The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been a problem for years. Do you know what is it? What can we possibly do about it?
First, we need to understand ocean movement. The oceans are immense bodies of water, especially the Pacific. However, they aren’t like bath tubs; the water in the oceans is constantly moving around due to the Earth’s rotation and winds. The water tends to move around the edges much faster, those being the coastal currents. In the centre, it moves much slower, circling around. That is what we call a gyre, a ring-like system of rotating ocean currents. The North Pacific Gyre, specifically, is the biggest one in the planet, covering an area of 20 million square km. Its movement traps ocean debris, which may stay there for years. The trash that’s floating around is what we call the Great Pacific Garbage Parch. Seasonally, as the wind patterns change, parts of that patch will break off and slam into wide ranges of our coast lines.
Now, where does the debris come from?
Many people reckon it comes from tsunamis such as the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. This is partially true, but actually 80% of plastic debris comes from the land. About 10% falls from boats that sail the oceans or gets swept out of rivers. Scientists have found plastic debris in the ocean that has been there for years, such as Japanese glass fishing floats that haven’t been used actively in fisheries for decades.
There’s at least 100 million tons of trash in the North Pacific Gyre. A lot of people imagine it as an island of garbage – if it were like that, it would me much easier to study and clean up. Unfortunately, the patch is actually two huge areas with high concentrations of trash suspended in the water on the east and west sides of the gyre.
How could be eliminated all this garbage?
As we all know, that garbage is not biodegradable, meaning it will linger there for years and years. Plastic takes up to 500 years to degrade, and it doesn’t biodegrade, it photodegrades. Biodegrading means that over time, the substance breaks down into its original components, such as carbon, oxygen, etc. Photodegrading, though, is a different process: as the sunlight weakens the bonds between polymers in the plastic, it breaks them into smaller and smaller bits. The sun, though powerful, cannot break down plastics completely: it breaks them down into tiny particles of its original self. That leaves our oceans full of microplastics and harmful leached chemicals, which end up being mistakenly eaten by fish and other animals as they perceive them as phytoplankton. The bigger fish eat the smaller fish, which ate those microplastics. We eat the bigger fish. Get the picture?
Obviously, all that debris makes its way into marine life in other ways, resulting in animals entangled in fishing nets, plastics in their stomachs, and all sorts of devastating consequences.
Justin Hofman’s viral seahorse picture
What can we do?
You’re probably overwhelmed by the seriousness of the situation, but there are many things you can do to help solve the problem. Start with reducing your trash, refusing single use plastics and cleaning up the shorelines. Very soon we will be posting an article about a wonderful initiative that fights for clean and abundant oceans, and we’ll give you some tips to help solve the problem. Stay tuned and never give up fighting for our home. Here are some stats you might find interesting:
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