If you have been following my writings here at Care2 or on my blog you’ve most certainly heard about the plastic mass that is floating out in the North Pacific Gyre. The gyre, one of several in the world, is a vortex of currents swirling inwards that lies between California and Japan. Like a toilet bowl that never flushes, it’s filled with plastic debris from man made items. So much so that from the first time it was studied until now, it has grown from the size of the state of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States!
How do I know this? Simple, my friends, Dr. Marcus Erikson and Anna Cummins, along with a bevy of other scientists, have traversed it, not once, but several times, in order to study what is actually happening out there. And what they found is truly disturbing. While the plastic soup is not concentrated, meaning you wouldn’t be able to see it from the air, once you get in the water, it can’t be missed. Thousands of tiny confetti-like pieces of plastic, filling otherwise pristine waters, waiting to be ingested.
And that’s just what happens. Petroleum based plastics break down, never completely, but over time getting smaller and smaller. As they do, fish and birds eat them and carry them forward. Some of the animals die. Some live on. And some are eaten by larger animals. As bigger fish eat smaller fish, the plastic particles and the myriad cancer-causing PCBs that they attract from unburnt fuel that falls on our oceans, move up the foodchain, and eventually onto our plates. As if Mercury wasn’t enough to worry about right?
As I mentioned, the North Pacific is only one of the Gyres in our seas, so Marcus and Anna and their colleagues have set out on the 5 Gyres project, a series of voyages to study the other 5 major gyres in the world, mostly in the North and South Atlantic. Presently they are studying the area between the US Virgin Islands, crossing the Sargasso Sea, and then ending in the Azores. Along the way they will collect samples, document debris and movement patterns, and report on what they are finding. They will also be stopping to speak with local officials on how to deal with this problem and make people aware of what they are finding.