“Where does most of the garbage in our streets actually end up?” This is a question most people ask but never really get an answer too. Today the answer will be revealed. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the center of our garbage, made up of nothing but floating garbage and debris (Moore, C. 2003).
Where is this garbage patch located, one might question? What are the main ingredients in the mix? All these answers will be uncovered. What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is there a way to curb or reverse this disaster’s effects? First, the discussion and figures of what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a very large area of ocean, hundreds or maybe thousands of miles wide. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is littered with the majority of tiny little particles of plastic, along with other type’s trash. “We sit on it, we wash in it, play with it and pay with it”, this was one researchers description of a plastic island that spans twice the size of France (Dumas, D. 2007). The patch was discovered in 1997, by a Californian sailor, surfer, volunteer environmentalist and early-retired furniture restorer named Charles Moore (Grant, R. 2009). The patch lies in the Northern Pacific Ocean about one thousand miles off the shores of California. One of the biggest misconceptions about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that it is a solid island. A person cannot walk on the garbage patch; nothing may be seen at all. Although, if a glass of the ocean water was to be scooped up, it could then be seen; hundreds of tiny plastic particles, consuming the water (Grant, R. 2009). Scientist have discovered that the patch is mostly composed of plastic that has accumulated in the ocean. This plastic then begins to break down to the molecular level, and now bobs right under the water’s surface. Scientist are also aware that the patch is still continuing to grow. This is not the only floating garbage patch in the world, there are others in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, but the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is by far the largest and most worry-some (Greenpeace n.d.).
While there are other patches, this one is significant because the size of the whole and the vast treasures of garbage it contains. Rusty Brainard from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were explaining “that in addition to plastic in the patch, there are also huge amounts of fishing and other types of nets which are very dangerous to our ecosystems, especially near the Hawaiian Islands”. The problem is in the breakdown of these plastic products. Plastics contribute up to 90 percent of all floating trash in the ocean (Lopez, S. 2007). When these plastics break down they become very small. First, seabirds mistake the plastic for food; many seabird carcasses have been found atop the garbage patches (Weiss, K. 2006). When the bird’s stomachs were studied, they were filled with plastic particles and bottle caps (Greenpeace n.d.). When the plastic breaks down further, it begins to outweigh plankton, six to one (Grant, R. 2009). Once an individual animal has ingested the plastic it will than circle the food chain. Which will cycle through both aquatic and land life (Weiss, K. 2006). This will bring a halt to the human consumption of aquatic life and the natural resources that the ocean may provide. Once the plastic is at the molecular level there is nothing that can be done. The plastic has and will have been eaten by fish, birds, plankton, and other animals. Now, that contaminated seafood may be en-route to a local grocer. If this misuse of the ocean continues, treating them like both a trashcan and a pantry, than they will be lost forever.
The natural cause of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the North Pacific Ocean Gyre (Clayton, M. 2006). This is when there is a rotation in a current. The direction of the winds also has a part in creating the patch. When the West winds blow eastward and simultaneously the Trade winds blow westward, a clockwise whirlpool with a calm center is created. This is not a fast whirlpool, more like a slow draining of the bathtub. Scientist have done some investigating to try and map out the garbage patch, they were successful. The patch drifts further north or further south depending on the season. In the warmer months and even when El Nino strikes the Great Pacific Garbage Patch drifts further south (Moore, C. 2003). The patch is connected by a long thin current that stretches about 6,000 miles called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. These currents combined and create a whirlpool which pulls all the lose trash into it (Moore, C. n.d.). The constant spin from each current congregates the trash. This force than traps the trash, where it remains in the gyre.
There are many tests being done to learn more about the patch. The many islands that are in the path of the patch need be weary. The Hawaiian Archipelagos Islands are covered in trash because the litter breaks away from the current and is washed ashore (Dumas, D. 2007). This trash can be up to five feet deep on a beach; the beach may only have plastic sand. This is plastic broken down to such a small molecular level, that it appears to be sand instead of plastic (Grant, R. 2009). Some of this plastic was taken back to the lab and tested. The plastic has been at the lab for six months and the labs work-up on it is still not complete. This is because the plastic has been broken down into such small pieces, that each tiny individual piece must be tested (Greenpeace n.d.).
There are many problems still associated with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These problems may take years to uncover and even longer to fix. Is there a way of reversing the patches effects? Scientist are still asking this question. As time passes it grows less likely that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be cleansed of the waste. The plastic has broken down too far to be cleaned up (http://www.greatgarbagepatch.org/ n.d.). Will this be the end of eating aquatic life and using the natural resources found in the ocean? Only time shall tell. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is extremely dangerous to the Earth’s oceans and human life. Massive projects need to be started to help reduce the patches effects on life on Earth (Lopez, S. 2007). Scientist may not have the ability to reverse the patches effects, but they do have the ability to help stop the patch from growing and consuming more Open Ocean.
Dumas, D. (2007). Landfill-on-sea: Vol. 37 Issue 7. Retrieved from http://daisydumas.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/34-39-sept-garbage.pdf
Grant, R. (2009). Drowning in plastic: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of France. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/5208645/Drowning-in-plastic-The-Great-Pacific-Garbage-Patch-is-twice-the-size-of-France.html
"Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans." (n.d.) Greenpeace. UN Environment Program. http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/publications/docs/plastic_
Clayton, M. (2006). "Congress acts to clean up the ocean." The Christian Science Monitor. Oct. 11, 2006.
Lopez, S. (2007). "We will be known by the junk we throw away." Los Angeles Times. Sept. 12, 2007. http://www.latimes.com/news/columnists/la-me-lopez12sep12,1,542
Moore, C. (n.d.) "Out in the Pacific Plastic Is Getting Drastic." UN Environment Program. http://marine-litter.gpa.unep.org/documents/World's_largest_landfill.pdf
Moore, C. (2003) "Trashed - Across the Pacific Ocean, plastics, plastics, everywhere." Natural History Magazine. Nov. 2003. http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/1103/1103_feature.html
Weiss, K. (2006) "Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas." Los Angeles Times. Aug. 2, 2006.