An Ocean of Rubbish
Out in middle of the Northern Pacific Ocean where one would expect to see little more than the endless pristine expanse of ocean and sky and its complementing hues of blue and perhaps the occasional poetic albatross floats an environmental disaster so disgraceful that all humanity should turn red from shame – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch consists of a mind-numbing amount of flotsam and jetsam that equals an area often cited as being around the size of Texas. Also known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, said trash vortex is located between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N. Or, between Hawai'I and California for those of you who don't have any compasses or GPS systems handy.
An estimated 20% is attributed to large shipping vessels simply dumping their rubbish overboard. The other 80% is land based and the result of decades of plastic manufacturing, consumption and discarding. To quote an expert on the subject, “The ocean is downstream from everywhere. And once that piece of trash reaches the ocean, a set of four currents in the northern Pacific creates a clockwise vortex known as the North Pacific Gyre, which encompasses 10 million square miles, or basically the entire northern part of the ocean. The eye of that hurricane of manmade garbage is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, calmly floating along in the middle.
Not appalled enough? There's more. In addition to the obviously negative impact that this new Atlantis has on the Pacific Ocean and its wildlife, doomsday-ish scenarios exist that believe that us opposable-thumb-having, land-based bipeds might be completing the horrific circle by ingesting the photodegraded byproducts of our own garbage as it works its way back to us through the food chain.
Discarded plastic water bottle photodegrades after a few years into a polymers that nueston – floating organisms at the top of the water — ingest. Little fish eats neuston. Small fish eats little fish. Big fish eats small fish. Human orders big fish for dinner at neighborhood restaurant. Human develops (select your health problem here). The end. Poetic justice is a bitch.
While scientific analysis of this garbage cycle is ongoing, it doesn't always take a press release from the FDA to make us understand that something is seriously wrong, and action must be taken. The North Pacific Gyre is one of five global gyres, the Sargasso Sea of Bermuda Triangle fame being the most commonly known. The scenario might be occurring in all five. Meanwhile, the research continues. AER
Images courtesy of Greenpeace, Vice Magazine, LA Times, and The New York Times Magazine