The oceans are dying. On the top of over-fishing and poaching of ocean life, we have poured enough poison in the ocean in form of garbage and plastics. A horrific proof of this is located in between the long seaway between Hawaii and California – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It has become a topic of distress among the world’s ecologists and environmentalists. There is nothing Great about it. On the other hand, it is the most alarming and the largest accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans. It is killing innumerable species of marine life in the region. In its large form, plastic causes entanglement of marine species. Many species, big and small, mistake plastic to be their food and poison themselves.
- How Does Plastic End Up in Ocean?
- 5 Largest Garbage Patches with their Locations and Size
- What is the State of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
- What is the Current Scenario and What Actions are Being Taken
- How Everyone Can be responsible
How Does Plastic End Up in Ocean?
Did you know that the first ever toothbrush you used is still floating on the Earth somewhere? Such seemingly daily small acts, liking using and throwing a plastic toothbrush, when performed by billions of humans leads to the immense loss in marine wildlife. Apart from being a threat to marine life, it impacts the food chain, eventually affecting us humans too by way of microplastics entering our food system.
It has been estimated that the amount of plastic waste making way to the oceans is about 1.15 million to 2.41 millions tons, each year. Nearly three-fourths of this plastic has a lower density than water, making it float on the surface trapping in fish, sea turtles and seabirds. With the strong winds and gusting waves, this plastic matter is easily spread across and broken into smaller matter. The congregating currents carry them to be reunited at these large patches of already accumulated plastic, where the currents from various sea routes converge. With the impact of the scorching sun and incessant waves throughout, these plastics break down to smaller pieces increasing the concentration of microplastics in the ocean water. The smaller fish and those marine species which do appear to the surface are now easily exposed to this water with high microplastics content.
The significant number of plastics in the oceans is contributed by the single-use plastics like straws, pens, plastic cutlery and others such as ropes, buckets, bakelite products, fishing nets, manufacturing products like cylinders, disks, Styrofoam, toothbrushes, boxes, etc.
Since we have minimal land left out of occupation, we have overflowing landfills. Owing to this, most of the companies and manufacturers along with the garbage disposal schemes engage in silently getting rid of plastics and other garbage into the rivers which eventually end up in the oceans.
5 Largest Garbage Patches with their Locations and Size
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest among the significantly-noticed garbage patch in the world. Here are the top 5.
1. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: GPGP
The GPGP has an estimated coverage of about 1.6 million square kilometres of ocean area. This is about two times the size of Texas and approximately thrice that of France. It was first discovered in the year 1985. It amounts to about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic waste which amount to a cumulative weight of 88,000 tons. With new statistics, it could be about 16 times the predicted amounts. According to a survey by National Geographic, 80% of the wastes and plastic debris comes from the activities in North America and Asia, of which the Waste from North America takes about 6 years to make it to one of the Great Garbage Patches. While the same waste from Japan and Asian Countries reach within a year.
2. The Indian Ocean Garbage Patch
The next biggest garbage patch is located in the Indian Ocean. Discovered in 2010, this patch is located at the central Indian Ocean and is considered to be the second largest garbage patch in the world. But most of these particles are invisible to naked eye and needs to be tested to spot the microplastics. It is roughly bound by Perth, Port Louis and Mauritius groups of islands.
3. The South Pacific Garbage patch
Located at the South Pacific Gyre, spanning from the seas of Australia to the Waters in South America, the South Pacific Garbage Patch is the 3rd largest garbage patch. The state of this patch has been fully confirmed only in the mid-2017, which is comparable to the level of damage and debris concentration in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2007. The size of the floating particles is smaller than the size of rice grains, hence these particles are impossible to be mapped using satellites.
4. The North Atlantic Garbage Patch
It is estimated to have about 200,000 pieces of plastic debris per square kilometre. Spread across hundreds of square kilometres in size, the North Atlantic Garbage Patch shifts north and south according to the seasons by 1600 km.
5. The South Atlantic Garbage Patch
Few details are available of this particular garbage patch, which is closer to the South American lands than the African waters. With loads of microplastics detected varying in the concentration and distribution over the ocean water, it is under immense research and cleanup programs in order to estimate the significant amounts of plastic garbage in the patches.
What is the State of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
Owing to high currents and winds that change seasonally, the location of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been changing and its concentration is varying over time. On an average, over the year, the patch circulates between 32°N and 145°W. The center concentration of the Patch has the highest density of about 100s of kg/km², and approximately 10 kg/km² in the outermost part of the recognized region of the patch. About 92 percent of the debris was bigger than 0.5 cm in terms of mass. But by count, the microplastics amount to 94 percent of the total plastics that float in the Pacific Ocean Patch.
What is the Current Scenario and What Actions are Being Taken
Though these Garbage Patches were discovered as early as late 1980s, it is heartbreaking to know that very little has been done to clean up the plastics in the oceans. The life-threatening imbalance of ecosystem that humans are driving the planet towards, needs to be checked at a much faster pace.
There are sincere efforts from organizations like thefuturedoesntsuck.org who have set campaigns to remove about 1 billion single-use plastic straws by the year 2020.
Oceana aims to set significant and life-changing campaigns on protecting the marine life on a global scale. It helps to restore the originally intended form of oceanic life, well supported by nature and ecological balance. They encourage people on their ventures by imparting the sense of having healthy seafood each day for 1 billion people.
Azula.com is yet another marine life venture hoping to highlight the beauty of the unseen and unknown wonders of the numerous species underwater. It aims to bring a sense of love and empathy that these animals deserve and the impact we have on them through the wastes we generate.
The most affected species of this plastic waste floating on the surface of the oceans is the Sea turtles. They swim along the surface and feed majorly on jellyfishes. The single-use plastic carry bags float in the water just a few meters below the surface of the water, which lures the Sea turtles to assume them to be jellyfish. The larger animals like the Whales and Sharks too get fooled by the plastic substances like the plastic buckets that severely impact their digestive systems.
Unknowingly these species pile up their systems with plastics, which eventually causes painful death due to malnutrition and high levels of toxicity the body cannot handle. The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) aims to safeguard their natural habitat and original food sources. They have a number of schemes to recycle your wastes and raise money through shopping online. The Sea Turtle Conservancy helps to track thousands of sea turtles each year helping them to assess their health and quickly turn up when they are in trouble.
The Coral Reefs are under severe threat in the past few years owing to the enormous amounts of chemicals that are disposed into the oceans. The Reef Relief is a non-profit membership organization that aims to protect the coral reefs and improving their ecosystem on the whole. It regularly educates the students and people about the current scenario of ocean health and possible steps to improve the situation.
Apart from these, there exist hundreds of organizations that strive to save these innocent living beings of the ghostly dangers we have dumped in the oceans. They help spread awareness and with more support from each one of us, we can make their missions realizable.
There are many expeditions aimed at surveying the amount of plastic debris and their concentration in the waters. The Multi-Level-Trawl expedition, held in 2015 aimed to understand the distribution of the plastic waste vertically in the ocean columns. The Mega expedition conducted in the same year took out some large ships to collect samples of debris over the various boundaries of differing concentrations. The 2016 Aerial expedition used advanced aircraft systems with high tech sensors and an RGB camera, which captured the photos at the rate of one photo clicked at every second of the flight time.
How Everyone Can be responsible
With an approximate total of 1.8 trillion plastic pieces in the Great Pacific Patch, the plastic count is about 250 particles per head of the total human population of the Earth. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, 92 percent of the interactions are with 700 species of marine life.
Through the process of bioaccumulation, these microplastics enter the food chain via sea fish and other marine animals. They transfer from one body to another, with the plastic concentration multiplying each time. At the top of the food chain, we humans are vulnerable to immense toxification of food that we consume.
Apart from the widespread danger that we are incurring to ourselves, this is a complete betrayal to the innocent marine animals and oceanic life. Over time, we humans have emphasized our dominance over the Earth by exploiting the resources and damaging the Eco balance. We need to understand that we actually share the earth with all the other species equally. If we do not deliver the equity, at least we should not affect their livelihood and make them pay their lives for our wastes.
It is necessary for us to set up cleaning expeditions to restore the natural habitat for these endearing marine organisms. We need to reduce the use of plastics as much as possible, especially the plastic straws, plastic ropes, toothbrushes and look for eco friendly and biodegrade alternatives like the reusable cutlery, bamboo toothbrushes, and jute ropes.
By engaging in marine cleanup rallies and campaigns we can persuade our nations to take a united stand in employing global scale cleaning expeditions. Also, we can show our support through monetary help and volunteering activities to those organizations which are actively working towards this common goal of saving and improving marine life.
The next time you pick a straw for your drink, remember the final destination of it after use: amidst the oceans contributing to the plastic killing of marine animals.
Also read: What is Your Plastic Killing.