When I say the words “summer vacation” or “spring break,” you would probably think of a nice tropical beach, backpacking Europe, or even canoeing on a lake in New Hampshire, but let’s take a break from the typical summer trips, and maybe visit a new island in the Pacific Ocean: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
So, I should mention some logistics before we decide to visit. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to have a size ranging from 700,000 to 15,000,000 square kilometers. The island was discovered by Charles Moore in 1999, who traveled through miles of minuscule plastic debris in the North Pacific Gyre for the Transpac sailing race. You won’t be able to find this “island” on Google Maps because most of it is actually suspended a few millimeters under the surface. Most of the island consists of low-dense plastic debris collected from around the world due to poor drainage and plastic management and disposal. The countless microscopic pieces were brought together by oceanic currents which settled on the North Pacific Region bound by the North Pacific Gye. One study estimated that for every square kilometer of ocean, there are 5.1 kilograms of plastic spread evenly below the surface. Although the area is largely made up of almost unnoticeable plastic pieces, there are instances where large clumps of plastic can be found along with large areas of confetti-sized pieces, which is a major concern for ships and marine life.
So, what happens to all the plastic sitting there? Well, without proper plastic disposal programs, the plastic island undergoes photodegradation. The main concern of photodegradation is its tendency to break plastic into smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. The plastic can be photo-degraded until it is unnoticeable towards marine life, which would ultimately ingest the molecular-level plastic. This would heavily damage the marine ecosystem as well as add high levels of PCBs and other toxic chemicals into the food chain. A recent study concluded that of the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses in the area, almost all of them were found to heave plastic in their digestive systems. Incredibly tiny pieces of plastic are also known to absorb organic toxic chemicals from the water, which would be eaten by fish and other marine animals, and finally be ingested by humans. Although the minuscule pieces of plastic would be the most detrimental and difficult pollutant to deal with, large pieces of plastic can have a direct impact on marine life and ships.
Learn more about the patch here: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/?ar_a=1
Or watch a documentary by VICE here:
There is a way to prevent this “island” from actually becoming an island, and it starts with you and me. Always recycle you plastic. Never throw it on the streets, into the sewers, down your toilet, or anywhere else. Look for or invest in a recycling bin to take care of all the plastic disposables you may have. Plastic is incredibly difficult to deteriorate and incredibly easy to recycle. We want our oceans to be clean and marine ecosystem to be stable. We also want our seafood lovers to enjoy safe food, without toxic chemicals or micro plastic pieces. If we don’t begin to act now, your next trip to the beach may just include a nice microscopic layer of polymer plastics below the surface of every wave.