island” from expanding. We all must think critically about our
consumption of goods and also the way we choose to discard them.

Second, a geographic understanding of earth systems and processes
including ocean currents, thermodynamics, and human-environment
interactions is crucial to determine exactly how the garbage is ending
up in the gyre and what we can do to stop it. Finally, because of the
large amounts of pollutants already in the ocean, research must be done
to better understand the short and long-term effects of POPs on
wildlife, humans and the environment, so that we may mitigate the
damage.

Do you have any additional suggestions of actions individuals or governments should take?

Update: I just found this video of Captain Charles Moore, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation presenting his talk at the TED conference. Capt. Moore’s research has been a primary source of much information on the topic of plastics in the ocean.

 

For more information please check out the following links:

Algalita Marine Research Foundation

How Stuff Works: Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Greenpeace: Trash Vortex
- This site is very informative and also has a neat animation that
shows the trip garbage makes as it travels from coastlines to the North
Pacific Gyre.

VBStv: Toxic Garbage Island
- This is a great documentary about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
that I encourage you to watch. However, it contains vulgar language, so
please be aware that it may not be suitable for all viewers.

Cameron for My Wonderful World

8 responses to “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

  1. Nice post I escpecially agree with your comments “we need to stop the problem at its source by limiting the usage of non-biodegradable plastics”
    Kate x

  2. I think a good way to eliminate the usage of those ubiquitous plastic “Wal-Mart Bags” is to eliminate the production of them. Just stop making them! Force consumers to use reusable shopping bags. I mean, if those plastic bags aren’t available anymore, then that would force consumers to use cloth or paper. Of course, this would take a congressional vote, I’m sure, but it would cure the problem.
    The same goes for disposable diapers. What did parents use before these awful things came out? Cloth–and they reused them. And they were better for the baby. But now it takes 2 parents to make ends meet, and daycares won’t use them, and that is another sociological essay in itself.
    Laura

  3. Kate- thanks for the feedback. I totally agree that plastics production needs to be regulated and recycling of said plastics should be mandatory. We can only hope.— Cameron for My Wonderful World

  4. Disturbing news, isn’t it? Thank you for spreading this knowledge with others. If more of us start recycling plastic, glass and Styrofoam at home, and use reusable bags for your groceries, those few little things could make a big difference.

  5. Cloth diapers are in no way better for the baby or for the poor parent who has to clean them, when you have a child you will use diapers, I’ve no doubt about it.

  6. If we all started small, like using biodegradable restroom supplies, food containers, etc. that would make a huge difference. Then we could tackle the bigger things.

  7. Nicole. I must respond to your comment because it is uneducated, not in a rude way but in the sense that you do not know about the cloth diapers made these days or the people who do use them. I used them for my baby from day 1 until potty training. They are much easier to use than they used to be and more comfortable for the kids too. The money it saves and just the thought of not putting a bunch of plastic in the landfills is great. So you should look into it more if you have kids, it is really great!

  8. I think we should spend less time reserching how big it actually is and what it is made up of and just go out there and clean it up. For goodness sakes, how much money and time are we going to waste on reserching this. It is rubbish, in the ocean. Go out there and pick it all up and bring it back to land and sort through it there! The ocean is under enough stress from our lazy over indulgent arses.

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