Did you know: What is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Did you know: What is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
Marine debris is a result of litter dumping and plastic pollution, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

See the monster that consistent water pollution and garbage dumping has created

Sahana Iyer
August 31 , 2019
03 Min Read

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.

An infographic of statistics regarding Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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. 

Cloudy waters due to the water pollution and plastic particles

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.

Tips to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle

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?


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