The Pacific Garbage Patch: Concentrations of Marine Debris in the North Pacific Ocean.th1

By Hannah Henegar

By naming this area “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, it has led many people to believe that this is one large continuous area of visible trash in the ocean. However, the only debris present in this area is actually small pieces of floating plastic that are not easily seen by the naked eye.

This debris is continuously mixed by wind and wave action creating a pacific trash vortex. This happens throughout the top portion of the water column, and it is widely dispersed over huge surface areas. In some areas, it is easily to sail right through the garbage patch and see little to ne debris on the water surface. The total estimate of the patches are hard to determine due to the fact that the borders and content constantly change over time. This occurs because the ocean currents and winds are constantly changing. This has been a large and upcoming issue due to the fact that this debris can be ingested by marine species which can cause choking, starvation, other impairments, and even death.

The origin of the plastic debris is a bit of a mix. Plastic waste has been entering the oceans through accidental and purposeful dumping for more than 50 years.  The waste enters by streams, rivers, drainage outflow, via wind; blown from landfills, overfull rubbish bins,  general littering, shoreline activities and from marine vessels, etc. Floating plastic debris accumulates in all the oceanic gyres through actions of winds and currents, moving plastic from shorelines throughout the world or from dumping sites within the ocean.  Over time the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces through photo degradation and wave action.

To put the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into actuality- here are the basic facts about it:

  • It contains 7 million tons of weight
  • It is twice the size of Texas
  • The pacific ocean garbage patch can be up to 9 feet deep
  • In the Great Pacific Ocean Gyre, there is 6 times more plastic pollution than plankton, which is the main food for many ocean animals
  • By estimation, 80% of the plastic originates from land
  • The remaining 20% of the plastic originates from oil platforms and ships
  • According scientists, it is the largest plastic dump on earth.
  • Plastic patches are larger than waste dumps on land.
  • Trash patches consist of about  80% plastic.
  • Based on scientific research from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California,  it shows that 5 to 10% of the fish contain small pieces of plastic.

What are the effects of the Pacific Garbage Patch?

It was documented that plastic particles outnumbered plankton by a factor of 6. This means that in some parts of the patch for every pound of plankton there is six pounds of plastic fragments. The microplastics are being consumed by night feeding fish. One study found that a third of the fish had plastic ingestion. Also, the Laysan Albatross feed exclusively from the surface of the ocean. The bird scoops up food for themselves and regurgitate it into their chicks. The floating plastic pieces are swallowed along with food. Many bird carcasses found each year contain stomachs full of plastic materials. If this problem is not addressed in the near future then there may be many detrimental effects to come.