The human race manufactures, transports, packages, and throws away a staggering amount of plastic each year.
While each step of the process comes with its own environmental impacts, none have been so widely reported on as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; a convergence of ocean currents in which some scientists say plastic waste is trapped, creating a toxic soup that stretches for half a million square miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Concern about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has sparked petitions, fundraisers, and even a trans-ocean trip in a boat made of plastic bottles. But according to the research of Oregon State University professor of oceanography Angelicque White, both the size and threat of this “garbage patch” have been greatly exaggerated.
“Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic,” White told The Telegraph.
The NOAA agrees with her:
The name “garbage patch” has led many to believe that this area is a large and continuous patch of easily visible marine debris items such as bottles and other litter—akin to a literal blanket of trash that should be visible with satellite or aerial photographs. This is simply not true.
This contradicts the desription published by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, the organization who claims credit for discovering the Garbage Patch:
“…it is a vast plastic soup (from the surface down through the water column) containing everything from large abandoned fishing nets (ghost nets) to plastic bottles, bottle caps, toothbrushes, containers, boxes, to miniscule particles of plastic that have either been reduced from larger pieces by wave action or sunlight (photodegradation)” [emphasis added].
But it’s hard to ignore convincing eyewitness accounts, like this one:
And this PSA from the California Coastal Commission:
“While the plastic stretches across the surface, its mass compared to the amount of water means it only takes up a tiny fraction of its proclaimed area,” Prof White told The Telegraph. However, “plastic clearly does not belong in the ocean,” she added.
Image Credit: greatpacificgarbagepatch.info