It’s almost a joke that we insist on calling ourselves the most intelligent and highly evolved species on this planet when we continue to brutalize and pollute our environment to the degree that we do and abuse our natural resources, for which if they disappeared then we would too.
The great pacific garbage patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex is an area in the North Pacific ocean filled with marine debris as per Wikipedia. I have heard of it over the years, often disturbed by its description. What has held my curiosity all these years is wanting to know what exactly it is, what it consist of and is it indeed marine debris or garbage and trash accumulated in this particular part of our Earth’s ocean due to natural currents and flow of waters that converge there or is it one of those weird sea stories blown out of proportion.
Well, I can safely say now that, unfortunately, that its not one of those amazing pirate tales of a garbage vortex that sucks boats and seamen alike into it’s grasps only to disappear without a trace. Although less entertaining than that, it’s actually much worse.
It’s located between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N. It’s been said that it actually consist of an enormous amount of pelagic plastic, which I shall explain. To understand what they are you must first realize that plastic is forever. It neither bio-degrades nor breaks down from organisms in a natural way at all. They always remain a polymer. So when plastic finds it way to the ocean and is then exposed to long periods of sunlight it goes through a process called photodegredation, which simply breaks it down into smaller pieces and polymers. It will then remain in the ocean for centuries and inflict unknown amounts of environmental damage. These are pelagic plastics. Also within this great patch is chemical sludge and other debris that gets caught in the North Pacific gyre.
Apparently it is quite large ( 4 particles per cubic meter), which is estimated at being as big as anywhere from 270,000 square miles to 5,800,00 square miles big. That is roughly the size of Texas or larger. However it said to not be visible from space or satellite photography. Despite being considered one of the largest and worst examples of marine pollution much of the debris is actually almost invisible to the naked eye because the plastic has been broken down so much over the years into such tiny pieces. Much of it actually lies just beneath the surface of the ocean.
Where does the garbage come from?
The way in which it has been formed is pretty simple. It formed very gradually due to marine pollution that collected in the area due to natural oceanic currents. The circular pattern from these currents in the area pull in garbage and waste material from the North Pacific Ocean, including North America and Japan. The majority of the trash (about 80%) is said to come from land due to improper and illegal disposal and the rest from ships. However I found I had a difficult time when researching, finding numbers or statistics that were concrete that would allow me to be more specific about this claim.
Who discovered it?
The man who first discovered this particular area of floating trash is Captain Charles Moore, he is a surfer, sea-captain and scientific researcher. According to National Geographic the patch was predicted by many oceanographers and climatologists but Moore was the one who actually came upon it and reported his actual findings first to science community. He was sailing from Hawaii to California after a yachting competition of some kind.
What effect it is having on marine life?
The result of such an area with so much incredibly harmful debris and waste can be and is extremely dangerous to our marine life which ultimately means it is detrimental to us as humans as well. These particles end up in the stomachs of sea-turtles and many types of Albatross birds and their young. The breakdown of these plastics also releases all types of dangerous chemicals that are then ingested by the animals which in turn cause severe hormone disruption among other health problems. It also interrupts the animals ability to effectively detect where their natural food source is within the water. I found some research that determined that at least 267 different animal species are directly effected by this particular patch world-wide. That information in of itself shows me how very connected all life on this earth is because only a few of those 267 animals effected directly actually reside within range of the actual garbage patch area.
What can be done?
Well to begin I found a number of organizations and coalitions that are currently working on ways to effectively clean up and reduce the amount of plastic in these areas, which will ultimately be a life long process. However I believe that a lot of these issues are probably preventable for the future and is our responsibility as humans to figure out what not do to contribute to the problem, as most of the seas trash and waste is human produced and discarded by us as well, generally improperly or illegally.
We can start by being smarter consumers. There are many products in our homes that we use everyday that we discard of improperly and don’t even know it. Shampoo bottles, take out bins etc. are just some that actually should not go straight into our regular trash. Plastic is almost a daily used carcinogenic material that is in almost every kind of container in our home. Most of which can not bio-degrade in a healthy and safe way when put into the regular trash. You must actually recycle your plastics not simply throw them in the trash. Find your city’s local recycle regimen requirements and actually apply it to your daily life. Plastic bottles are an extremely huge problem that many people either refuse to recognize or simply don’t understand the repercussions of. For example, 9 out of 10 plastic bottles are not even recycled in the United States. We use 1 trillion plastic bags per year world-wide and considering that everything always leads back to the ocean that number should scare you. If you can’t truly wrap your mind around this number in word form let me show it to you in actual numbers. 1,000,000,000,000,000. Below is a wonderful little infographic that highlights some of the words I’ve written above because adding photos or graphs to data always helps people absorb it better. 🙂
All in all I’d say this is by far a scarier reality than that of pirates inhabiting the great seas and devouring up our sailors. Let’s open our eyes, just a little wider and take a cue from Maximus in “gladiator”. “What we do in life…… echoes in eternity.” Thanks Russel Crowe. 🙂