Feb 3, 2014

Marine Garbage Patches – What?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is what scientists believe is the greatest rubbish dump in the world and it’s sitting in the Pacific Ocean. It is roughly twice the size of Texas and is composed of about 3.5 million tons of rubbish. The patch contains various types of garbage including shoes, bags, wrappers, and bottles however the bulk of it is made up of plastics which doesn’t biodegrade. Instead plastic slowly breaks up into smaller and smaller fragments. Greenpeace estimated that 10% of plastic manufactured every year ends up in the Pacific Garbage Patch which is an excessive amount of pollution.

The Pacific Gyre has now received the unofficial name of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Some estimates have the number of floating debris-most of which is plastic-as 100 million tons.

I digress, lets move on.

Most of the pollution comes from countries ranging from North America to East Asia and to Australia. An estimated 80% of pollution comes from land based sources while 20% comes from ships.

And It Gets Even Better…

Garbage can make its way from land to the ocean quite easily through our drains. Luxurious lifestyles and increased laziness litter is being flushed into our gutters which is ending in place in the ocean and our beautiful environment with increased numbers of plastics. Once in the ocean, some sinks to the ocean floor or is ingested by sea creatures while the rest is drawn to what is called the Northern Pacific Gyre. The Northern Pacific Gyre is a system of currents which drags garbage into the heart of a huge vortex which is then trapped by peripheral circulating currents. The enclosed enormous mass of garbage is known as the Pacific Garbage Patch.

Many people misinterpret the mass of garbage. They expect to sail out to the Gyre and find a rubbish island. In fact the ocean’s full of tiny colored parts of plastic. The plastic is simply more concentrated in the Gyre and is accompanied by bottles, helmets and nets floating on the surface. This huge environmental disaster is unknown to so many, as it is out in the midst of the ocean which is yet to affect our everyday lives. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of the East Gyre and West Gyre which is located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N. It ranges from the coast of California all the way to Japan and in some areas the debris is 90 feet deep.

It was discovered by Charles J. Moore who came across this massive stretch of floating Debris while returning home through the North Pacific Gyre after the Transpac Sailing Race in 1997. A similar patch of floating plastic debris is found in the Atlantic Ocean. Something similar to the garbage patch was predicted in a document published in 1988 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, through Alaska-based research which measured the increase of tiny plastic particles in the ocean water. This is evidence that as time goes by the picture is getting dramatically worse.

Plastic is such a terrible product because it doesn’t biodegrade. Instead, it breaks up into smaller pieces which always remain. The small parts of plastic are called mermaid tears or nurdles. Nurdles are dangerous because they have the unpleasant quality of soaking up toxic chemicals. Even if chemicals are widely diffused in the water, over time they’re soaked up and concentrated within these tiny pieces of plastic. In some parts of the ocean there is already six times more plastic then plankton which is a primary food source many fish rely on to survive and these statistics aren’t even taken from the middle of the garbage patch.

Plastics are very damaging to the marine environment. Fish, mammals and birds think that the plastic is food so they eat it. The plastics can poison them or lead to deadly blockages. Plastics have enormous effects on albatross that tend to breed at Midway Island which comes in contact with the side of the garbage patch. Each year 500, 000 albatrosses are born of which 200, 000 die from being fed plastics from their mothers who confuse it for food. In total, more than a million birds and mammals die each year from consuming or being caught in plastics, garbage or debris. They are dieing of starvation and dehydration with bellies full of plastic. Research has shown that this garbage and debris affects 267 different species worldwide including sea lions, sea birds, turtles, fish, whales, and seals. As fish are consuming toxins at such a rapid rate they may soon not even be safe enough to eat.

There are likewise a great number of effects on mankind. Nineteen Hawaiian Islands including Midway island receive masses of garbage shot out from the gyre some of which is decades old. Some beaches are covered by up to ten feet of plastic while others are covered by tiny plastic sand like particles which would be near impossible to clean up. Soon we may be unable to eat seafood as it may become toxic or we may start eating our own plastic wastage. There will be damage to boats and submarine equipment and if the situation gets worse swimming in the ocean may even be discouraged.

Plastics and Other Debris – The infamous North Pacific Gyre, where dozens of plastic float in a vast mass, has been nicknamed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In addition to the risk of marine animals such as sea turtles and seabirds swallowing or becoming entangled in the debris, toxic chemicals leach into the ocean from the disintegrating plastic.

As the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is in such a bad state researchers say it is not likely it will be in a position to be cleaned up because it would be a multi-billion dollar process so prevention and awareness are the current keys to success. Richard Pain, an Australian film maker plans to cross the region on a vessel made from plastic bottles, in attempt to publicize the problem. Research is to seek ways of possibly turning the garbage into fuel and Volunteers from Project Kaisei, a conservation project based in San Francisco and Hong Kong plan to send two ships into the area concerned to bring back some waste.

Charles Moore has been researching the garbage patch ever since he discovered it. In 2008 he took some young researcher out with him to show them the damage.

The world can be considered of as a closed system in the way that all plastic created remains on the planet except for a small number which has been incinerated and released toxic chemicals. Less than 5% of all plastic is recycled globally so recycling more is a good start. Attempts to minimize plastic usage and BYOB policy or ‘bring your own bag’ to shopping centers will cut down plastic bag usage. If we want our world to remain beautiful for future generations we need to agree to the responsibility at a local level by thinking globally and acting locally.

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