The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a myriad collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water. So for example, plastic litter we throw on the ground such as plastic rings from cans of drink, food packaging and plastic bottles all inevitably end up in our oceans where currents and wind carry it into the biggest ocean gyre on planet Earth. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative concentrations of ‘pelagic’ plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.
An ocean gyre is a system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth’s windpatterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet, and the video below discusses the butterfly effect of how an individual’s littering habits can contribute to a much more catastrophic issue.
Charles J. Moore discovered the Great Pacific Garbage patch in 1997 while returning to southern California after finishing the Los Angeles-to-Hawaii Transpac sailing race. He and his crew caught sight of trash floating in the North Pacific Gyre, one of the most remote regions of the ocean. He wrote articles about the extent of this garbage, and the effects on sea life, which attracted significant attention in the media and let to his 1999 study that showed there was six times more plastic in this part of the ocean than the zooplankton that feeds ocean life.
“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean,” Moore later wrote in an essay for Natural History, “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” An oceanographic colleague of Moore’s dubbed this floating junk yard “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
The problem with the accumulation of plastics in this gyre is that plastic is non biodegradable. It simply breaks into smaller pieces over time without degrading. This means that the garbage patch will be here for thousands upon thousands of years. A lot of this garbage patch is made up of a microplastic soup – this can’t be seen by satellites, but the cloudy water is made up of tiny microplastics that are fatal to marine life.
So how can we help this absolutely catastrophic issue? First of all, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so far from any country’s coastline that no nation will take responsibility ir provide funding to clean it up – the sailor who discovered the vortex, Charles Moore, says that cleaning up the patch would “bankrupt any country that tried it.” However, many individuals and international organisations are dedicated to preventing it from growing even more, such as The Ocean Cleanup.
You can help by donating to The Ocean Cleanup HERE.