I know you’ve probably heard about it, but what’s the real story with this massive island of floating garbage in the Pacific? – Tony
A New Continent
There is a new continent in the Pacific Ocean.
Actually it has been forming for years. It was documented in the 1950′s. It is larger now, by some reports twice the size of Texas. And growing. The most amazing thing of all is the substance of the island.
Plastic. Trash. Junk. Mountains of trash that has not and will not biodegrade is trapped in an area roughly 10 million square miles in size. The North Pacific Gyre is an area of swirling currents moving in a clockwise pattern that the major ocean currents lead into. Think of it as an aquatic roundabout in heavy traffic- very difficult to get off of. Over time the plastics and trash that has been intentionally and accidentally (remember the Nike sneaker wash of 1990?) dumped into our oceans has found its way to the North Pacific Gyre and remains there. Accumulating at an alarming rate it is literally forming a continent made of trash.
Plastic, as we know, does not biodegrade but it does break down into smaller and smaller pieces. The material is breaking down into tiny particles of plastic “sand”. Small cellular marine animals ingest the plastics and die. Large marine animals ingest the plastic and die, or they get tangled in it and die.
Apparently the mass of the plastic particles is six times more than the mass of the natural plankton in the area. This large expanse of ocean is becoming unhealthier and unhealthier, and less and less navigable. The plastic is found at depths of up to 30 meters. It is literally creating a landmass. But that’s still not all.
Green peace estimates that a million sea birds a year die form ingesting plastics. The plastic fills their stomachs, they can’t digest it and they die, slow agonizing deaths by starvation with full bellies. Sea turtles mistake floating shopping bags for jelly fish, and even the small single celled creatures that act as natural filters for the water have been discovered with colorful flecks of plastic in their transparent bodies. One soda bottle can break down in enough small particles to leave one on every beach in the world! Why is this a problem? Read on!
The plastic as it breaks down releases large amounts of toxic substances into the water of the Pacific ocean. What ever might have originally been stored in the plastic: DDT, PCBs, other oils and pollutants, is all released into the water as the plastic breaks down. Anyone for some fresh, wild caught Pacific Salmon?
In one way there isn’t one. All of that plastic cannot be cleaned out of the ocean. Scientists say that the only solution is to reduce, even eliminate our use of plastics. Even oif we totally stopped using it now the plastics all ready on Trash Island would stull be there in a thousand years. If we stopped using it now, thousands of pieces of plastic would still sink to the bottom of the ocean and disrupt the fragile ecosystems there. In 2001 the average American used over 200 lbs of plastic. A large percentage of that was not recycled.
Future scientists will be able to recognize the twentieth century by a layer of colorful plastics in the layers of earth they dig through. Ocean currents willcontinue to deposit the trash into the vortex as long as we continue to be irresponsible with the earth. By being ecologiclaly responsible we can keep it from getting worse. It always starts with the small things. Here are a few you can do.
1. Use canvas bags to shop.
2. Take your own mug to Starbucks.
3. Recycle plastic as much as you can.
4. Use glass and other recyclable materials when possible.
5. Limit the amout of things you buy that are encased in plastic.