North Pacific Gyre: The Ocean's Hidden Garbage Dump
The Pacific Ocean – it’s absolutely breathtaking! Anyone who has ever been on the western coast will agree with me on that. This ocean is home to millions of organisms, but would you ever guess that it is home to an estimated 100m tons of plastic? That’s right, plastic. Roughly 500 miles off the coast of glamorous California is a giant garbage patch, with an area that is nearly twice the size of the continental U.S. This patch, often called the “pacific trash vortex”, is made up of a combination of plastics, chemical sludge and other debris consisting of everything from beach balls to kayaks and duffle bags.
This garbage patch was first discovered in 1988 by the National Oceans and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). It is thought that the dump formed gradually as a result of pollution gathered from oceanic currents. The patch is essentially held together by the rotating currents in the North Pacific Gyre, which draws in waste from the coasts of both North America and Japan. This means that the junk from two of the most industrialised areas in the world has come together to form a plastic soup in the middle of our ocean.
Although there have been many expeditions to attempt to clean up this plastic graveyard, none of which have made a significant difference to the amount of debris in the area. Even if we could remove all of the garbage we could find from the gyre, there would still be a ridiculous amount of plastic particles in the water which could only be removed with an expensive water purification system. Even then we would have to invent a contraption that could treat practically all of the ocean water, as the currents often change, causing the particles to travel elsewhere.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been getting a lot of publicity lately, which is a good sign. After a recent visit to the patch, Miriam Goldstein, chief scientist of SIO (as reported by Science Daily) claims, “finding so much plastic there was shocking. How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of the ocean-a thousand miles from land?” The answer is simple; everyone has been living with an out of sight, out of mind mentality. This giant patch of junk is a great eye-opener that proves the fact that there really is no “away” when we toss things. Hopefully this mess will teach people to pay attention to how they dispose of their junk.