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Friday, October 28, 2016

The Pacific Gyre

The Pacific Gyre, or Great Garbage Patch, is a patch of floating plastic debris about the size of Texas. It affects the food chain because plastics absorb pollutants and the fish higher up the food chain become too toxic for human consumption. It is north of Hawaii approximately between Japan and San Francisco. The garbage patch was discovered by Capt. Charles Moor in 1997.

This garbage patch is a problem for many reasons.
  1. It's growing non-stop. Both tsunamis and ships dump garbage into the ocean.
  2. Plastic particles get smaller but never change their chemical composition. As the particles get smaller, the plankton eat the particles, fill their stomachs with plastic (which they can't digest), and starve to death as they can't get any real food into their stomachs.
  3. Plastics attract and concentrate several poisonous compounds like DDT. As the animals get bigger, they concentrate more pollutants in their system, to the point where top predators die from poisoning. 
  4. Hanging nets floating around can trap air breathers, like dolphins and turtles, and drown them. 
  5. About 70% of the debris actually sinks to the ocean floor. Source
  6. About 705,000 tons of the debris are fishing nets that have broken and floated away. Source.
  7. Since the garbage patch is so far from any country's coastline, no country wants to take responsibility for it.
  8. About 80% of the garbage comes from land-based sources in the US and Asia. Source.
There are actually several garbage patches in the Pacific alone. Click the image for a larger size.

Below is the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

Below is a graphic of the structure of one of the Pacific Garbage Patches.

The garbage patches above only include floating plastics. Some plastics sink and those aren't even counted here.

Animals eat the plastic and slowly starve to death, because they think it's food. Notice the plastic parts in the bird's stomach below.
The garbage patch is so big, and so much is added to it every day, that it might be impossible to clean up. For more information see the videos and links below.

Videos for more info
  1. Part 1 of 3 of a video from Vice. Total time is 60 minutes.
  2. Let's Talk Trash. About 50 minutes.
  3. Plasticized. A feature film. About 48 minutes.
  4. Capt. Charles Moore on TedX talks about the garbage patch.
  5. Youtube search for 'garbage patch'. LOTS more videos here.

More info
Nat Geo article on Pacific Garbage Patch.

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