10 things you should know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Dead albatross chick that ingested plastic (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albatross_chick_plastic.jpg)Trash in our oceans isn’t something to think about only on World Oceans Day, or when yet another odd piece of debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami washes up on distant shores. It’s a pervasive, and ever-growing problem in every one of the planet’s oceans.

For that reason, here are 10 things you should know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch … and other, less well-known patches:

  1. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a wide swath of ocean where waste has concentrated because of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Gyres are regions of the oceans where water rotates in a large circular pattern. The five major ocean gyres are the North Pacific, North Atlantic, Indian Ocean, South Atlantic and South Pacific.
  2. The volume of plastic debris in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre has increased by 100 times over the past 40 years, according to a study from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
  3. Nine percent of fish collected during another Scripps study in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch had plastic waste in their stomachs. Researchers estimate that fish living at intermediate ocean depths in that region ingest between 12,000 and 24,000 tons of plastic each year.
  4. Trash from land — not ships — accounts for about 80 percent of marine debris, and around 65 percent of that is “consumer used plastics that have not been disposed of properly,” according to the Algalita Marine Research Institute.
  5. Despite the vast amounts of plastic waste circulating in the oceans, the garbage patch isn’t visible in satellite photos because much of the trash has been broken down into small bits “the size of a fingernail.” (Researchers often describe the pollution as a plastic “soup.” ) A lot also floats just below the surface, or is obscured by plant and animal growth on the plastic.
  6. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is not the only marine region with large concentrations of plastic waste. Garbage patches have also been found in the North Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
  7. Even remote areas of ocean beyond the large gyres have large amounts of plastic waste. A 2011 Algalita research trip in the waters between South America and the Antarctic found plastic “in every sample taken.” Researchers estimated the volume of plastic in the region at anywhere from 956 pieces per square kilometer to 42,826 pieces per square kilometer, with a possible mass between 1 gram per square kilometer to 57 grams per square kilometer.
  8. While some creatures — including the marine insect known as a water strider — are actually thriving as the volume of plastic waste in the ocean grows, others are threatened by becoming tangled in waste or by eating it. For example, researchers believe that “thousands of albatross die each year as a result of ingesting plastic debris.”
  9. Plastic waste in the oceans also poses more microscopic, long-term threats to marine life and the food chain. While plastics take a very long time to decompose, even hard polycarbonates biodegrade in the ocean environment.
  10. As plastic in the ocean biodegrades, it releases various contaminants into the environment, including the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA). Scientists have found “widespread global contamination of sea sand and sea water” with BPA.

As we observe yet another World

Oceans Day and hear daily reports

about debris from the 2011 Japan

tsunami washing up on distant

shores

Trash in our oceans isn’t something

to think about only on World

Oceans Day, or when yet another

odd piece of debris from the 2011

Japan tsunami washes up on

distant shores. It’s a pervasive, and

ever-growing problem in every one

of the planet’s oceans.

For that reason, here are 10 things

you should know about the Great

Pacific Garbage Patch … and

other, less well-known patches:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

is a wide swath of ocean where

waste has concentrated because

of the North Pacific Subtropical

Gyre. Gyres are regions of the

oceans where water rotates in a

large circular pattern. The five

major ocean gyres are the North

Pacific, North Atlantic, Indian

Ocean, South Atlantic and South

Pacific.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_

Pacific_Subtropical_Gyre)

The volume of plastic debris in the

North Pacific Subtropical Gyre has

increased by 100 times over the

past 40 years, according to a study

from Scripps Institution of

Oceanography at the University of

California, San Diego.

(http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu/Relea

ses/?releaseID=1271)

Nine percent of fish collected

during another Scripps study in the

Great Pacific Garbage Patch had

plastic waste in their stomachs.

Researchers estimate that fish

living at intermediate ocean depths

in that region ingest between

12,000 and 24,000 tons of plastic

each year.

Trash from land — not ships —

accounts for about 80 percent of

marine debris, and around 65

percent of that is “consumer used

plastics that have not been

disposed of properly,” according to

the Algalita Marine Research

Institute.

(http://www.algalita.org/AlgalitaFAQ

s.htm)

Despite the vast amounts of plastic

waste circulating in the oceans, the

garbage patch isn’t visible in

satellite photos because much of

the trash has been broken down

into small bits “the size of a

fingernail.” (Researchers often

describe the pollution as a plastic

“soup.” ) A lot also floats just below

the surface, or is obscured by plant

and animal growth on the plastic.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre

is not the only marine region with

large concentrations of plastic

waste. Garbage patches have also

been found in the North Atlantic

(http://www.sciencemag.org/content

/175/4027/1240.abstract) and the

Indian Ocean

(http://5gyres.org/posts/2010/03/27

/doldrums_of_debris_more_from_t

he_first_ever_expedition_to_the_in

dian_ocean_garbage_patch),

Even remote areas of ocean

beyond the large gyres have large

amounts of plastic waste. A 2011

Algalita research trip in the waters

between South America and the

Antarctic found plastic “in every

sample taken.” Researchers

estimated the volume of plastic in

the region at anywhere from 956

pieces per square kilometer to

42,826 pieces per square

kilometer, with a possible mass

between 1 gram per square

kilometer to 57 grams per square

kilometer.

(http://www.algalita.org/uploads/Ant

arcticData.pdf)

While some creatures — including

the — are actually thriving as the

volume of plastic waste in the

ocean grows, others are

threatened by becoming tangled in

waste or by eating it. For example,

researchers believe that

“thousands of albatross die each

year as a result of ingesting plastic

debris.”

(http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_rele

ases/2009-10/plos-

doi102309.php)

Plastic waste in the oceans also

poses more microscopic, long-

term threats to marine life and the

food chain. While plastics take a

very long time to decompose, even

hard polycarbonates biodegrade in

the ocean environment.

(http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_rele

ases/2010-03/acs-

hpd030810.php)

As plastic in the ocean

biodegrades, it releases various

contaminants into the environment,

including the endocrine disruptor

bisphenol A (BPA). Scientists have

found “widespread global

contamination of sea sand and sea

water” with BPA.

(http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_rele

ases/2010-03/acs-

hpd030810.php)

Close

Share this

Follow Us

Categories

Get Our Emails

Stay connected