This is my second time to visit a horror story that—as science fiction as it sounds—is reality. In a lively discussion in my google+ sci-fi community, a commenter argued that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) was a myth. That it didn’t exist. That we’d been lied to.
I decided to investigate further.
He cited a blog at io9 as his source. It is a great article titled: Lies You’ve Been Told About the Pacific Garbage Patch and it does clear up certain myths surrounding the ecological catastrophe, but in no way does the article suggest the horror is false.
In fact, the horror grows.
In my blog on the GPGP, I ran a picture which was reported to be a photograph of the GPGP. It is not and a reason for my blog post today: to correct my errors. I apologize for my mistakes.
Below is a picture of one of the ramifications of trash filling our oceans.
From the National Geographic website.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is comprised of Western and Eastern patches and includes the areas of North Pacific ocean located near Japan and running to the North American coast between Hawaii and California.
- Marine debris, aka litter, creates the trash patch.
- The trash is on a type of highway where the warm waters of the South Pacific meet up with the colder waters of the Arctic, converge, and move debris from one patch to another. This is referred to as the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone.
- The trash is governed by what is known as a gyre—a circular current formed by the earth’s wind pattern.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted the inevitability of a trash patch as early as 1988.
- No one knows the actual size of the patch even though conflicting reports exist across the internet putting it at the size of Texas or the US. There is no scientifically sound estimate of the size and mass of these patches, NOAA says.
- It’s not actually an island or a patch, and it is not visible from the air, or from satellite imagery, and it is not immediately evident to the naked eye. Actually, instead of a bunch of trash floating on the surface, the patch is described as looking like cloudy soup. “A comparison I like to use is that the debris is more like flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup, rather than a skim of fat that accumulates (or sits) on the surface,” says Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, in her blog.
- There is not just one garbage patch but many. Meaning trash congregates to various degrees in numerous parts of the Pacific and the rest of the ocean.
What Is This Garbage?
This trash is accumulating in the GPGP because it is not biodegradable. Though it’s not the only source of litter, plastic does make up the majority of this non-biodegradable matter. Instead of wearing down, plastic breaks into tinier and tinier pieces called microplastics.
These microplastics mix with with larger items, such as fishing gear and shoes.
An underwater trash heap may lie on the seafloor beneath the GPGP as well. Oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70% of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean, National Geographic reported.
Land-based activities in North America and Asia create about 80% of the debris. It takes six years for trash to reach the patch from the coast of North America. Whereas, debris from Japan and other Asian countries takes only about a year, states National Geographic. Boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris into the water make up the other 20%, the majority of which—705,000 tons—is fishing nets.
Computer monitors, LEGOs, sneakers, toys, and sporting equipment are some of the more unusual items dropped into the ocean from shipping containers.
Scientists have collected up to 750,000 bits of microplastic in a single square kilometer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—that’s about 1.9 million bits per square mile. Most of this debris comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and Styrofoam cups, states National Geographic.
The High Cost of Plastics
Even though the GPGP is not an island of trash the size of Texas, its risks are nonetheless horrifying. This debris destroys marine life and threatens the ecological balance of the ocean.
So why doesn’t someone clean it up?
No nation will take on the responsibility or fund it. And even if they would, there is no easy solution. Too costly. Too time-consuming. Nets used to scoop out all the tiny microplastics would gather in small marine life as well.
The NOAA’s Marine Debris Program has estimated that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean.
At what cost will we continue to enjoy the convenience of plastics?
- Turtles mistake plastic bags for jellies—their main source of food.
- Albatross mistake resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to their chicks.
- Seals and other sea creatures become entangled and drown in abandoned fishing nets—a fate labeled ghost fishing.
- Water skater insects, small crabs, barnacles, and bryozoans are actually striving on all the floating plastics. This increases the risks of an imbalance in the ocean’s ecosystem.
- Microplastics and other trash block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae, a main food source for such sea creatures as fish and turtles. As the food diminishes so do the populations of these animals who are sustenance for the apex predators like sharks, tuna, and whales. A decline in seafood then becomes a monetary problem for humans both in commerce and our daily lives.
The only fix seems to be limiting the use of plastics or eliminating their use altogether, which is probably not a solution that the plastic industry will embrace.
Though facts and fiction seem to have crossed paths in some of the media reporting on the garbage patch, the hazard to our oceans still remains. There is a bunch of trash floating around in the gyre that threatens our oceans, its ecosystem, and ultimately life as we know it.
I feel as if I’ve just written an apocalyptic scenario for our Earth. One in which there seems to be no way the good guys can win.
I will never look at a plastic grocery bag the same way again—without seeing a turtle or seal captured in its murderous grip. Yeah. Sure. It’s one plastic bag. But what it represents is far more frightening.
The true horror of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? And my fear. We probably won’t do anything about it until it is too late.
An Oprah YouTube of the GPGP—great visual although Oprah also has a bit of misinformation.
What is your opinion? Is this a real problem or a topic blown out of proportion by the media? Are we too late to fix it?
The Probe’s Statement of Purpose
The Probe is a blog devoted to the exploration of the unexplainable, to finding the truth in occurrences that resemble science fiction, and to researching and reporting on topics that could be flung upon the wall of weird. New posts are featured every week.
( Mostly on Mondays, but sometimes I release early, like on Sundays, if I have a writing deadline, or if I’m going camping, or if I have something exciting I just can’t wait to tell you. Sign up to get my new blog posts delivered to your email. No spam. Promise.)
(And sometimes I’m a little late. Like today. But research on Monday’s topic took longer than anticipated. Hope you forgive and return.)
blog post #108