A Plastic Sea: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Plastic is everywhere.
From the plastic bottles, we drink water from to the medical equipment doctors use. Plastic use is ubiquitous. However, what happens to this plastic when it isn’t taken care of properly? A responsible citizen disposes of plastic properly via recycling bins. What happens to the plastic that gets thrown into public waterways and rivers and oceans? The meeting point for plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean is known as the “convergence zone.” This zone, kilometers from Hawaii, is where warm water from the South Pacific convenes with cooler water from the Arctic.
This zone is a highway for marine debris and surrounds by four currents going in four directions: north, south, east, and west. As a result, plastic debris remains in the center of these cross-cutting motions. It gives rise to large patches of plastic floating for miles upon miles. One example is a patch known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” or as my history teacher affectionately called it, the “Great Pacific Garbage Dump.”
Now, you might be thinking that this garbage patch is made up of plastic bottles and debris that are still intact in shape and consistency.
However, the truth is far from what the name of this garbage patch may conjure up. The garbage patch looks like a sea of tiny bits of plastic known as “microplastics.” As a result, when plastic sits on the surface of the ocean, light from the sun starts breaking it down. This process is known as “photodegradation.”
Although tiny bits of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean may not concern anyone greatly, don’t let the term “microplastic” fool you.
These tiny bits of plastic are dangerous for wildlife and us as well. Microplastics take the place of algae and plankton at the surface of the ocean. Therefore, they compete for space when populations of algae and plankton, other organisms that rely on algae and plankton for sustenance become affected. This starts a cascade of harmful effects that go up the food chain.
Additionally, wildlife that consumes these microplastics can ingest the toxic chemical compounds that are in plastic like BPA (bisphenol-A). These are linked to a plethora of environmental and health problems. Microplastics also can end up in the seafood that reaches the dinner table, adversely affecting our health.
Since the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is far away from any major country’s coastline, no one country has taken up the responsibility for cleaning up this crisis.
As plastic debris continues to increase, patches like the Great Pacific will increase in size and number. Slowly but surely the effects of our negligence to clean up this disaster early will come back to haunt us, whether it be in the seafood that we consume or the extinction of the marine wildlife species we treasure.
“How Big Is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”? Science vs. Myth.” NOAA. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2017.
Society, National Geographic. “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” National Geographic Society. N.p., 09 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 June 2017.