The World's Largest Dump: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Divers rescue a seal

Via Discover Magazine: Thomas M. Kostigen flew to the Hawaiian Islands to see for himself the amount of plastic garbage which is floating in the Pacific Ocean:

…I learned about the Eastern Garbage Patch, also called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, from studies the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, based in Long Beach, California, has conducted while trolling it seven times over the past decade. The foundation’s fieldwork has revealed an ever-growing synthetic sea where particles concentrate by season, trash commutes in the currents from far-off places, and plastic outweighs zooplankton, retarding ocean life. Fascinating stuff. Captain Charles Moore founded the Algalita foundation and commands its research vessel, the Alguita. (Maddeningly similar names, I know.)

Moore first discovered the garbage patch when he crossed the Pacific in 1997 after competing in the Transpacific Yacht Race. Since then he has been passionate about investigating it and creating awareness about its significance—and the significance of the Eastern Garbage Patch is enormous. His findings have gone a long way toward educating the science community, if not yet the public, on the magnitude of marine pollution and its impact on life—all life…

“In the central North Pacific Gyre, pieces of plastic outweigh surface zooplankton by a factor of 6 to 1,” according to a report based on Moore’s research. “Ninety percent of Laysan albatross chick carcasses and regurgitated stomach contents contain plastics. Fish and seabirds mistake plastic for food. Plastic debris releases chemical additives and plasticizers into the ocean. Plastic also adsorbs hydrophobic pollutants like PCBs and pesticides like DDT. These pollutants bioaccumulate in the tissues of marine organisms, biomagnify up the food chain, and find their way into the foods we eat.”

You’ll notice the emphasis on plastics. Most other materials biodegrade or are not as buoyant as plastics, which do not biodegrade. Their resilience is also their menace, as today plastics have invaded the most distant places, from the Bering Sea to the South Pole. Indeed, when I was exploring a remote beach past the South Point of Hawaii, I found pill bottles from India and mashed pieces of various products—oil containers, detergent jugs, plastic caps—with Russian, Korean, and Chinese writing on them. It’s hard to get your brain around these connections. But float these things did, to shore…

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