Monday, July 5, 2010
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
As human population grows, so does our garbage. What many people may not realize however is how much of this garbage makes its way into the worlds oceans.
While some of our garbage dissolves into nothingness, the majority of what we throw it involves the miracle material that most of our
society is built on. Plastic.
Plastic never really dissolves, it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, destined to float around our oceans for thousands of years. What scientists have discovered, and what many people may not know, is that in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans floats an immense garbage dump of plastics, thousands of kilometers across formed by massive swirling ocean currents that act as a sort of gigantic whirlpool, trapping all the oceans garbage into immense ‘patches’.
What is in these “garbage patches”? Most of it consists of things that are probably in your home right now. Toothbrushes, lighters, golf balls, and most significantly, billions of pounds of tiny plastic pellets called ‘nurdles’ that are used in the manufacturing of other plastic products.
Discovered in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore, the pacific garbage patch was found first because of a sailing competition Moore was competing in. He realized that throughout most of his route, the water was literally filled with floating garbage, with an area roughly the size of Texas.
The effect on marine wildlife is immense. Since the garbage patch effects such a huge area, fish and other marine feeders often mistake the plastic pellets for food, when they eat them, the consequences are many. One result is that the toxins in the plastic are passed on the fish, and then concentrates as it moves up the food chain to top predators, such as humans.
On the island of Midway in the pacific, home to vast colonies of Albatross, a bird with the largest wingspan in the world, mothers are feeding their young so plastic by accident, that hundreds die because they’re stomachs are too full of plastic to intake enough real food to learn to fly. The birds can be found in huge numbers floundering on beaches and in the surf.
These patches are continuously growing and are far too large to ever clean up. The only real method is to stop the garbage at the source. The main way to do this is hugely increase the amount that we recycle. Once you drop that plastic in a garbage can, we really have no idea where it goes. So next time, check for a recycling tag and throw it in the blue bin. Because it may end up six thousand kilometers away floating in our oceans.