The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
If you have never heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch you are not alone. Many people have argued its existence since there are no satellite pictures. In fact, although it was predicted to exist in 1988, it wasn't until Charles Moore actually sailed into it in 1997, that people really saw it.
- Understanding Ocean Currents
- About the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
- Harm to Wildlife
- Project Kaisei
Understanding Ocean Currents
The Great Garbage Patch lies in the North Pacific Ocean, specifically in the center of a region known as the North Pacific Gyre. A Gyre is a vortex formed by the current flow. There are five major gyres in our worlds oceans. The North Pacific Gyre is the largest, and is shown in the above illustration as being in the center of the lighter blue and red loop formed in the right of the picture. Things have a tendency to get sucked into the vortex, and cannot get out without help.
The North Pacific gyre circles clock wise, running down the side of North America, the USA and Mexico in particular, swooping across just north of the equator, and up past China and Japan, to where it returns across the ocean to North America. You can imagine the vortex created as things get pulled into the center.
About the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is known by many other names, the Eastern Garbage Patch, being the original name given to it, and The Pacific Trash Vortex, being another. As it does not lie in any major shipping route and cannot be seen by satellite it was predicted to exist long before it was actually discovered.
Although much larger than the state of Texas, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch cannot be seen by satellite because it is not a solid object, it consists of floating debris, some of which are tiny pieces the size of peas. Additionally much of the waste floats in suspension just under the surface, up to 100 feet deep. Most items hang vertically in the water with only a tiny portion at the surface.
Billions, of tiny plastic pellets, known as nurdles (as pictured above), also occupy The Great Garbage Patch, these being nearly clear round pellets, they are hard to see in the water, but they represent up to 98% of the beach debris in some areas. Nurdles are plastic beads which are melted and then poured into moulds to make other plastic items. Because of their size they are nearly impossible to clean up from the ocean itself.
About 80% of the garbage floating around in our oceans comes from the land, leaving 20% as coming from ships. Some items entered the vortex due to accidents, while other items were things disposed of at sea. Storms would have most certainly sucked some items out to sea. Shipwrecks would have some spilled cargo. Lost beach toys, patio chairs, and shoes, will never be recovered by their owners.
Harm to Wildlife
Many sea animals are being killed as a result of this man made floating garbage pile. Many animals feed in this area and ingest poisons contained in the items within. Additionally by eating indigestible bits of plastic, which remain in the animals stomach, they slowly starve to death because they eventually can no longer consume and digest the food they need.
Should this concern us as humans? For many reasons we should be alarmed, including the fact that jelly fish are eating toxic plastics. These are then eaten by fish, who enter the human food chain. Indeed we are then eating the toxins absorbed into their bodies, things like PCB's and DDT.
The young albatross chick in the photo above likely died as the result of being fed plastic by its mother.
Problems originate because no nation wants to take responsibility as many of the items floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have no traceable origins. Nonetheless some groups are looking to take action. Project Kaisei being one of them.
Project Kaisei is a California, and Hong Kong, based non-profit organization who want to look at cleaning up the problem and recycling some of the waste. On a 1000 mile trip from California to the edge of the Garbage patch in August 2009 they noted that the Garbage patch was at least 1700 miles wide. They noted that on the surface things mostly looked fine, but upon setting nets to retrieve suspended particles they found the most garbage was suspended under water at shallow depths. Another trip launched August 19, 2010. I encourage you to visit their site and have included a link to it below.