The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Twice the size of Texas, a mass of non-biodegradable plastic has gathered in the waters of the northern Pacific Ocean. Brought together by ocean currents, this vast body of waste originates from countries all around the world and poses a major long-term threat to the ecosystem. Yet no nation-state or major international body has formulated a comprehensive plan for dealing with it.

The responsibility of no single nation, the great pacific garbage patch is a truly dirty secret that few outside the community of environmental activists are ready to acknowledge and act upon. The patch has formed from countless tonnes of rubbish deposited into the sea, 80% of it from mainland areas.

The Garbage patch’s location in the North Pacific is due to gyre, an ocean current that is very calm at its centre but swirls round in a circle, drawing in ever-increasing volumes of floating debris. Ecologists have been forecasting the existence of such features since at least the 1980s, but it was only in 1997 that Charles Moore and his crew confirmed the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch while competing in a yachting race. Moore subsequently set up a campaigning body to bring attention to the problem.

Plastic does not degrade like natural materials such as paper or cotton: instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller harmful compounds over hundreds of years. Tiny bits of plastic found floating in the oceans are sometimes referred to as ‘mermaid’s tears ‘- surely a far more romantic name than they deserve. While many birds and mammals are killed when they become trapped in plastic debris, than the plastics introduce into the food systems, which the progress perniciously from the smallest plankton to the largest whale.

Scientists estimate that the Garbage patch contains three-quarters of million fragments of plastic per square kilometer. Plastics account for 90% of all the rubbish in the world’s oceans, and as much as 70% of it sinks, causing untold damage to life on the sea bed. Yet the great Pacific Garbage Patch remains the floating landfill site that no government seems keen to discuss. It is a safe guess that if it were the Great Pacific Oil Reserve, there would be rather more of a clamor to establish sovereignty.


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