Although this story has been circulating in the news for several years, most recently in this past week’s New York Times science news, somehow it doesn’t seemed to stick. I’m not sure why, as it is an incredible example of our wastefulness and the “throw away” culture we live in. As well, it shows we don’t really have a clue about what happens to all that garbage we generate, and don’t seem to care about where it goes (out of sight, out of mind). Let’s talk more about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and how an innocent “picnic at the beach” is creating a floating garbage dump in the middle of the Pacific Ocean several times the size of Texas!
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located about half way between California and Hawaii and is part of a larger oceanic system called the “North Pacific Gyre”, the conflux of several ocean currents which come together to create a “plastic soup” in the middle of the Pacific ocean. When you have your post Thanksgiving “leftover” picnic on the beach in California, Oregon or Baja, and that trip to the recycling can seems a little too far, take a second and think where that plastic bag or bottle goes if you leave it on the beach. By the same token, where does a plastic bottle go when it gets washed down a street drain? Often that drain feeds to a steam, that joins a river, that emptying into the ocean, where currents take it to this or another (for there are others) swirling, floating garbage dump. While the plastic does eventually get broken down in the ocean, into tiny pieces, most of it stays floating, unable to actually ever biodegrade. What is happening to a lot of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that tiny fish and microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain are ingesting it. The plastic and toxins are then making their way up the food chain, sometimes into that “fresh sushi” you may have had last night at your favorite Japanese restaurant. Keep in the back of your mind that “Fresh wild caught fish” does not guarantee fish free of harmful toxins.
The only way to actually collect information on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, to measure it’s growth and to study it, is by visiting as the plastic pieces are too tiny to show up on satellite images. In August, one of these visiting groups was from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Scripps continues to update photos from the trip as well as research data as it becomes available at http://sio.ucsd.edu/Expeditions/Seaplex/. Also, check out the story in our Breaking News, for information on a fascinating upcoming visitor to the Great Pacific Garbage Dump, the Plastiki.
What’s your take on this garbage dump? We are thinking, “out of site, out of mind”.
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