The Pacific garbage patch
Mackenzie Hurlbert – Copy Editor -
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there’s a vortex of highly concentrated plastic particles polluting an immeasurable area of the Pacific. Some of the pollution is floating debris, identifiable to our use-and-dispose lifestyles, but much of it can’t be seen because it has broken down into harmful polymers that are ingested by small fish and organisms. We’ve all probably heard of it, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” and it isn’t that “great,” though in a picture it may not seem so harmful. Truth is that when you take a closer look at the water, you’ll find that there are about 45 kilos of trash per kilo of plankton. That’s quite a ratio, and considering plastic doesn’t biodegrade, the numbers are steadily increasing.
It may look benign when you see photos of the area. When researching the topic I found pictures of piles of trash and clumps of discarded plastics, but all of these were pictures taken elsewhere in order to provoke the viewer. In fact, the Pacific Garbage patch looks a lot like any other part of the ocean. However, we all know good things are often not what they seem to be. An article on the National Geographic website stated, “Scientists have collected up to 750,000 bits of plastic in a single square kilometer (or 1.9 million bits per square mile) of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
Why are these plastics accumulating here? Because ocean currents in this area create a circular route around the middle of the Pacific, these currents create a gyre, which is a circular ocean current, and this gyre prevents plastic particles from escaping. Therefore, the plastic concentration of this area is much higher because the plastic particles continue to accumulate within the confines of the gyre, thus creating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It also didn’t help that we have manufactures plastics, used them, and disposed of them at a ridiculous rate.
The next question one might ask if why does it matter? How is it affecting us? The presence of that much plastic in the water disrupts the food chain, which we are a part of, in many ways. First, the plastic bits float on top of the water and block sunlight from reaching the algae and plankton below. Consequently, algae and plankton don’t thrive, and a large base of the food chain is stunted. Another way the plastic harms the environment is that birds, turtle, and fish often mistake the plastic pieces for food. Over time and after regularly eating the plastic, which doesn’t pass through their system, the birds, turtles, and fish will die of starvation and with stomachs bloated with plastics.
The saddest part of all of this is the fact that there is no cure or quick fix for this pollution. What’s done is done, and there is too much plastic in the ocean now to clean it thoroughly. Along with the fact that it would be too time-consuming and expensive to skim the ocean for plastics, we would have to figure out what to do with the plastic once we got it out of the ocean. It doesn’t break down, so what do we do? Put it in a landfill? Shoot it into space? What other place are we going to pollute instead?
It’s a tough situation and the only way to help it is to prevent further pollution through recycling, using reusable dishes and cups, and not littering. As easy as these habits may seem, any are reluctant to change their lifestyle because they do not see the importance. How could one person’s recycling habit outweigh a thousand who don’t? There’re plenty of questions like this one, and the only answer I can give is if you really care about preventing further pollution, if this article provoked any sympathetic feelings at all, and if you want to create a change for the better, then focus on making the difference you can. If we can spread awareness of this issue and show people how simple it is to take on eco-friendly habits, we can slowly but surely start a change. We can’t undo what’s been done, but we can decide on what will be done. Recycle, reuse, and reduce.