The Pacific Trash Vortex

This post originally published May 22, 2008

Recently I was shocked to learn about a continent made of garbage floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It has been estimated to be the size of Texas, and is known by many names, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Plastic soup, the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. What ever you call it, it is an environmental nightmare. It is not so much one large mass, if it were it would be much easier to deal with. This patch stretches for miles and goes to great depths.

It can be found in the North Pacific Gyre (also known as North Pacific Subtropical Gyre), The Gyre is a clockwise-swirling vortex of ocean currents comprising most of the northern Pacific Ocean. The garbage vortex is an accumulation of marine debris.

A great number of things can become marine debris; items such as plastic bags, syringes and other medical waste, buoys, rope, glass bottles and plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, plastic bags, beverage cans, Styrofoam, lost fishing line and nets, and various wastes from cruise ships and oil rigs. Plastic comprises over 80% of all ocean debris. The garbage vortex has been rapidly accumulating since the end of WWII. Plastic is unable to biodegrade. Instead it photodegrades, which means it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that are, eventually, consumed by marine life and enter into the food chain.

If that is not bad enough, it can act as a sort of “chemical sponge”. It can concentrate many of the most damaging of the pollutants found in the worlds oceans: the persistent organic pollutants (POPs). So any animal eating these pieces of plastic debris will also be taking in highly toxic pollutants.

This problem was created by humans. What to do about the garbage island is still being debated, One thing is clear, we can take steps to reduce the amount of plastic we use and dispose of. All life on earth relies on the Oceans health. Choosing to use less plastic can only help to reduce how much will eventually become a toxic waste product.

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