Have you ever wondered how far all the individual and industrial litter dumped in the ocean can travel? We are aware that most of the times it is in loose collections found in certain areas or spread across scarcely in the vast water bodies. But there is one- rather, two- patches of garbage so intense and concentrated that one can barely view the remnants of clear water. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it is called, is a collection of marine debris located between the west coast of North America and Japan. The accumulation of the swirling garbage near North America is called the western garbage patch, while its eastern counterpart swims near Japan. It is also known as the Pacific trash vortex.
Discovered by Charles Moore in 1997, both of these expansive collections contain innumerable plastic particles. Since plastic is not biodegradable, all of it in the garbage patch has broken into small pieces through a process called photodegradation. Imagine a glass of water that isn’t transparent, just murky. The Great Pacific patch is such, for kilometers you can’t even follow completely with your eyes. Even satellite images cannot pick up the presence of plastic due to its size. While lighter plastic floats on the surface, we have no way to determine how deep the garbage goes, since heavy plastic could have sunk to the ocean floor.
Ironically, this area is rarely ever transversed by any ships, so how did we create such an antagonising cesspool of plastic? Two things to learn about: Subtropical convergence zone and North Pacific Subtropical gyre.
The two fractions are bridged together by the subtropical convergence zone where the warm waters of the South Pacific merge into the cold water from the Arctic. Think of it as a road connecting the two, allowing material to travel from one patch to another. They are both bound by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre: following the wind patterns in various surrounding areas (including California, North equatorial and Kuroshiro), circular ocean currents are formed that concentrate all material from mostly North America and Asia to the centre of these circles, a stable base that creates the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. While debris from North America takes about 6 years to reach the patch, Japan and other Asian countries’ garbage is added every year.
How can we fix this? We can’t (as far as we know). No technique so far has been created to solve this issue. Nets that are needed to capture particles that tiny, might also catch the smaller creatures in the ocean. Additionally, considering the entire zone is in international waters, no country is willing to take responsibility for it. However, there are various organisations and individuals who have devoted their time and effort towards this cause. It is said that the only way to avoid this plastic is to begin using biodegradable products. So, when are you cutting down on plastic consumption?