The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Every era has iconic images that shocked the world and finally inspired action, whether it was images of starving polar bears caused by the failing ozone layer or starving children as a result of the Ethiopian famine. For the next generation of conservationists, one of the most disturbing sights on earth has to be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But what is it, how did it get there and how can we address it?
What is it?
Despite the popular image of a whirling vortex of crisp packets, bicycles, shopping bags and mattresses, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is actually harder to see than you might think, but it is no less worrying. Stretching the entire distance between Japan, Hawaii and the coast of California, the Patch is a relatively low-density cloud of tiny plastic bits formed in a relative dead zone of ocean currents that prevent it from being washed away.
What is the problem?
Despite the true nature of the Patch, its size and density increases by ten times every decade, and the tiny plastics enter the food chain in all manner of ways with often deadly consequences for the animals. Whales, fish of all kinds, seabirds, turtles and most other kinds of marine life end up eating the plastic directly or eating other animals that are contaminated, which can cause fatal gastrointestinal problems.
It can also cause more direct problems, with larger bits of debris often trapping and drowning fish and other marine life. This is a particular problem with lost and discarded gear from commercial fishing, which by some estimates makes up 46% of all the waste, which in large pieces can capture and drown marine life and can also break down to become microplastics which kill animals when eaten.
How can we help?
Various campaigns on environmental issues have been helpful in forcing major companies to become more eco-friendly and end the use of disposable plastics that end up in our oceans, but more work is needed. Eco-friendly houses should cut out the use of disposable plastics entirely if possible, but more importantly, work in as many ways as you can to put more pressure on the sources of these microplastics. Supermarkets, fast food outlets, commercial fishing and many other areas of society can and should do more, and must be held accountable!
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