The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic, floating trash located halfway between Hawaii and California, has grown to more than 600,000 square miles, a study published Thursday finds. That's twice the size of Texas.
So, this is what led me to the little rant below...
Most of the aforementioned garbage comes in the form of plastic, and no, not a single blob of plastic. There are roughly 2 trillion pieces of plastic in just this one area (this doesn't account for the rest of the plastic in the ocean).
So, some of you might be asking why the garbage forms into patches as the one mentioned above. The answer is simple:
The gyres are the circles made by the arrows. The arrows represent ocean currents driven by the Coriolis Effect. The Coriolis Effect deflects winds and currents clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. But how do gyres cause the patches? When we (shitty humans) improperly dispose of waste, it tends to end up in the ocean. Once it is in the ocean in either the northern or southern hemispheres, the garbage gets caught in one of the currents and starts to go around the gyre.
If the garbage is just going around in the circles, it would never reach the center to create these patches. So, what pushes it out?
As you can see in the picture, the net water moves at an angle (roughly 90 degrees) to the right (northern hemisphere) and to the left (southern hemisphere) of the wind direction over 100 to 150m. This net water transport is what actually pushes the water towards the center of the gyres leaving them to be stuck there and build mass. This transport along with other processes help break the macroplastics down into small fibers called
Microplastics are a ubiquitous pollutant in our seas today and are known to have detrimental effects on a variety of organisms (Wieczorek et al., 2018).
In fact, it's such an issue that even the more intermediate-dwelling fish in the water column are being affected:
Seventy-three percent of all fish contained plastics in their gut contents with Gonostoma denudatum having the highest ingestion rate (100%) followed by Serrivomer beanii (93%) and Lampanyctus macdonaldi (75%). Overall, we found a much higher occurrence of microplastic fragments, mainly polyethylene fibres, in the gut contents of mesopelagic fish than previously reported. Stomach fullness, species and the depth at which fish were caught at, were found to have no effect on the amount of microplastics found in the gut contents (Wieczorek et al., 2018).
What is a microplastic, you ask? Well, microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life (NOAA). In my current marine chemistry lab, we are doing research over microplastics at the moment and we found (with 110 separate people performing the counts and us taking the average) that at one of the local marshes the average count for microplastics was 52.2 microplastics per liter of water and from just throwing a bucket and sampling water from the beach, the average count was 72.1 microplastics per liter of water.
This beach is virtually untouched by humans too, as it is a private island donated for research to the university I attend. I'd like to share this raw data with you, but not technically sure if that's allowed at my university.
Let's do some math. There are roughly 1.26E22 liters of water in the ocean... If there are 72.1 microplastics per liter of water, then there are roughly 9.0846E+22 microplastics in our ocean and I'm certain this number is quite conservative.
Microplastics are not the only issue about plastics, but I'll be damned if it is not one of the main issues. Macroplastics are bullshit too.
We need to work together to stop polluting the oceans. This issue directly affects every single person on the planet whether they realize it or not.
Here are some links to what we can all do better to minimize the use of plastics and hopefully save the environment in the process:
More plastic reading material: