Wednesday, November 30, 2011
THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH
There's a place in the Pacific Ocean that is called the North Pacific Gyre. It's formed by the water currents swirling around in sort of a huge circle, and as the water goes around, it herds all the debris and stuff into the center. In 1988, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that there would be a Great Garbage Patch, and sure enough, it was discovered in 1997 by a man named Charles J. Moore. Later on, it turned out that there was also a Great Garbage Patch in the North Atlantic and one in the Indian Ocean, and maybe there are some others, too, but none of them are as big as the Pacific Patch.
Some people say the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is as big as the state of Hawaii, and others say that it is twice the size of Texas. But the fact is that it's very hard to measure the Patch, because it all depends on what your definition is of how much plastic should be in the water in order for you to call it part of the Patch. Also some people have said you can see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from outer space, but this is a lie, since you can pretty much not even see it from a boat right in the middle of it.
You may be wondering where all this plastic trash comes from, and I will tell you. About 80% of it comes from trash that started out on the land, such as plastic bags and bottles. Another 10% is plastic fishing nets, and the rest of it is from recreational boats, oil rigs, and cargo ships. Every year cargo ships lose about 10,000 shipping containers because they fall off, and there might be something plastic inside, like for example computers or rubber duckies.
Trash that isn't made of plastic is what's called biodegradable, which means that it gets gobbled up by tiny little things called microbes. But plastic is photodegradable, so the sunlight breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces as time goes on, but it never totally goes away. When it gets to a microscopic size, it may get eaten by tiny little creatures like plankton or by jellyfish, then bigger fish eat the plankton and jellyfish, and after that, people eat the fish. This is a bad thing to happen because plastic often has toxic stuff in it, and eating toxic stuff can make you sick.
There are other bad things that happen because of plastic trash in the sea. For example, seals and turtles and other animals can get tangled up in nets or plastic rings, and then sometimes they drown. And if they don't drown, they might starve to death because the plastic keeps them from eating. Or they might grow up looking really weird, like this turtle.
Another thing that can happen, especially with birds such as the albatross, is that they pick up plastic that is floating on the water, and then they eat it or feed it to their chicks. Which causes the birds to starve to death or choke to death or get poisoned by the plastic.
Some scientists are trying to figure out how to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but there is no easy way to do it. If all the plastic was just floating in a big clump on top the water, like I thought it was, you could just scoop it all up. But since it is broken down into tiny pieces that are below the surface, it's lots harder to figure out what to do about it.
I wish I were really clever and could solve this problem and save all the animals and fish and birds, but I don't know how to do that. What I do know is that it would help if everybody tried to use more biodegradable stuff and less plastic. And if you do use plastic, then you should recycle it so it can get made into something friendly like a park bench.