The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The North Pacific Gyre is an area in the Pacific Ocean that is slowly collecting more and more trash due to very little wind and extremely high-pressure weather systems. These factors greatly reduce ocean circulation and end up collecting tons of trash” (The North Pacific Gyre, 2010). In nine years, the North Pacific Gyre expanded 10X to 25X times faster than models of global warming predicted and it is at least twice the size of Texas” (The North Pacific Gyre, 2010). One of the major hazards is the fact that 90% of the trash is plastics. The UN environment programs in 2006, estimated that for every square mile of ocean in the gyre there were at least 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Plastics are used for their durability and the same principles apply to plastics once they are finished being used. It is extremely difficult or impossible for plastics to decompose and can take from 50 to 500 years to degrade.
Productions of plastics are constantly contributing to trash that is collected in the North Pacific Gyre. Green peace states that around 100 million tons of plastic are produced each year and that from that, about 10 percent ends up in the sea (Green Peace, 2014). Cruise ships can produce up to 8 tons of waste each day and are not always effectively disposing of their waste. The effect this is having on marine ecosystems is incredibly damaging. Floating trash from this gyre make it possible for marine life to attach and travel farther distances than they normally would, becoming invasive in other territories. As well, of the massive amount of trash collected in the gyre around 70 percent of discarded plastic sinks to the bottom. In the North Sea, Dutch scientists have counted around 110 pieces of litter for every square kilometer of the seabed, a staggering 600,000 tons in the North Sea alone. The plastics that sink commonly smother and kill marine life which is found on the sea bottom. In addition to smothering marine life, the trash and plastics become extremely toxic and are poisonous to the many marine animals that consume the trash. It has been estimated that each year, over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles die, due to ingestion of plastics or entanglement (Green Peace, 2014).
The task of addressing the situation in the North Pacific Gyre has been daunting due to the mere size and ecological impacts. Most of the plastics that end up in the gyre however, are thought to be from ship owners and operators, and education is an important part in impacting the actions of those who are unaware of the consequences of improper use and disposal of plastics. Groups have been created and previously well known and established organizations like NOAA are working to study the gyre as well as working to find ways to safely remove the waste without killing all of the surrounding area. Some bills have been passed that address the issue such as AB 258. Major provisions of this legislation include ‘promoting’ zero discharge of nurdles, and implementing new, strict protocols for monitoring and reporting. Furthermore, this bill requires all facilities that are involved in the manufacture, handling and transport of plastic to implement best management practices to greatly decrease the ‘escape’ of their plastic precursors and products into the environment (The North Pacific Gyre, 2010). This bill was signed in 2007 and implemented in 2009. As a personal response, consumers all contribute to the addition of plastics and other trash to the gyre. Reduction of plastics use and proper disposal can play a part in beginning to slow down the size of the gyre.
Green Peace. The Trash Vortex. 2014. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/pollution/trash-vortex/ (accessed February 11, 2014).
The North Pacific Gyre: 100 Million Tons of Garbage and Growing. 2010. http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/waste-and-recycling/news-north-pacific-gyre-100-million-tons-garbage-and-growing (accessed February 11, 2014).
Vincent Triola. Sun, Mar 14, 2021. North Pacific Gyre Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/north-pacific-gyre