Twice the size of Texas, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches for hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean and is one of the most frightening examples of just how much human activity is violating the planet.
Spanning from the West Coast of North America to Japan, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of the Eastern Garbage Patch, near Japan, and the Western Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. In other words, it is absolutely colossal. And scarier still as oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70 percent of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean, so what we do know about the amount of waste in the ocean is likely just the very tip of the iceberg.
We are only just beginning to understand the true scale of just how much the planet is suffering as a result of marine debris. The contents of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have been described as a toxic “plastic soup,” for which we have provided all the ingredients. As new research surfaces linking plastic debris to marine species extinction, the consequences of our waste are clearly becoming more and more devastating. But before we delve further into this horror story we must first understand how we created this monster in the first place.
We are Feeding a Cancer in the Ocean
According to the National Geographic about 80 percent of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia and the other 20 percent comes from boats, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships. The majority of this 20 percent, about 705,000 tons, is fishing nets.
The trash gets trapped between two main gyres that act as a whirlpool and collect this trash. Greenpeace has published an animation that explains how this all works.
The trash then accumulates because many plastics are non-biodegradable and do not wear down. Instead, they only break into tinier and tinier pieces creating the “plastic soup” mentioned earlier.
For us, the most frightening aspect of all of this is just how quickly this monster has grown in a relatively short period of time.
Plastic was initially mass-produced in the 1940s and in 1957 the single-use plastic bag first appeared in the U.S. with bottled water only entering the mass market in the mid-1980s. So, it seems that in just half a century we have managed to create the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But that is not the scary thing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, we will see yearly plastic production quadruple to a disturbing one hundred million tons. Just how big could the Great Pacific Garbage Patch get? This monster is growing and we are the ones filling its gut.
A Catastrophe for Wildlife
We have watched many wildlife and environmental films that have filled us with sadness, anger, disbelief … but none have shaken us to the core more than a new film, still in production, called “Midway: Message from the Gyre.” And so far we only have the trailer to really go on. The trailer alone is one of the most tragic pieces of film we have ever witnessed and it is with great apprehension that we look forward to when the full length it is finally released. Check out the trailer below.
“The viewer will experience stunning juxtapositions of beauty and horror, destruction and renewal, grief and joy, birth and death, coming out the other side with their heart broken open and their worldview shifted.”
The trailer powerfully shows the scale of the problem and suffering caused to wildlife as a result of marine debris. The albatrosses mistake plastic pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs. The photography of Chris Jordan shows this better than any words can properly describe. Have you ever seen a more tragic example of our impact on the natural world?
But it is not just birdlife that suffers. Marine debris can be very harmful to all marine life. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish which they then mistakenly eat.
Many marine mammals are especially at risk from “ghost gear” with abandoned fishing gear turning oceans into death traps for sea animals.
World Animal Protection highlight that around 640,000 tons of gear is discarded annually resulting in at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales being killed each year. Animals that fall victim to ghost gear become entangled. Some, the “lucky ones,” may either drown within minutes. The unlucky victims can endure long, slow & painful deaths that can last for months and years, suffering from debilitating wounds, infection and starvation.
Even the smallest creatures in the sea are affected. Microplastics and other trash block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below the surface. In a previous article, we highlighted the importance of plankton to the ecosystem as an important source of food for other sea creatures but also as ecological sponges for carbon. So it goes without saying that the impacts of the plastic soup can have enormous unseen impacts to the planet.
How You Can Help End This Monstrosity
Every piece of plastic discarded is directly feeding this monster in the ocean which is acting like a cancerous clot determined to destroy every living thing in its path. We have to act to stop this. So what is the chemotherapy for this manmade cancer?