The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a massive accumulation of plastics and microplastics in the Pacific Ocean that continues to grow and threaten marine wildlife. It contains at least 87,000 tons of plastic and continues to grow as more plastic is produced and circulated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is no great accomplishment; it requires action that requires innovation from humans.
One common misconception about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that it is essentially an island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. In reality, it is multiple patches of microplastics that have come together to turn the water into what National Geographic describes as “a cloudy soup.” The recipe for this cloudy soup is mostly plastic- about 80% of which comes from land sources and 20% from marine sources such as fishing boats. Plastic disposed of in the ocean can reach several different countries’ coasts before finding its way to the calm center of the gyre (National Geographic). Because these plastics aren’t biodegradable, they break down into microplastics, forming the foundations that make up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The reason why a “patch” is created, is because of the oceanic subtropical gyre in the North Pacific Ocean. A gyre is composed of a system of currents and the debris inside of it. This gyre has trapped regular and micro-sized plastic debris in the calm area between currents, where it accumulates into a mass known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The effects of such a large accumulation of plastics are detrimental to the Pacific Ocean. On the oceans’ surface, sunlight becomes blocked, unable to reach photosynthetic plankton and algae, restricting their ability to photosynthesize and thrive in their habitats. As a result, other organisms cannot be supported that rely on algae and plankton as a food source, and the food web suffers. Large debris likewise contributes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, most notably, fishing nets dubbed “ghost nets” because even though no fishermen are actively using them; many have been abandoned the nets can still trap and harm marine wildlife. Furthermore, plastics can be mistaken for food by animals such as birds or turtles. Some birds will pick up the plastic in their beaks and feed it to their chicks, while turtles may mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. The threat that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch poses to marine life is proving to already be consequential to marine ecosystems, and calls for immediate action.
Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch requires innovation. Using traditional methods like nets attached to boats isn’t enough to clean up the microplastics within the patch, and it poses risks to wildlife living among the plastic pollution. However, many argue that any clean-up effort is simply not feasible. The world’s governments cannot get as far as one nation taking sole responsibility for the problem, because the gyre does not necessarily lie within any single nation’s borders. Any effort to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch could arguably have significant financial consequences for any nation that dare try. According to National Geographic, any effort to clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch through the aforementioned traditional methods would be incredibly time-consuming. Furthermore, a clean-up effort is a reactionary effort rather than one that prevents plastic pollution from growing in the first place. For now, the scientists at National Geographic recommend reducing plastic consumption individual level, and encourage corporations and businesses to do so as well so that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch does not grow any more than it already has. Meanwhile, innovators will work towards solutions that can clean up the plastic currently in the Pacific Ocean. For example, organizations such as the Ocean Cleanup Foundation have created mechanical devices that can sweep for plastics that canbe taken back to shore for proper recycling (Albeck-Ripka). The US government has also responded to the issue of plastic in our oceans with legislation, most notably, the Save Our Seas Act and its amendments. This legislation aims to clean plastic and other forms of pollution from the world’s oceans by implementing incentives for fishermen who clean and dispose of marine debris, implements and improves US programs that address marine debris, and improves infrastructure so that plastic pollution may be prevented in the future. Although it is a large and daunting accumulation of plastic pollution, innovation is possible and civilians can do their part to make sure the Great Pacific Garbage Patch does not gain any more mileage.
Article courtesy of Seaside Sustainability
Photo courtesy of Fox News
Albeck-Ripka, Livia. “The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' Is Ballooning, 87,000 Tons of Plastic and Counting.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Mar. 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/climate/great-pacific-garbage-patch.html.
Fox News. (2018). Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/science/great-pacific-garbage-patch-floating-island-of-trash-in-ocean-is-now-twice-the-size-of-texas.
“Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Education, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/great-pacific-garbage-patch/.
Lebreton, Laurent, et al. “Industrialised fishing nations largely contribute to floating plastic pollution in the North Pacific subtropical gyre.” Scientific Reports vol. 12,1 12666. 1 Sep. 2022, doi:10.1038/s41598-022-16529-0