Oceans of Trash

Image from Miriam Goldstein and Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The Great Garbage Patch is difficult to describe. It is a vast area, estimated to be about twice the size of Texas, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is kinda like a floating landfill, some 40 or 50 feet deep, filled with many types of human trash. There are many places in the United States, and the world, that are very much like the image shown above. This floating trash provides source material for human garbage to enter waterways and the oceans. The Great Garbage Patch, however, does not look quite like the picture. It is in the middle of a vast ocean, and the trash has been floating on the waves, and in the sun, for quite a long time. As the trash gets beat up by waves, and becomes brittle from the heat of the sun, this trash breaks into finer and finer pieces of buoyant particles about the size of plankton. To the untrained eye, most of the Great Garbage Patch, is invisible. There are a few places where large trash has gathered, but most of it is very fine. The fine plastic pieces are actually more harmful than larger pieces because many types of marine life depend on plankton as a source of food. In many places of the Pacific Ocean, there are 8 to 10 times as many plastic particles in the water as there are plankton. Much of the wildlife ends up consuming quite a bit of plastic. Even if they manage to pass the plastic through their digestive system, which many can’t, the presence of plastic in one’s diet substitutes for proper nutrition.

This is a widely studied phenomenon, with a great deal of information available online. I include it here because it is just another human made environmental disaster that is obviously not contributing to the health of the ecosystems, and therefore not contributing to our sustained ability to live on this planet. It is one of the many things, that as an average person, I can look at and know that we have to change our ways. I don’t need piles and piles of research to tell me that there are deep underlying issues that need to change. This is what I think of when I hear Republican leadership make jokes about climate change.


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