North Pacific (WiredPRNews)–In the North Pacific Ocean, in a remote area known as the North Pacific Gyre, are two giant floating “islands,” each the size of Texas.
They are not made of organic materials. They are made of plastic.
The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “Trash Vortex” is at least 20 years of accumulated junk cast off by humans, 90 percent of it plastics. Only 20 percent comes from ships and oil platforms at sea; 80 percent comes from land. Ocean currents carry debris from the east coast of Asia to the center of the gyre in a year or less, and debris from the west coast of North America in about five years.
A gyre is a ring or circle, or circular course of motion. In oceanography, gyres are a ring-like system of ocean currents rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.
The “patch” is actually two separate accumulations connected by a 6,000 mile trash “umbilical cord.” The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch floats between Japan and Hawaii; the Western Patch floats between Hawaii and California.
The North Pacific Gyre is a large oval stretching east-west from Japan to California, with a clockwise spinning current. This slow-moving current picks up trash and debris and deposits it in the center of the gyre, where it remains relatively stationary.
But both patches do move around, depending on the prevailing current, because the North Pacific Gyre is made up of four different currents: the North Pacific Current to the north; the California Current to the west; the North Equatorial Current to the south; and the Kuroshio Current to the east. This movement sometimes brings the Western Garbage Patch within 500 nautical miles of the California coast, and causes massive debris pile-ups on beaches in the Hawaiian Islands.
Although each patch is estimated to be approximately the size of Texas, some estimates indicate they may be closer to the size of the continental U.S. Size estimates are difficult because the patches are not densely-packed with solid debris; they are more like dense concentrations of tiny pieces of floating plastic, most of which is not on the surface. Like an iceberg, most of the debris making up the patches is below the surface, extending perhaps hundreds of feet, with unknown quantities accumulated on the ocean floor.
The North Pacific Gyre is one of five major oceanic gyres; the others are in the South Pacific, the North Atlantic and South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Since each behaves in the same vortex style, scientists are certain that massive conglomerates of trash like the North Pacific Garbage Patch exist in each of the world’s oceans.
Plastic does not biodegrade, but it does photo-degrade, broken down into tiny pieces by exposure to the sun. This “plastic confetti” over time soaks up man-made toxins in the ocean, including DDT, a pesticide that was banned in the U.S. in the 1960’s and labeled by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1987 as a “probable human carcinogen.” The most recent review of all the evidence concludes that exposure to DDT before puberty increases the risk of breast cancer later in life.
Marine wildlife mistake the particles for food and ingest them. Millions of birds have been found dead, their guts full of plastic they can’t digest, so they die of starvation. Jellyfish and other small invertebrates also ingest the “poison stew,” and these animals are then eaten by fish.
No country is even addressing the problem, let alone doing anything about it. Some scientists say it is impossible to clean up the mess now; it is simply too massive an undertaking, and without support from any government, nothing can be done.
But, as environmentalists remind the world’s population, humans eat fish. We are eating fish that have eaten other fish which have eaten toxin-saturated plastics.
In essence, humans are eating their own waste.
Contributor: Renee Brown – Staff Reporter