It is twice the size of the continental United States, yet you cannot set foot on it. Scientists have named it "Plastic Soup", and appropriately so. Floating in the Northern Pacific Ocean lays a huge expanse of plastic refuse. This garbage patch is actually two attached areas on either side of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered by Charles Moore, an American oceanographer, in 1997 as he was traveling between Hawaii and Los Angeles on a yacht. Taking a course usually avoided by sailors, he steered his craft through the "North Pacific gyre" (a vortex created by little wind and strong high pressure systems). Here, thousands of miles from land, he discovered and was surrounded by pieces of plastic trash day after day as he steered his yacht through the area over a week's time period. He believes there is about 100 million tons of debris floating, drifting, and swirling in the Pacific Ocean approximately 500 miles off the coast of California, stretching past the Hawaiian Islands, and extending almost to Japan.
Professor David Karl, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii, is seeking to confirm Mr. Moore's discovery and is co-coordinating an expedition later this year to locate the garbage patch. He compares the plastic refuse to a new habitat of sorts. Translucent, it lies just below the surface of the ocean and is undetected by satellite photography. The only way it can be seen is by ships sailing through it.
Some trash that might end up in ocean gyres is biodegradable. Not so of our modern plastics, however. Plastics as old as 50 years have been recovered from the ocean. Approximately one-fifth of the plastic soup comes from trash discarded from ships and oil platforms. The remaining four-fifths come from land. It is estimated that plastic makes up 90% of all refuse floating in the ocean and the UN Environment Programme estimated recently that each square mile of ocean water contains 46,000 pieces of floating garbage.
Not only does the plastic trash pose serious risks to marine mammals and sea birds, but the filth-filled water threatens human health as well. The plastic industry is losing or spilling huge amounts of raw materials each year and much of this makes its way to the seas and oceans. These materials act as chemical sponges and attract synthetic chemicals like hydrocarbons and the pesticide DDT. It is unavoidable for these materials to enter the food chain once they exist in our oceans. Once they enter the food chain, the end of that chain is your dinner plate.
The discovery of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch led Mr. Moore to become an environmental activist. He has recently warned consumers that if we do not cut back on our use of disposable plastics, this plastic soup will likely double in size over the next ten years.
About the author Jo Hartley Wife, Mother of 8, and Grandmother of 2 Jo is a 40 year old home educator who has always gravitated toward a natural approach to life. She enjoys learning as much as possible about just about anything! http://is8enuff.blogspot.com/
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