Water/Wastewater

  • What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Feb 18 2015 Read 3071 Times

Sitting in a broad expanse of the northern Pacific Ocean is the largest oceanic desert in the world. Known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, it is a slow moving spiral of currents which is created by high pressure. Although the Pacific might be home to some of the largest fish and marine mammals on the planet, the Gyre is almost devoid of life altogether, save for shoals of plankton.

It is also the home of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - otherwise known as the world’s largest landfill. There, floating in the ocean are millions and millions of pounds of rubbish – which is mostly plastic. The patch is actually made up of two separate patches, the Eastern Garbage Patch which sits between Hawaii and California and the Western Garbage Patch which sits between Hawaii and Japan. The space in between the two is known as the Subtropical Convergence Zone and this is also becoming home to large deposits of rubbish.

As time goes on, the patch is becoming larger and larger and the spiral of currents simply serve to draw more and more plastic into it, creating hazards for bird and wildlife, fishing and tourism. There’s speculation that if something is not done quickly to combat the growing problem, entire ecosystems both on the seas surface and at the bed could be irreparably destroyed.

The Solution

Although many theories including the use of large trawler style nets to capture the plastic have been posited, there has been little success, especially as these nets only serve to capture and harm marine life as they do. In more recent times, researchers have suggested a twofold solution: one on a large scale to reduce the actual Patch, and one on a smaller individual scale to minimise the amount of plastic finding its’ way into the ocean.

The larger of the projects has been developed by Boyan Slat who founded the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. In the past, a global cleanup had been deemed impossible both because of scale and budget. However, Slat has produced a working model and trials to suggest that his system is both workable and financially sustainable. He said “I wondered; why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? By attaching a system of long floating arms to the seabed, the oceans could basically clean themselves.”

His system works by way of long solid floating barriers in the ocean which trap plastic, but pose no threat to wildlife. Based on the predictions so far, if the system was initially deployed for ten years, over half of the existing waste inside the Patch could be trapped and eradicated within 10 years. To initially begin the project, the Ocean Cleanup is currently seeking funding for the first $2m running costs.

Of course, dealing with the situation as it stands is only one aspect of the overall problem and Slat understands that unless measures are taken to combat the initial problem of plastic and other rubbish reaching the ocean, the overall situation cannot improve. He said, “Although a cleanup will have a profound effect, it is just part of the solution. We also need to close the tap, to prevent any more plastic from reaching the oceans in the first place.”

For more information on this topic, read: How Much Plastic is in our Oceans?

Image Source: Garbage at Sea

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