Clean Our Oceans: The Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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Clean Our Oceans: The Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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Marine debris and pollution consisting mostly of plastic trash is accumulating in oceans around the world. From the surface of the ocean, you might not even realize that a vast garbage patch swirls under the water. With ever-changing content and borders, scientists have difficulty estimating the size of these garbage patches. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch exists in the northern Pacific Ocean, stretching between Japan and the United States.

How the Garbage Patch Accumulated

About 80 percent of the plastic trash that makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch originated from land-based activities occurring in North America and Asia. The remaining 20 percent of the trash originated from boats and ships on the ocean. Experts estimate that it takes trash approximately six years to leave the coast of North America and end up in the garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. From Asia, it takes trash only about one year to reach this destination. Because plastic does not decompose, it simply floats in the water, moving along with ocean currents. Some photodegradation occurs from sunlight, which breaks the plastic up into tiny pieces. Two separate zones of currents move two separate plastic patches in circular motions. Between the patches, a convergence zone moves the plastic back and forth.

Environmental Harm That Has Resulted

Animals living in these areas are experiencing significant harm from the plastic. Sea turtles think that the plastic is jellyfish, and they eat it. Albatrosses think that plastic resin pellets are fish eggs, and they feed them to their babies. Other animals become entangled and trapped in the plastic. These animals often drown due to the entanglement. Harm to the environment can also occur from the presence of the garbage patch. Because the garbage blocks sunlight, algae is not growing as it should. With less algae, the entire food chain is experiencing a negative disruption. In addition, the plastics floating in the ocean are leeching harmful chemicals into the water, which are likely entering the food chain.

Measures for Reducing and Preventing Ocean Pollution

The size, location, and extensive nature of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch makes cleaning it impractical. A large number of ships would need to work for an entire year to eliminate only a fraction of the plastic from the water. Because cleanup is infeasible, experts focus their efforts on prevention of additional accumulation of plastic in the garbage patches. To prevent additional problems, consumers should use biodegradable plastic when they choose to use plastic. Avoiding the use of plastic whenever possible can also help reduce the garbage patches. Recycling plastic properly is another effective prevention measure.

Last modified: May 31, 2017