The State of the Oceans in Two Words: Not Good
Did you know that all the plastic we don’t recycle ends up in the ocean, becoming a part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP)? Most plastic is buoyant, meaning that it floats as it drifts and breaks into smaller pieces. These pieces group together, and over the last several decades, these accumulations have resulted in giant island-sized piles of oceanic trash.
Where Plastic Goes to Retire
The GPGP is a huge vortex in the Pacific Ocean that symbolizes humans’ mistreatment of our planet. Like other areas of the global ocean with a high concentration of debris, it was formed by ocean currents that gradually concentrated the fresh garbage in one place. The size of the large trash pile cannot be pinned down because it’s constantly growing. However, it ranges from roughly 700,000 km2 to 1,500,000 km2 (0.41–0.81% of the total area of the Pacific Ocean). Here is a not-so-fun fact: there are five patches of plastic in the oceans around the world.
Microparticles of eco-material in the GPGP have been accumulating since the 1980s. Even though plastic is the main debris, glass, wood, rubber, resin, and other materials also make up the pile. Most of it is waste from commercial fishing.
Data obtained by aerial images from C-130 Hercules shows that the patch has currently accumulated about 352 million tons of debris — and that is only on the surface. More debris can be found in the deep ocean. In the future, data from satellites will more accurately show how much the patch increases annually. However, one thing is clear now: the major ocean garbage patch is a big problem that is becoming even bigger. For now, people have no idea how to fix it.
The Main Sources of Pollution
· Water-dependent activities, such as fishing and port operations — more than half of the world’s busiest ports are located along the Pacific Coast
· The dumping of industrial waste into the ocean or rivers that go into it
· Other human wastes — about half of the world’s population live around the Pacific
· Natural disasters that cause destruction and carry the remnants into the ocean
The Impact of Garbage Soup on the Environment
The existence of such a garbage island is not the worst thing. Plastic, as we know, is not readily biodegradable. However, over time, it breaks down into small pieces the size of plankton. In the upper waters, there is six times more plastic than plankton. Lightweight plastic never sinks and instead floats with a radius of just a several dozen centimeters from the surface of the water, thereby attracting fish.
Animals and seabirds mistake plastic for food as their habitats become crowded with trash. Sea turtles prey on plastic bags instead of jellyfish, albatrosses accidentally eat pieces of plastic and die from starvation or dehydration, and filter feeders consume plastic particles instead of the usual plankton or fish eggs.
Seals and other marine mammals are often caught in ghost fishing nets. Now and then, their mouths get stuck in plastic, causing them to shout. Finally, the sea creatures starve to death from not being able to eat or drink.
Debris can also prevent any sunlight from getting to photosynthetic organisms or algae, microscopic organisms that are at the base of the entire marine food chain. If the amount of plankton decreases, the animals that eat it, such as turtles and fish, will also decrease in number. The decline in turtle and fish populations will affect the number of super-predators, such as sharks and whales.
Finally, dolphins get entangled in all the trash on the ocean’s surface and the pieces that sink. They get stuck in the plastic, choke on it, or aren’t able to reach the surface without hurting themselves.
The Effect on Our Health
Besides the injury to animals, marine debris can leak organic pollutants into water, including polychlorinated biphenyls, insecticide, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Some of these substances are not only toxic, but their structure is also similar to estradiol, which leads to hormonal failure in poisoned animals. Those toxic substances can get into the body people who eat the poisoned fish. What is more, if marine food webs are disrupted, fish and other seafood will become less accessible to people or become more expensive.
If Nothing Changes?
Single-use plastic has no place on this earth. We are dead serious. Bottles will be around longer than your bones. Plastic forks are used 15 minutes but last for 1,000 years. There will be more plastic in the global ocean than fish in 30 years.
Ocean pollution provokes changes in the water. It is for that reason that entire climate events disappear, garbage islands appear, water blooms due to enhanced algae breeding, and temperatures rise, directly affecting global warming. The outcome of these processes is the gradual decline in oxygen and a drop in all ocean resources.
If people continue to turn a blind eye to this problem, the world’s oceans will turn into one enormous dump. Instead of oxygen, we will get poisonous vapors and the smell of birds and animals rotting on the beach.
Attempts to Clean Up the Ocean
Bojan Salat, a student from the Netherlands, founded the world’s first ocean clean-up system in 2018. The unique feature of the water purification system is that the garbage held up by the floating barriers is collected on the processing platform, which lies at anchor, and then It is recycled.
System 001 (the name of the product) is projected to collect approximately 50,000–70,000 tons of eco-material annually. Autonomous floating pontoons are already installed in several areas of the Pacific. Scientists hope that with this cleaning system, only 10% of the current amount of plastic will remain in the global ocean by 2040.
However great the idea, Salat’s system has faced a systemic weakness. Under the influence of wind or tides, some of the debris returns to the ocean. Even worse, plastic is unreachable at depths below three meters. Additionally, the size of the garbage icebergs requires the installation of more than a dozen or even hundreds of such collection systems. Still, it is the first and, for the moment, the only success story, and we believe there is much to draw from it. New investment is an important factor in restoring the ecosystem of the global ocean.
The Bottom Line
How many times have you thrown out a piece of cling wrap? A strawberry container? A pair of broken sunglasses? The plastic wrapper from a sweet potato? Now multiply that by the whole earth’s population. Ouch!
A garbage island in the global ocean is a terrifying phenomenon with tragic consequences. The sad part is that it is all humans’ fault and the result of our economic activity. Solving the problem of marine pollution should be the international community’s top priority if we want a better, cleaner, and safer place to live.
Picking up any litter you see on the beach while vacationing can be a huge lifesaver to sea animals. Don’t bring our world into theirs. Let’s stop plastic pollution from wrecking our beaches and have healthy oceans that delight and sustain us for generations to come.