The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only marine trash vortex – it’s just the biggest. Researchers from The Ocean Cleanup project claimed that the patch covers 1.6 million square kilometres. The plastic concentration specifically is estimated to be up to 100 kilograms per square kilometre in the centre, going down to 10 kilograms per square kilometre in the outer parts of the patch.
The Atlantic and Indian Oceans both have trash vortexes. Even shipping routes in smaller bodies of water, such as the North Sea, are developing garbage patches. But the biggest vortexes in the ocean comprise of five spaces: one in the Indian Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean, and two in the Pacific Ocean.
IT IS NOT LIKE AN ISLAND OF DEBRIS WITH ITEMS TOUCHING ONE ANOTHER.
ON THE CONTRARY!
It’s more like a slimy, gelatinous, plastic soup, where the plastic has dissolved in the water to the extent that it is now a chemically rich, toxic film that floats near the surface with particulates of plastic of various sizes in it.
The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accrues because much of it is not biodegradable. It consists of high concentrations of plastic, chemical sludge, wood pulp and other debris. Some would expect to see it from a satellite photo, since we are talking about the biggest garbage patch on the planet, however this is not true. Because of its low density (4 particles per cubic meter) – it’s difficult to see via satellite imagery.
The area in the center of a gyre tends to be very calm and stable. The circular motion of the gyre draws debris into this stable center, where it becomes trapped. The seafloor beneath the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may also be an underwater trash heap. Oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70% of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
About 54 percent of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. The remaining 20 percent of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris directly into the water. Some of the strange things found in these gyres were computer monitors and even Lego!
Can we clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The simple answer is – no, it’s not that easy.
There is a lot to consider and many companies have been looking into innovative ways to try and clean up the Great Pacific Gyre. One such initiative is The Ocean Cleanup who developed a full fleet of cleanup systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which aims to clean up 50% of its plastic every five years.
There are counter-arguments however that the time and energy it takes to collect and return the waste could result in large amounts of greenhouse gases and carbon, and called for organisations to do more to stop litter entering oceans in the first place. The marine life is also a concern with this kind of devices, especially the smaller floating plankton that many creatures depend on.
What is the impact of Garbage Patches on the environment?
- Marine life can be caught and injured, or potentially killed in certain types of debris. Lost fishing nets are especially dangerous
- Animals may mistakenly eat plastic and other debris. These items can take up room in their stomachs, making the animals feel full and stopping them from eating real food.
- Marine debris can transport species from one place to another. Algae, barnacles, crabs, or other species can attach themselves to debris and be transported across the ocean.