The Great Pacific Patch is a collection of oceanic fragments that can be found in the Pacific Ocean. Litter that finds its way into seas, oceans and other large bodies of water is referred to as oceanic debris. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is also known as the vortex and Pacific garbage (The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 2017). From the west coast of the United States to the east coast of Japan, the patch can be found. It is made up of two parts: the Western Garbage Patch, which is close to the Japanese beach, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between California and Hawaii in the United States. The two areas are connected by the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone situated several hundreds of kilometers from Hawaii. The convergent zone defines the location where warm water originating from the Southern Pacific meet with much colder water flowing from the Arctic (“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 2017). The area creates some form of a highway where the debris shift from one patch to the other. The vast rotating vortex collects trash from all over the Pacific Ocean and later deposits them in the much calmer waters commonly referred to as the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch.
Although the patch is enormous stretching up to seven hundred and fifteen thousand square kilometers, its existences remained hidden from the public sphere until the 1990s (NOAA Marine Debris Program, 2017). According to NOAA Marine Debris Program (2017), the patch was brought into the public limelight after the head of Algalita Marine Research Foundation Captain Charles Moore, navigated through a seldom used route flanked by the Mainland and Hawaii and noticed the consistent stream of trash into the area. Although various types of debris find their way into the ocean, plastic is the primary component of the patch given its durability, malleability, and low cost, and the fact that it does not biodegrade (“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 2017).
The findings of a 2014 marine study indicated the existence of approximately eight million metric tons of marine debris entering the region from the surrounding land masses each year (NOAA Marine Debris Program, 2017). The statistic is equivalent to five plastic bags stuffed with waste products entering they ocean from every coastline across the globe. Statistics also show that an estimated eighty percent of the debris patents from land-based human undertakings in Asia and North America while the residual twenty percent coming from offshore oil rigs, big cargo ships, and sailors (“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 2017).
The garbage patches have various effects both on the marine life and the economic activities around the region. According to an article by the National Geography, the debris is harmful to aquatic life (“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 2017). For example, loggerhead sea turtles tend to mistake the floating plastic waste for their favored food, jellies. As for seals and other categories of sea mammals, they can easily get caught up by abandoned plastic fish nets which leads to their drowning an occurrence referred to as ghost fishing. In addition to this, the garbage patch presents a significant threat to the marine food web by blocking oxygen from reaching the plankton and algae which make up the primary producers in the food chain (“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 2017). Research on its effects further indicates that a microbial ecosystem thrives on the floating plastic waste threatening the marine ecosystem even in protected regions like the Papahaumokuakea Marine National Monument (NOAA Marine Debris Program, 2017).
Although the exact effects of the accumulating marine debris patch are still being researched, the currently known impacts need to be taken seriously, and immediate cleanup measures should be adopted. However, these clean-up operations are faced by the challenge of differentiating between the micro-plastics from small sea creatures which are often caught by the nets designed to clean up the area (“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 2017). Additionally, given the enormous costs associated with such operations, nations have declined from taking up the responsibility fearing bankruptcy.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (2017). National Geographic Society. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/
NOAA Marine Debris Program. (2017). Ocean trash plaguing our sea. Ocean Portal | Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-news/ocean-trash-plaguing-our-sea