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Clean Our Oceans: The Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Written by: Greg Wiszniewski
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.
- What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?: The National Ocean Service explains the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and potential ramifications of this marine debris.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Explained: Peruse this explanation on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as explained by the National Science Foundation.
- Marine Debris in the North Pacific (PDF): The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has compiled information about marine debris floating in the Pacific Ocean.
- Lesson: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: This lesson plan explores the causes and results of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
- Human Footprint (PDF): Humans have had a significant impact on the environment, with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being one result of this negative footprint.
- Marine Debris Threat Grows: The National Wildlife Refuge System, a division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, shows the impact of marine debris on wildlife.
- Green Voice (PDF): This publication of the U.S. National Park Service includes an article about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
- Grass Roots Garbage Gang Beach Cleanup (PDF): An environmental group explains the importance of cleaning up trash that can become marine debris.
- Reduce Plastics Use: One way to minimize the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is to reduce the amount of plastic products you use.
- Diving In, Cleaning Up: Explore possible cleaning methods for resolving the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
- Tide Turns Against Plastic Ocean Pollution: View pictures of trash in the ocean to learn about the devastating impact of this problem.
- Ban the Bag: Explore the impact of single-use plastic and its accumulation in the Pacific Ocean in this report.
- Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach (PDF): Some people seek to raise awareness of issues such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by writing songs about the marine debris.
- Are You a Trash-Talking Litter Bug? (PDF): Learn about typical consumption and waste produced by Americans each day, which contributes to issues such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
- Marine Pollution: A Look into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Marine pollution floats in the Pacific Ocean, posing a risk to wildlife living around it.
- Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health: At least three different patches of garbage exist now in oceans around the world.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: The garbage patches follow ocean currents, typically settling into calm areas of the oceans.