Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a big patch of garbage and debris in the middle of the northern Pacific Ocean. It is caught in the currents. It formed because currents near the center of the Northern Pacific Ocean move around in a kind of circle, which catches and holds floating pieces of plastic.
The "Plastic Island" actually has two areas, described as an eastern patch and a western patch, which are separated because of ocean currents. Scientists estimate that the size of the "plastic island" is approximately equal to the land area of the United States, but it could be as much as twice the size. Also, it is not really a floating island. It is more like a soup of plastic pieces floating in the ocean just below the surface. It is 900 km (560 mi) from California, between Hawaii and Japan.
Ships try to avoid this patch of garbage because it can get caught in their screws. Unfortunately, birds and other sea animals often eat the smaller pieces of plastic, thinking that they are food swimming in the ocean. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the plastic soup causes the death of one million sea birds and 10,000 sea animals every year. Some micro-invertebrates have also been found to eat tiny pieces of plastic with similar results.
Since the plastics are organic compounds, they tend to absorb other organic compounds, such as pesticides. Scientists have discovered high levels of DDT and other organic compounds in this deadly plastic soup.
The pieces of plastic come from all over the world. Any country that has a shore or river, where such pieces blow or wash out to sea is a source. Scientists estimate that the United States and other industrial countries contribute less garbage to the plastic island due to modern garbage disposal; but such countries also produce and sell much of the plastic that becomes garbage for non-industrial countries.
Changing winds and currents often cause parts of this plastic island to break away and send pieces of plastic toward the beaches and shorelines of Pacific Islands and the continents. It's considered a major problem for tourism, and because of the problems that it causes the island and ocean environments. For example, many birds, turtles, and other animals go to Pacific Islands to lay their eggs and raise their young. They can eat or get caught in the garbage.
This is a world wide environmental problem.
In April 2008, Richard Sundance Owen, a building contractor and scuba dive instructor, started the Environmental Cleanup Coalition to solve the problem of the pollution in the North Pacific. They are working with other groups to find ways to safely remove plastic and organic compounds from the oceans.
Project Kaisei is a project to study and clean up the garbage patch launched in March 2009. In August 2009 two ships from the project, the RV New Horizon and the Kaisei, went to research the patch and decide the possibility of a commercial scale collection and recycling operation.
- San Fransisco Chronicle Article http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/19/SS6JS8RH0.DTL&hw=pacific+patch&sn=001&sc=1000
- The United Kingdom Independent article http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-worlds-rubbish-dump-a-garbage-tip-that-stretches-from-hawaii-to-japan-778016.html
- Natural History Magazine http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/master.html?http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/1103/1103_feature.html
- The Environmental Cleanup Coalition's "Gyre Cleanup" plan
- Walsh, Bryan (1 August 2009). "Expedition Sets Sail to the Great Plastic Vortex". Time. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1914145,00.html. Retrieved 2 August 2009.