Thursday, March 10, 2016

Case Study: Great Pacific Garbage Patch, North Pacific Ocean

In the North Pacific, there is an area of ocean that oceanographers consider as an “oceanic desert”, a marine area that is devoid of life and largely incapable of supporting it. It is there that we find the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Texas-sized spiraling vortex of garbage created by the ocean currents. It is, arguably, the largest (and worst managed) “landfill” in the world.
So, how exactly was this agglomeration of garbage created? Part of it is caused by fishing boats and cruise ships dumping their waste into the ocean. But, 80% of the mass actually originated from land, either from Asia to the west or the United States to the east.

The big problem with the garbage patch is that it is mostly comprised of plastics, which photodegrade rather than biodegrade. This means that it does not break down into simpler compounds but, smaller pieces and various toxic chemicals. These bits of plastic and poisons circulate into other areas of the ocean and into the food chain, posing a threat to over 250 species of marine wildlife.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is nearly impossible to manage. While there are some organizations dedicated to the clean-up, there are simply too many factors to overcome. The circulation of garbage ranges from California to Japan, an area the size of Africa. Also, no individual country is willing to claim the responsibility of its creation or provide significant funding to clean up the garbage. Perhaps, the best solution is to prevent the trash vortex from growing. It is imperative that trash on the mainland is properly contained to prevent it from ending up in the ocean currents.

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