1 “Like pepper floating throughout soup”

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Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Angela Sun

persblog.be – Edition 2014.07.04 The ‘Great   Pacific Garbage Patch’ is an area with an intense concentration of marine trash located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. Estimates of its size range from the size of a country like Chile, Pakistan or Zambia to a country like Russia.

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The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ aka ‘Eastern Garbage Patch’ is an area with an intense concentration of trash located between Hawaii and California. The patch developed in this area because of the ‘North Pacific Subtropical Gyre’ – one of many oceanic gyres caused by a convergence of ocean currents and wind. As the currents meet, the earth’s Coriolis Effect  – the deflection of moving objects   caused by the Earth’s rotation – causes the water to slowly rotate, creating a funnel for anything in the water.

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The size of the patch is unknown, as large items readily visible from a boat deck are uncommon. Most debris consists   of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface, making it impossible to detect   by aircraft or satellite. Instead, the size of the patch is determined by sampling. Estimates of   size range from 700,000 sq km/ 270,000 sq miles to more than 15,000,000 sq km/ 5,800,000 sq miles. This is 0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean.

As a comparison: Chile is 756,102, Pakistan is 796,095   and Zambia is 752,618 square   kilometers large; the size of the lower estimate of the pollution.

Trash on beaches
Trash on beaches

Australia is 7,741,220 square kilometers large; half the size of the worst estimate. China is 9,596,960 square kilometers large: two quarter of it; and Russia is 17,098,200 square kilometers large: a bit more than the worst estimate.

There is not a giant island of solid garbage floating in the Pacific. The ‘patch’ is mislabeled. While it’s true that these areas have a higher concentration of plastic than other parts of the ocean, much of the debris found in these areas are microplastics that are suspended throughout the water column. A comparison I like to use is that the debris is more like flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup, rather than a skim of fat that accumulates on the surface.

Captain Charles Moore
Captain Charles Moore

Due to the tendency of items to collect in oceanic gyres, the   existence of a garbage patch was predicted in 1988 by the ’National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’ (NOAA) after years of monitoring the amount of trash being dumped into the world’s oceans. The patch was not officially discovered until 1997 though because of its   remote location and harsh conditions for navigation. In that year, Captain Charles Moore passed through the area after competing in a sailing race and discovered debris floating over the entire area he was crossing.

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Garbage
Garbage

Atlantic and Other Oceanic Trash Islands. Though the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is the most widely publicized of the so-called trash islands, the Atlantic Ocean has one as well in its Sargasso Sea, a region in the gyre in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, that is bounded on a system of ocean currents that form the North Atlantic Gyre. Similar to how the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is created, currents carry a portion of the world’s trash to the middle of the Sargasso Sea where it becomes trapped.

Pacific garbage patches
Pacific garbage patches

In addition there are five other major tropical oceanic gyres in the world – all with conditions similar to those found in these first two. Another important but less studied, is the ‘Western Garbage Patch’, also in the Pacific, South-east of the ocean current ‘Kuroshio Extension’ in the Japanese seas.

It is estimated that 80% of the plastic in the ocean comes from land sources while 20% comes from ships at sea.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch collects marine debris from North America and Asia, as well as ships traveling through the area. Trash from the coast of North America takes about six years to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while trash from Japan and other Asian countries takes about a year.

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Because the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is so far from any country’s coastline, no nation will take responsibility or provide the funding to clean it up. It is located a 1,000 miles off the coast of California, US.

The presence of the plastic in these patches is having a significant impact on wildlife. Birds, fish and other sea-life suffer from the pollution, micro-biological life can be altered.

Creature
Water skater insects

And finally, there is a class of creatures who are actually thriving as a result of the plastic influx. These are water skater insects, small crabs, barnacles, and invertebrates called ‘bryozoans’, who live on hard surfaces in the water. Some of them caused harm in ecosystems they’ve invaded. Usually, their habitats are shells, feathers, or pieces of pumice. But now, with all the plastic floating around, these once-rare creatures are enjoying a boom time. But the problem with it is that it’s radically changing the balance of a sea ecosystem that was once mostly just open ocean creatures. F.D.

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