Ok, so it isn’t exaclty an island, more like a huge patch of garbage floating in the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of litter that has ended up in the ocean. With a fitting name like the Pacific trash vortex, this garbage patch spans the waters from the West Coast of North American to Japan. The garbage is stuck together by the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone and is located just a few hundred kilometers off Hawaii. What is the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone you ask? It’s where warm water from the South Pacific meets with cooler water from the Arctic and it acts like a freeway that moves litter from one patch to another.
This garbage patch is only getting worse because it is funded by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, which is a system of circular currents that are formed by the Earth’s wind patterns. Due to this, the gyre tends to have calm and stable waters with circular motions that draw litter in where it then can become trapped. It is also comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located in Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch which is between the United States and Hawaii. Reaching at about 1.6 million square kilometers, or twice the size of Texas, it’s hard to understand why people have done this to our beautiful Earth.
You would imagine that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch would wake people up and teach them to recycle and stop using single use plastics, but it doesn’t. There are five different garbage patches in our oceans today that are rapidly growing in size. The South Pacific Garbage Patch is currently sitting in the oceans of Australia to South America and as far north of the Equator. This garbage patch was recently discovered in mid-2017 and is the second biggest patch next to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, averaging about 396,342 particles per square kilometer. Research found that most of the debris in this patch came from microbeads that are found in washing clothes, fishing debris, and broken-down pieces of plastic.
In the central Indian Ocean lies the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch which was discovered in 2010 and was labeled “a thin plastic soup.” Thankfully this garbage patch doesn’t appear as a continuous debris field and has around 10,000 articles per square kilometer. One of the oldest documented garbage patches to date is the North Atlantic Garbage Patch which was originally documented in 1972. It is estimated to be around hundreds of kilometers in size, with a density of 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometer, that’s a lot of trash. This specific garbage patch shifts almost 1,600 kilometers north and south seasonally and can sometimes reach even further south due to the El Nino Southern Oscillation.
Besides the garbage sitting onto of the surface of our oceans, people forget about the huge amount of trash heaps that are sitting underwater. Oceanographers recently discovered that about 70% of marine debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean, you can only imagine what our marine life must think about that. All the trash that is in our oceans today is due to humans themselves. 80% of the litter that is sitting in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based actives in North America and Asia. The trash can take from one year to six years to reach the garbage patch and the other 20% of trash comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships, with 79,000 tons of that debris being fishing nets alone.
To try and help clean-up all the trash that is sitting is our oceans today, the Ocean Cleanup Project was born. This contraction uses pipes that float to the surface of the water with a net below the water that helps corral garbage in the center on the U-shape design. Originally created by 23-year-old Boyan Slat, who was disgusted at the amount of trash in the oceans of Greece when he was a teenager, has vowed to help clean-up this mess. So how does it work? The vessel moves slower then the water and allows the current and waves to push the trash into the center for collection. Floating particles are captured by the net and the water that is pushing against it helps propel fish and other marine life under and away from the net.
So what can you do to help? It’s simple actually, throw away your trash, limit your use of single use plastics by using Conscious Cutlery instead, and recycle anything that can be recycled. Just a small step in the right direction can help our oceans from be polluted daily by trash.