Here’s some wonderful news about that mass of human trash floating around in the Pacific Ocean.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which Blippitt first told you about here, is now the size of the state of Texas and has increased a hundredfold since the early 1970s, according to a new study.
The “patch” can be described as a large vortex made up mainly of broken down plastic, chemical sludge, and other flotsam that’s been trapped in Pacific Ocean currents.
It’s unclear how much of the trash comes from land-based or ship-based sources, but some estimates say around 80 percent of the plastic trash comes from land, with items being sent down creeks, storm drains, or washing off of beaches.
The garbage comes from all around the globe and is carried by currents called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies in an area with generally slow-moving currents and winds.
Researchers with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego said last week that in the past four decades, there was a 100-fold increase in the amount of garbage in the patch, causing massive changes to the ocean ecology.
The Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, known as SEAPLEX, traveled about 1,000 miles west of California in August 2009.
A statement on Scripps’ website said the scientists had “documented an alarming amount of human-generated trash, mostly broken down bits of plastic the size of a fingernail floating across thousands of miles of open ocean.”
Scripps graduate student Miriam Goldstein, SEAPLEX’s lead scientist, noted that plastic had arrived in the ocean in such numbers in a “relatively short” period.
“Plastic only became widespread in late ’40s and early ’50s, but now everyone uses it and over a 40-year range we’ve seen a dramatic increase in ocean plastic,” she said. “Historically we have not been very good at stopping plastic from getting into the ocean so hopefully in the future we can do better.”
Sea skaters, relatives of pond water skaters, usually lay their eggs on flotsam like seashells, seabird feathers, tar lumps, and pumice. The sharp increase in plastic waste had led to a rise in egg densities in the gyre area, according to the study.
“We’re seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic,” Goldstein said in a statement.
She said that the addition of “hundreds of millions of hard surfaces” to the Pacific was “quite a profound change.”
“In the North Pacific, for example, there’s no floating seaweed like there is in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. And we know that the animals, the plants and the microbes that live on hard surfaces are different to the ones that live floating around in the water,” she added.
To make matters worse, a garbage patch has also been discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, drifting a few hundreds miles off the North American coast from Cuba to Virginia.
More in the video below.
- Study: Plastic in ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ increases 100-fold (worldnews.msnbc.msn.com)
- ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ Plastic Has Increased Hundredfold Since the 1970s (sott.net)
- Water striders thrive on Pacific Garbage Patch (newscientist.com)