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Great Pacific Garbage Patch Leads To Boom In Ocean Bugs

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Leads To Boom In Ocean Bugs

The world’s biggest garbage dump isn’t in China or New York City. It’s in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The direct result of our addiction to “disposable” plastic containers and our refusal to reduce, reuse, recycle, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an island of floating garbage some estimate to be the size of Texas.

Since petroleum-based plastics can take decades or even centuries to degrade, they get caught in the vortex of ocean currents that converge in the North Pacific. Unfortunately, this make-shift island causes real problems for members of the ocean ecosystem, both above and below the surface.

In addition to killing birds and fish who try to eat it, new research suggests that the floating trash is giving a certain variety of marine insect an ideal place to breed out on the open ocean, which could have a big impact on the natural environment. A 100-fold upsurge in human-produced plastic garbage in the ocean is altering habitats in the marine environment, according to a study led by a graduate student researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“Sea skaters” or “water striders”—relatives of pond water skaters—inhabit water surfaces and lay their eggs on flotsam (floating objects). Naturally existing surfaces for their eggs include, for example: seashells, seabird feathers, tar lumps and pumice. In the new study researchers found that sea skaters have exploited the influx of plastic garbage as new surfaces for their eggs. This has led to a rise in the insect’s egg densities in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

Researchers say that the increase in ocean trash, documented for the first time in a marine invertebrate in the open ocean, may have severe consequences for animals across the marine food web. Although this might seem like good news for the skater’s main predator, crabs, it could spell disaster for its prey, including tiny animals like zooplankton and fish eggs.

“We’re seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic…We’re concerned that this might change the flow of energy in this ecosystem, potentially favoring the low-biodiversity rafting community at the expense of the high-biodiversity water column community,” said Scripps graduate student Miriam Goldstein, lead author of the study and chief scientist of SEAPLEX, a UC Ship Funds-supported voyage.

Related Reading:

10 Most Common Types Of Ocean Trash

Tsunami Wreckage Headed For The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

6 Problems Caused By Shrinking Biodiversity

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Image via Thinkstock

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12:55PM PDT on Jul 24, 2012

Dorothy--Your original post inspired me to look for more ways to reduce waste. We all should be critical of our waste production and how to reduce that volume. The simplest things--no paper plates, no paper napkins, etc. are so easy and economical!

When we start talking about home economy what's cheaper: a plate you can use for years or a single-use plate you must discard and purchase new each time? I've been using the same 24 cloth napkins for 5+ years. My dog tore a hole in one, but the rest are pristine and wash very well. My kids know to use the towels and rags to clean messes--that paper towel is only to be used to blot grease from food and clean the mirrors. I even used cloth diapers for my last child. How many people can say they spent less than $100 diapering a child for 14 months?

We're a family of five and have less than one bin of trash a week. Meanwhile, our recycling bin is 50% larger and full for every pick up. Now, if only I can get a composter for the garden....

8:56AM PDT on Jul 24, 2012

Dorothy N--My folks used a shovel and hoe to pick up our dog's poop then tossed that in the trash. Never cost a dime in 12 years. And, now that I consider your argument, I think I'm going to go back to that for my own dog.

We reuse/recycle the few plastic bags we take in--I carry reusable bags everywhere and won't accept plastic if I can avoid it. And that includes the produce bags in the grocery!

11:25AM PDT on May 28, 2012

Is it so hard to stop using plastic bags? Plastic bottles?..... Come on!
Is ti so hard to only use reusable bags? (among the hundreds of good things we can do for the environment), I don´t think so!

3:46AM PDT on May 18, 2012

Well done, humanity. Your respect for the seas and oceans is always stunning.

1:47AM PDT on May 17, 2012

Tax all plastic bags ! THEN people will use reusables.

3:26AM PDT on May 16, 2012

I would love to see all that garbage rounded up and tied together with all the ropes and nets floating in the garbage. Large nylon nets could be made to hold the trash together. As more piles of garbage are found and tied together, eventually the accumulated piles will form a stable floating island. A boat with a crane could lift more piles of trash onto the center of the island, forming a platform for composting organic matter (sea weed, wood, trees, etc) and eventually be able to plant salt tolerant trees (mangroves) and plants. The roots of these trees would help hold the trash together. I'll bet enough wood would be available to create platforms and to build structures. A caretaker could live on board the boat to coordinate the accumulation and storing of the trash to further build the "island." The boat crane could lift toxic and undesirable objects onto barges that could be towed to land for proper disposal. This floating island would provide a major site for breeding ocean life and for attracting fish. More "islands" could be made to cover other areas. I love to dream these scenarios.

11:23AM PDT on May 15, 2012

I agree with Tom J. We ought to tax packaging material and consumer goods that are likely to either wear out or become obsolete within five years enough to pay for their proper disposal plus fifty percent for a bounty to reward scavengers who will pick the litter up and turn it in for the bounty and a handling fee for the trash pick up and recycling businesses who will act as the governments agents in paying the bounty to the scavengers and getting the litter all sorted and cleaned and really recycled or disposed of properly where recycling is not economically feasible.

2:15AM PDT on May 15, 2012

Tom J,

That is a Great idea! Now solve the next great problem; how to stop the human over-population that is causing all that garbage!

12:19PM PDT on May 14, 2012

Pay the Japanese, Intuit, and Norwegian whalers to leave the whaling business and become the world's garbage men and women. Each nation would contribute to an IMF or World Bank fund that pays these seafarers and their upkeep to clean the Pacific and the other oceans of the world. That is my one great idea for this month. Stay tuned next month when we tackle another one of the world's most pressing problems!

11:58AM PDT on May 14, 2012

thank you.

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