Real Marine Garbage Patches

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii that has a large number of plastic debris. It is something more than a ‘patch’. The debris area is twice the size of Hawaii. Where one defines the edge of the patch is founded on what is considered ‘elevated’ levels of plastics and debris. Some say the patch is hundreds of square miles and can be twice the area of Texas.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is likewise known as Pacific Trash Vortex and it’s also referred to as Eastern Garbage Patch. This is because the garbage comes from the two sides of the Pacific Ocean. The floating garbage debris consists of six-pack rings, balloons, drinking cups, broken pieces of toys, plastic bags, and so on.


The plastics and marine debris accumulate in this area, owing to the ocean currents of the North Pacific Gyre forming a subtropical convergence zone. An ocean gyre is large system of rotating ocean currents. The North Pacific Gyre is either of the five major ocean gyre in the world. Its clockwise currents circle the Pacific ocean running down the California coast.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is one of five oceanic gyres, massive vortexes in the open ocean that are caused by wind-driven surface currents. The North Pacific Gyre is formed by four ocean currents: the North Pacific Current, North Equatorial Current, Kuroshio or Japan Current, and California Current. Flowing clockwise, these currents create an enormous circle in the sea between the west side of the US and Japan. Varying in width and depth, the speed of these currents ranges from one to 4 km/hour.

The problem has become so bad that there are picture of carcasses of Albatross and other seabirds with stomachs filled with bottle caps and other plastics. The birds mistake the tiny bits of plastics as food and ingest them. Birds have starved to death because their digestive tracts has been stuffed with non-digestible plastics. Sea turtles also ingest the plastic. Some disturbing images are in the tape on the law of a presentation at the TED conference.

Plastic bags get eaten by turtles, sea birds and whales that mistake them for marine creatures. They are unable to digest them or pass them through themselves and often die. Albatrosses, many species of whom are already endangered, collect floating plastic garbage they mistake for squid and sea creatures and feed these items to their hungry chicks. The baby birds stomachs get full of plastic and having no place for real food they starve and die. When plastic gets thrown away and not recycled this is what may happen when it reaches the sea.

Not only does this affect marine life, it affects us. Because plastics absorb pollutants like PCB and DDT, these pollutants can accumulated in animal tissues and possibly ascend the food chain into the fish that we eat.

In some areas, there is a 6 times more plastic than plankton by weight. There can be up to half a pound of garbage, for every 100 square meter. That amounts to 3 million tons of plastic there.

It is estimated that only 20 per cent of it come from vessels in the ocean. The rest must have been bits and pieces that have blown off garbage trucks, went through storms drains, into the rivers, and that’s where it ends up. Ocean currents are such that floatsom congrugates in that area.

Watch what goes into the storm drains-People who leave near the ocean or a river or stream that ultimately drains into the ocean should be aware of the fact that whatever trash that goes into the storm drains ends up washing out into the sea.

Plastic biodegrade at such slow rates that it’s hardly significant. They just disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces. What about clean up? Trying to scoop all these tiny pieces of plastic (some too weak to be seen) is expensive. It is best to put an end to the plastic at its source and not allow them get into the storm drains and rivers in the former place.

Unlike many other materials plastic doesn’t biodegrade-instead it photodegrades. As plastic photodegrades it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic instead of splitting into simpler compounds. With so much plastic in our ocean the small bits of plastic created through photodegradation are called mermaid tears or nurdles.

The film Tapped which is about the problems of bottled water also makes mention the North Pacific Gyre and shows some water sample from it. It also shows a beach whose sand have intermixed bits of plastic in it.

Because the plastic debris is slightly below the ocean surface, it can not be considered in satellite photos, but you can watch it if you sail through it.

Captain Charles Moore encountered this patch of ocean debris in 1997 when sailing between Honolulu and California. He later formed the Algalita Marin Research Foundation dedicated to preserving the marine environment through education of the public. Moore made a presentation at the TED conference showing the world the problem. Video on the right.

The problem of trash in the seas isn’t limited to the North Pacific; debris is found in the world’s oceans. National and international conventions and agreements have been taken to reduce the number of plastic debris that ends up in the marine environment. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is investigating potential cleanup strategies. Many organizations are devoted to restoring the oceans, including the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, the Environmental Cleanup Coalition, and the Ocean Conservancy.

Even before Moore first ran into it, a paper published by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1988 reported high plastic density in area in the Japan Sea. From this, scientist believed that based on ocean current movements that similar concentration of plastic would occur in the North Pacific Gyre as well.

Thomas Morton went along and wrote a good descriptive article with pictures of what he saw during one of Moore’s regular trips to the Pacific Garbage Patch.

Moore described what he found in an email published on the HuffingtonPost when he came back in 2009.

To raise consciousness of the problem, adventure ecologist David de Rothschild built a 60-foot catamaran named Plastiki made completely out of plastics. In 2010, they set sail from San Francisco to go right through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and land in Syndey. For buoyancy the boat uses 12, 500 of the 2-liter soda/water bottles.

It is a completely ‘green environmental’ boat made from self-reinforced polyethylene terephthalate (SR-PET) which represents a new plastic that is derived from recycled plastic. In this way, after the journey the boat can be grounded up and turned back into recyclable plastic bottles.

The boat is powered completely by renewable energy such as wind, water turbine, bike, and solar. There is even a small garden on the boat.

Toxins in plastic are entering the food chain, causing obesity, sterility, and worse. Find out more at Men’s Health.

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