For many, the Pacific Ocean conjures images of azure blue seas, exotic marine flora and fauna, and vast expanses of sheer water separating continents.
However, this image is somewhat tarnished by the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Ocean Trash Vortex or the Northern Pacific Gyre. There are dozens of similar patches across the globe, most congregating where surface ocean currents collide to create a rotating gyre. However, the patch that occurs in the Nothern Pacific Gyre might just be the largest.
The exact breadth and depth of the patch has not been fully mapped to date, but it stretches from California to Japan, and some have estimated that it is the size of Texas, or maybe even double that.
Much of the debris consists of floating plastics items from ocean going vessels like cargo ships, fisheries, military vessels, and cruise ships. However, the greatest portion of that debris, potentially up to 80 percent, is also carried from our coastlines, and can be transported through ocean currents as well as through the air.
The Algalita Marine Foundation was first to find the patch, and have done much to publicize its existence and the need for cleanup over the last number of years. The Foundation has studied the patches impact on the biodiversity in the region and has noted that there is “more plastic an plankton by a factor of 40.” In 2008, they put together the JUNK Raft excrusive that sought to raise awareness about the patch by sailing from Long Beach, CA to Hawaii on a raft made of 15,000 old plastic bottles. The SEAPLEX expidition have also conducted research on the patch, studying impacts on the marine life, water quality, and plastic degradation.
Even the most avid recycler would be daunted by this much litter, and there is currently no major plan of action amongst governing nations. Because the garbage patch does not fall under any one country’s jurisdiction, there is a sense of lack of ownership. So what can an average person, who will likely never even see the Pacific Garbage Patch, do to help stop it? [
As many advocates have noted, the future is in reuse. Each one of us can do our own part to lesson our impact on our natural resources and not only reuse and recycle our waste, but make conscious decisions to reduce how much we consume. You can also sign the petition to clean up the Northern Pacific gyre, and you can learn more about other steps you can take to help curtail plastic degradation in our world’s oceans by checking out the Environmental Cleanup Coalition’s Gyre Cleanup Project as well as and Project Kaisei.
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