Economic progress has provided us with conveniences and luxuries that previous generations only dreamed about. At the same time, this progress has created some serious and harmful side effects that will be inherited by future generations. One of the dirtiest secrets of our planet is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” that is estimated to be anywhere from 700,000 square kilometers (size of Texas) to more than square 15,000,000 kilometers in size (8.1% of the entire Pacific Ocean).
An ocean gyre is a system of connected, rotating ocean currents that are formed by global wind patterns and the Earth’s rotational force. The North Pacific Gyre is one of five major ocean gyres on our planet and stretches all the way from Japan to the California coastline (20 million square kilometers). The area in the middle of these circling currents is quite calm making it the perfect place for enormous amounts of manmade trash to become trapped. Roughly 80% of the trash collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from the shores of North America and Asia, while the other 20% comes from boats. It takes about six years for a piece of trash to find its way to the world’s biggest garbage dump from North America, while from Asia it only takes one.
Most of the debris comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and Styrofoam cups. The dangerous part is that plastic does not biodegrade, but rather photo degrades. Sunlight breaks it down into tiny pieces that either collect near the surface or pile up on the ocean floor. These tiny pieces of plastic are tragically ingested by marine animals and responsible for killing millions of them each year. A study of the predatory fishes in the North Pacific Gyre found that 19% of them contained plastic. It is ironic that these are the same species commonly eaten by people, who later ingest plastic that was originally tossed into the ocean as garbage.
Since the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is far from the borders of any one nation, no one is willing to take the responsibility to clean it up. So what is the answer? Just last summer, a 19 year old Dutchman, Boyan Slat, came up with a cost effective way to clean up the mess created by so many others (http://tinyurl.com/obunkzk). The concept involves using ocean currents to transport plastic into a collection platform. Solid floating barriers are then used to corral the trash and avoid entangling any sea life. It is estimated that the patch can be cleaned up in 10 years using Slat's method. While we should all be grateful that there is a viable solution to clean up mankind's disgusting mess, hard measures need to be made regarding all of the trash that gets dumped into the ocean on a daily basis. It is truly a big shame the way we treat our own planet.
For more information on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, please refer to the following articles:
Oceans fill with plastic—and it's hard to remove, CNBC, Roberto Ferris, February 12th, 2015 (http://www.cnbc.com/id/102416552)
Great Pacific Garbage Patch, National Geographic,
Could we clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?, How Stuff Works, Julia Layton,(http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/clean-up-garbage-patch2.htm)
North Pacific Gyre, Wikipedia,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Pacific_Gyre
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