Why we can't ignore the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Each year millions of tonnes of plastic enter the world's oceans. Now it's time we clear the patch.

A Part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Published By: News Desk
at 12:00 p.m. January 25, 2021


In case you've been living under a rock, on the planet earth there are five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. One of those zones is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is located halfway between Hawaii and California, and covers an approximate surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers which is an area twice the size of Texas and three times the size of France.

The plastic dosen't go away

It has been estimated that between 1.15 million to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the world's oceans each year from mainland rivers. The plastic is less dense than the water which means it will not sink once it flows from the mainland rivers into the sea. Stronger plastics can withstand the marine environment which causes them to be transported over extended distances throughout the world's oceans. As the plastics make their way offshore and sail on top of the sea's surface they are transported by converging currents and ultimately accumulate in one of the five plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch mainly accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Therefore, many of the plastics do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces and scatter throughout the ocean affecting our marine life on planet earth.

Marine life in peril

Plastic debris can be very harmful to marine life living in the ocean. Loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, which is their food of choice, and Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks which may die of starvation or from ruptured organs after consuming the plastic. Seals and other marine mammals are especially at risk as they can get entangled in abandoned plastic fishing nets, which are being discarded largely due to inclement weather and illegal fishing. Seals and other mammals often drown in these forgotten nets—a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing.” Plastic debris can also disturb marine food webs. As micro plastics and other trash collect on or near the surface of the ocean, they block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below. Algae and plankton are the most common autotrophs, or producers, in the marine food web. Autotrophs are organisms that can produce their own nutrients from carbon and sunlight. If algae and plankton communities are threatened, the entire food web may change. Animals that feed on algae and plankton, such as fish and turtles, will have less food. If populations of those animals decrease, there will be less food for apex predators such as tuna, sharks, and whales. Eventually, seafood will become less available for not only other marine life, but also for human consumption.

The world's five plastic accumulation zones


Humans are the problem

While it is not one person or nation that created the plastic accumulation zones in the world's oceans, humanity as a whole is responsible for their creation. According to Australian researchers, people across the globe consume roughly 5 grams of plastic each week in the course of daily life, which is about the weight of a credit card. Of all the plastic in the ocean, it is estimated that 80 percent comes from land-based sources, with the remaining 20 percent coming from boats and other marine sources. A 2018 study found that synthetic fishing nets made up nearly half the mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which can largely be attributed to ocean current dynamics and increased fishing activity in the Pacific Ocean. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled. This means 91% of plastic isn't recycled, and more importantly, since we humans are the only species that manufacture and consume plastic, we are the reason that millions of tonnes of plastic continues to enter our world's oceans each year.

Clearing out the patch

In most nations politicians and leaders are brought to power by the will of the people. Therefore, before the better of humanity can get involved with this growing crisis in our world's oceans, we must begin to demand that our elected officials take measures to reduce and ultimately eliminate plastic flowing into the sea from our rivers. We must also better govern ourselves by educating our children in school as to the affects that plastics have on marine life and why it is important to recycle or dispose of plastic in a proper manner. We must also implement systems where individuals or entities are held accountable for improper plastic disposal. Our biggest challenge is clearing the plastics that are already accumulated in the five plastic accumulation zones in the world's oceans. Although there has not been a clear and concise plan by the government to solve this problem due to the significant cost that it would take to implement a seemingly impossible task, the one thing that is for certain is the financial cost of taking action would be far less costly than the cost of doing nothing.

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