The Pacific Garbage Patch
I was watching a documentary the other day and they talked about something known as the Pacific Garbage Patch or Garbage Island. If you have not heard of it already, the Pacific garbage patch is an area of garbage in the Pacific ocean that sits midway between Hawaii and California. It is currently over 2 times the size of the state of Texas and contains approximately 3.5 million tons of garbage. At that size, it is the Earth’s largest dump and it is growing at an alarming rate.
The garbage patch is caused by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a major ocean current that rotates in a clockwise pattern from Southern California and Mexico on one side and China and Japan on the other. This current picks up all of the trash and debris that flows out of the waterways in California, Mexico, China and Japan and deposits it in the middle part of the current, right in the middle of the Pacific ocean.
The Pacific Garbage Patch contains all kinds of trash: shoes, toothbrushes, plastic toys, tires, and more. However, over 80% of it is plastic. There are soft drink bottles, detergent bottles, plastic baskets and other whole plastic items, but the real environmental disaster are the millions of small pieces of plastic. Plastic does not bio-degrade, so instead of eventually disappearing back into the Earth, it just gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces by the sun and battering of the waves and wind. The breakdown of the plastic has turned the water inside the Pacific Garbage Patch into a kind of plastic soup.
The small pieces of plastic are devastating to the ecosystem for several reasons:
- Marine animals and sea birds mistake the pieces for food and eat them. As more and more animals begin to consume plastic, it will eventually make its way back up the food chain to us, if it has not already.
- The chemicals embedded in the plastic pieces leech out and pollute the water and the animals that live in the water.
- The pieces get so small that they cannot be captured, even in nets
So, what can we do to clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch? Unfortunately, because it is so large and is not composed of solid pieces of garbage, it is very difficult to clean up. Most experts agree that the best courses of action we have now are to reduce our use of plastics and do a better job of properly recycling the plastics that we do use to keep them out of our water ways.
Unfortunately, a garbage patch was also discovered in the North Atlantic ocean and experts believe that we will continue to find more of them as researchers learn more about how they are formed, making it even more crucial that we do our best to reduce our use of plastics now.
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