The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is what scientists believe is the largest rubbish dump in the world and it is sitting in the Pacific Ocean. It is roughly twice the size of Texas and is made up of about 3.5 million tons of rubbish. The patch contains various types of garbage including shoes, bags, wrappers, and bottles however the majority of it is made up of plastics which does not 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.

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.

Garbage can make its way from land to the ocean quite easily through our drains. With increased numbers of plastics, luxurious lifestyles and increased laziness litter is being flushed into our gutters which is ending up in the ocean and our beautiful environment. Once in the ocean, some sinks to the ocean floor or is ingested by sea creatures while the remainder is drawn to what is known as the Northern Pacific Gyre. The Northern Pacific Gyre is a system of currents which drags garbage into the center 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 misunderstand the mass of garbage. They expect to sail out to the Gyre and find a rubbish island. In fact the ocean is 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 because it is out in the middle 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 155W and 35 to 42N. It ranges from the coast of California all the way to Japan and in some places 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 paper 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 situation is getting dramatically worse.

Plastic is such a terrible product because it does not 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 as they have the unpleasant quality of soaking up toxic chemicals. Even if chemicals are widely diffused in the water, over time they are 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 are not even taken from the center of the garbage patch.

Plastics are very harmful 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 edge 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, seals and whales. As fish are consuming toxins at such a rapid rate they may soon not even be safe enough to eat.

There are also a great number of effects on humans. 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.

As the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is in such a bad state researchers say it is unlikely it will be able to be cleaned up as 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 area on a vessel made from plastic bottles, in attempt to raise awareness of the problem. Research is looking for 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 affected area 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 thought of as a closed system in the way that all plastic created remains on the planet except for a small amount 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 accept the responsibility at a local level by thinking globally and acting locally.

Source by Kristin Reeves

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