For those who do not know, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. It is also known as the Pacific trash vortex and is basically a ton of plastic and trash we allowed to end up in the ocean.
This enormous ‘patch’ spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. It is one of several garbage patches and there is a convergence zone where the warm water from the South Pacific meets with cooler water from the Arctic this allowing the debris to move from one patch to the next. Most of what is in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not biodegradable and is just breaking down into smaller pieces over time. To be completely honest, these patches consist mostly of plastic bits.
These kinds of things are damning for the animals of the ocean. Sea turtles often eat plastic bags as they can be confused for jellies and many marine animals end up getting tangled in the mess of it all. Many seals lose their lives by getting stuck and literally drowning. While these garbage patches and the Pacific one, in particular, are all part of a huge problem not much is being done about them.
National Geographic wrote as follows on the matter:
Because the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so far from any country’s coastline, no nation will take responsibility or provide the funding to clean it up. Charles Moore, the man who discovered the vortex, says cleaning up the garbage patch would “bankrupt any country” that tried it.
Many individuals and international organizations, however, are dedicated to preventing the patch from growing.
Cleaning up marine debris is not as easy as it sounds. Many microplastics are the same size as small sea animals, so nets designed to scoop up trash would catch these creatures as well. Even if we could design nets that would just catch garbage, the size of the oceans makes this job far too time-consuming to consider. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program has estimated that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean.
Many expeditions have traveled through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Charles Moore, who discovered the patch in 1997, continues to raise awareness through his own environmental organization, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. During a 2014 expedition, Moore and his team used aerial drones, to assess from above the extent of the trash below. The drones determined that there is 100 times more plastic by weight than previously measured. The team also discovered more permanent plastic features, or islands, some over 15 meters (50 feet) in length.
All the floating plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch inspired National Geographic Emerging Explorer David de Rothschild and his team at Adventure Ecology to create a large catamaran made of plastic bottles: the Plastiki. The sturdiness of the Plastiki displayed the strength and durability of plastics, the creative ways that they can be repurposed, and the threat they pose to the environment when they don’t decompose. In 2010, the crew successfully navigated the Plastiki from San Francisco, California, to Sydney, Australia.
Scientists and explorers agree that limiting or eliminating our use of disposable plastics and increasing our use of biodegradable resources will be the best way to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Organizations such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Plastic Oceans Foundation are using social media and direct action campaigns to support individuals, manufacturers, and businesses in their transition from toxic, disposable plastics to biodegradable or reusable materials.
This is heartbreaking, why are we letting things like this happen?
Image via Earth.com