WHAT IS THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH?

The world’s largest collection of floating trash is in the Pacific Ocean. All manner of debris has accumulated in this region.

In recent decades, however, the amount of garbage has increased exponentially with human population growth and the use of plastic-based products. Opposing theories exist on what to do about this floating mass of waste. Some claim it’s impossible to clean up. Others hold on to hope.

How can we fix this ocean pollution danger?

First, a quick overview of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is needed.

HOW DID THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH FORM?

There are four main ocean currents (California, North Equatorial, Kuroshio, and North Pacific) that swirl in a clockwise direction in the Pacific Ocean. These currents include an area of about 7.7 million square miles. The currents are always swirling.  As they swirl they pull in nearby trash. Then the trash gets trapped in the center of the patch.  Next, the trash gets trapped and can’t leave because the water is calm in the center of the patch. Finally, all the trash and wastes join with the massive body of floating trash.  Did you know the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 1 of 5 such ocean trash patches?

WHAT IS THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH MADE OF?

Just about anything and everything! Shipwrecks and spills cause things from sneakers to bathroom toys to sports equipment to end up in the ocean. Plastic, in all its varieties, is another primary culprit. Discarded fishing gear also embodies a large portion of the floating mass. Plastic and other trash enter the ocean through polluted rivers and coastal cities.

One example of major ocean pollution in the patch is something called ghost nets.  Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been lost or cut by fishermen.  Experts estimate that there are roughly 640,000 tonnes of these nets currently in our oceanIn fact, just ghost nets alone account for 10-20% of the total plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

HOW BIG IS THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH?

This is difficult to answer because much of the debris floats under the surface. Some sources state that over 70% of the garbage ends up sinking to the ocean floor. Some sinks to the ocean floor because it heavier. While certain types of plastics float and remain on the surface. Currently, the patch is bigger than the state of Texas or four times the size of France. One thing is for certain, this heap of floating rubbish is gigantic and growing bigger every year. Overall, predictions state the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans could triple by 2050 if nothing is done.

EFFECTS OF THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH

All this garbage, especially the discarded fishing nets and plastic items, presents a life-threatening risk to the various marine animals. Creatures like seals, dolphins, and sea turtles get caught in the nets and drown. Several bird species mistake small pieces of plastic for food and die. Additionally, researchers discovered that sea turtles around the patch were eating lots of plastic.  Plastic made up roughly 74% of their diets.

The main problem with plastic is that it doesn’t biodegrade. What does biodegrade or biodegradable mean? Biodegradable means that something can break down into natural parts. Those parts are carbon dioxide, water vapor, and organic material. All of these pieces aren’t harmful to the environment.

Since plastic isn’t biodegradable it only breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic.  In fact, many claim much of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is mostly tiny molecules of broken-down plastics.

GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH SOLUTIONS

Is it possible to clean up this gigantic mess?

One point of view is adamant that the answer is no. The sheer size of the patch creates a logistical nightmare. Mathematical models present dismal scenarios of how it would take dozens of ships, working round the clock for over a year, to gather less than one percent of the total sum. It would take less time for the same amount to go back in.

There are other problems as well. Since this massive collection of garbage is out in the middle of the Pacific, no single nation wants to claim responsibility for it. That leaves it up to special interest groups to save our oceans.  However, these groups often lack the funding and resources to tackle a problem of this magnitude.

What is the answer to ocean pollution?

Advocates push for solving the problem at the source — stop the pollution. Support stricter laws on recycling and reusing plastic materials. Some countries, like Germany, have banned single-use plastics and styrofoam. Organize cleanup efforts for a local beach or river system. A little effort goes a long way.

Others are taking it further. Projects like The Ocean Cleanup, spearheaded by Dutch native, Boyan Slat, are dedicated to cleaning up the Patch. His organization uses innovative technology to not only clean up the Pacific Ocean but the world’s river systems as well. Another group, the Ocean Voyages Institute in Hawaii, brought in over 206,000 pounds of trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from their collective efforts in 2020.

MANY PEOPLE WONDER HOW TO STOP OCEAN POLLUTION

Answers to problems like these are often unclear. It will require the combined forces of recycling and reusing, cleanup programs, innovative technology, and human ingenuity. Human spirit and determination have accomplished the impossible before. Where there is a will, there is a way.

What can you do to help reduce the plastic pollution in our oceans?

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