In today’s world one of our biggest issues is our waste and it comes as no shock with the mass production of items we see on a regular basis. One of the most polluted areas is our ocean. It is estimated that 1.4 billion pounds of trash enters the ocean every year and it is likely to find one of the many garbages patches in our ocean currents. Once example is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is a collection of marine debris in the northern Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 7.7 million square miles. The “debris vortex” stretches from the west coast of the US to the east coast of Japan, although it its broken up into smaller sections known as the Western Garbage Patch (Japan) and the Eastern Garbage Patch (Between Hawaii/California). The location of this vast garbage patch is controlled by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre which is created by the North Pacific, California, North Equatorial, and Kuroshio currents. These currents will move the trash in a circular pattern which will result in trash being sucked in the Subtropical Convergence Zone.
According to National Geographic there is around 7 million tons of garbage in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the majority of it is in the top meter. 80% of this comes from land based actives while the other 20% comes from boating and oil rig activities. The debris can be made up of a variety of items such as plastic bags and fishing nets which can be extremely dangerous to marine life. What makes the plastic items even more dangerous is a process called photo-degradation. This is when the sun breaks down the plastic into tiny pieces called micro-plastic. The micro-plastic looks like fish eggs and has been linked to deaths in marine life and also found in fish we consume. If enough are collected together they can block sunlight to algae and plankton communities below. This could disturb food sources for local marine life and throw off the balance of the ecosystem.
Because the garbage patch spans such an enormous area, the task of cleaning it up becomes difficult. Additionally, it is located in international waters so no one country is “responsible” for it. As a result, much of the efforts to clean it up have come from the private sector. One foundation aimed at tackling the issue is the Ocean Cleanup. Founded by 19 year old Bryan Slat (now 23), the company plans to use the currents of the ocean to their advantage. They have designed collection systems that will be placed in the gyre to follow the same current as the trash. By attaching an anchor to the system they can make sure the system is flowing slower than the plastic so the plastic can be collected. Once the system is full, collection boats will extract the garbage and take it to shore to be recycled. The system is also designed to be safe for marine life. After initial trials, they projected they could clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in about 10-15 years.
With the enormous amount of waste we pour into the oceans each year do you think it is feasible to be able to clean it all up? What is the best way to go about cleaning it up? Should it be the responsibility of the private sector or the government? How important of an issue is this?