Imagine arriving at the beach for a perfect day in the sun and, instead of finding crystal blue waters to swim in, you see nothing but garbage. This is happening more and more frequently and, in some parts of the ocean, there are miles of garbage. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "while ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is a term often used by the media, it does not paint an accurate picture of the marine debris problem in the North Pacific ocean. Marine debris concentrates in various regions of the North Pacific, not just in one area. The exact size, content, and location of the "garbage patches" are difficult to accurately predict", however it is clear that "regardless of the exact size, mass, and location of the "garbage patch," manmade debris does not belong in our oceans and waterways and must be addressed. Debris found in any region of the ocean can easily be ingested by marine species causing choking, starvation, and other impairments"1.
Wikipedia, on the other hand, explains that this area "is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area"2.
According to National Geographic3 “about 80 percent of the debris comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia”, while “the remaining 20% of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris directly into the water”. Most of the debris is comprised of fishing nets, which can have devastating effects on marine life. Much of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains microplastics or small pieces of plastic. Debris like plastic bags, straws, plastic water bottles and polystyrene foam cups never really break down all the way; they just decompose into smaller and smaller pieces. According to National Geographic, scientists have collected about 1.9 million bits of plastic per square mile. Every week, “enough garbage to fill the Empire State Building twice flows into the ocean”4 . According to Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean CleanUp Project5, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a “ticking time bomb”6 (http://worldmaritimenews.com/archives/169773/the-ocean-cleanup-great-pac...).
The litter of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, according to Garbagepatch.net7, not only pollutes the water, but it has devastating effects on many marine life species every year. Many marine mammals get caught on discarded fishing nets and turtles will eat the plastic bags thinking they are jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Microplastics will end up in the stomachs of marine birds and other animals. The Midway Atoll receives a large amount of marine debris from the patch, and of the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses that inhabit the area nearly all have plastic in their digestive systems. 20 tons of plastic debris washes up on Midway every year8 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midway_Atoll#Pollution). The debris also has harmful effects on humans, as the fish we eat ingest the plastics and chemicals in the water, and can be toxic to humans when eaten.
The time to clean up our oceans is now; the problem isn’t getting any smaller. Simple things like recycling or picking up trash you see on the street so it doesn’t end up in our oceans can make a huge difference. Take the time to participate in beach clean-ups and say no to straws. Take your own reusable bags to the grocery store instead of using plastic bags. These are all ways we can help be the solution to the problem of ocean pollution and not the cause.
3 National Geographic: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garba...
5 The Ocean CleanUp Project: http://www.theoceancleanup.com
7 Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midway_Atoll#Pollution
Photos used with permission.