Obscene and extreme quantities of trash in the Pacific Ocean

It’s Saturday again and don’t they come around quickly! Saturday also seems to be the day that we occasionally allow ourselves a tirade about something… somewhere… and so today we are back on one of our favourite subjects: THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH.

I know I know, this has got nothing whatsoever to do with extreme sport, but if you’re a regular to our site you will know it is a subject close to our hearts…

So you will know that we have talked about this before (pacific ocean), but alarmingly, a new survey has just been carried out (during this month of August 2009) to see exactly what state the Pacific is in – and it has found that the quantities of trash in the ocean is far higher than previously expected.

This image provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows Matt

AP – This image provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows Matt Durham, center, pulling in …

The sprawling mass of garbage-littered water in the North Pacific is known as  the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and most of it has broken down into bite-sized plastic bits. That’s about the limit of its breakdown potential … for about a thousand years anyway.

Plastic sea trash doesn’t biodegrade and floats on the surface. Some of the trash had labels written in Chinese and English, hints of the long journeys garbage takes to arrive mid-ocean.

The sheer quantity of plastic that accumulates in the North Pacific Gyre, a vortex formed by ocean and wind currents and located about 1,000 miles off the California coast, has the scientists worried about how it might harm the sea creatures there.

The “patch” is in fact two massive, linked areas of circulating rubbish, says Dr Marcus Eriksen, research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, founded by Charles Moore back in 1997. Although the boundaries change, it stretches from off the coast of California, across the northern Pacific to near the coast of Japan.

The islands of Hawaii are placed almost in the middle, so piles of plastic regularly wash up on some beaches there.

“The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup,” Dr Eriksen said in 2008.

Since then, no thorough studies have been done to see exactly how badly the marine life is being affected by this floating plastic waste, but scientists fear the worst. “They’re the right size to be interacting with the food chain out there,” said Miriam Goldstein, who led fellow researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego on the three-week August voyage.

Whilst Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist at Nihon University, Chiba, Japan, highlighted the problem further when he told the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society last week that plastic actually does decompose, releasing potentially toxic chemicals that can disrupt the functioning of hormones in animals and marine life.

So, does eating plastic poison plankton? Is the ecosystem in trouble when new sea creatures hitchhike on the side of a water bottle?

Plastics have entangled birds and turned up in the bellies of fish, and one paper cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates 100,000 marine mammals die trash-related deaths each year.

The August fact-finding expedition by a group of University of California scientists hopes to be able to answer some of these questions about the  environmental impact and hopes that their data will clarify the questions about the extent and depth of the marine debris.

It is especially important to find out everything we can about the impact our debris has on marine life as the Southern Hemisphere has a trash gyre which is supposedly FOUR TIMES LARGER than the Pacific one.

Only human beings can be blamed for this waste, Goldstein points out. “Seeing that influence just floating out here in the middle of nowhere makes our power painfully obvious, and the consequences of the industrial age plain,” she wrote. “It’s not a pretty sight.”

Something for all of us to think about this weekend and in the future… We can help if we put our minds to it. For a start, we can do effective recycling. We have GOT to stop our trash ending up in the rivers and oceans of our world.

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