Nov 09 2016
Did you know that Earth’s rotation and the continents cause wind and currents to circle the oceans? This creates enormous slow-moving whirlpools called gyres. Every hemisphere has a big one with smaller gyres inside it.
The North Pacific contains a convergence zone and two recirculation gyres, one in the west near Japan and a bigger one near California. Surface debris naturally accumulates in the gyres and it doesn’t leave. Watch how this happens below.
Before the 20th century marine debris was generally organic, but in the late 1980s NOAA found that the gyres accumulate stuff that never decomposes — plastic garbage. The amount of plastic is especially high in the Pacific. Thus was coined the term The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The garbage begins its journey when it washes off land, is jettisoned from boats, or floats away from shipwrecks. Slowly, it migrates to the center where the concentration of plastic is intense because plastics don’t decompose, they just break into ever smaller pieces that form a slurry below the surface.
The plastics are bad for fish, birds, and just about everything including small organisms that feed near the slurry and humans who eat fish. It even kills baby albatrosses because they ingest it (sad video this: MIDWAY a Message from the Gyre).
What to do? Creative minds came up with two solutions that, implemented together, may fix it: One Big Thing and a Lots of Little Things.
One Big Thing: Corral the junk and take it away.
Boyan Slat, the 22-year-old founder of the Ocean Cleanup Project, has designed a giant V-shaped boom to passively collect floating plastic garbage. Crowd-sourced funding financed a successful prototype off the coast of the Netherlands (Slat’s homeland). More tests will be deployed off the Dutch and Java coasts.
Meanwhile, to get a handle on where to deploy the North Pacific boom Ocean Cleanup conducted aerial surveys of the garbage patch and found out it’s much bigger that we thought. And it’s growing. Uh oh!
Lots of Little Things: Create less garbage by using less plastic.
Millions of plastic bits and pieces are in the Garbage Patch, amassed from the hands of millions of people who throw away plastic every day. I’m one of them.
If we throw away less plastic, there will be less in the ocean. If we don’t buy disposable plastic there will be less to throw away. That’s why it makes sense to use durable shopping bags and reusable water bottles.
Every little bit helps. Here are 10 ways to reduce your plastic output including this surprise: No plastic straws.
p.s. Did you know that we learned about ocean currents from a rubber duckies cargo accident? Read about the 28,000 duckies lost at sea.