Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The water’s awash with toothbrushes, laundry baskets, trawling nets, plastic bags and miles of plastic cord mixed with plastic bottles, rubber ducks, gym shoes and cigarette lighters.

Welcome to the edge of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest floating trash heap.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is two large masses of ever-accumulating trash, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. The Eastern Garbage Patch floats between Hawaii and California; scientists estimate its size as two times bigger than Texas. The Western Garbage Patch forms east of Japan and west of Hawaii.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a slowly moving, clockwise spiral of currents created by a high-pressure system of air currents draws in floating trash from around the world and is trapped by the circular motion. Due to its lack of large fish and gentle breezes, fishermen and­ sailors rarely travel through the gyre.

Greenpeace estimates that 1 million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die in the Garbage Patch each year.

The pernicious effects of this "trash vortex" aren't just limited to the marine ecosystem. Every year, hundreds of millions of nurdles, tiny pieces of plastic, are dumped into or lost at sea, where they eventually make their way into the food chain by acting as sponges for a variety of anthropogenic chemicals (e.g. hydrocarbons and DDT).

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