27 March, 2018 27 March, 2018

Pacific Garbage Patch, 3 x the Size of France

Plastic and the ocean, it’s almost like these two words have become synonymous with each other. You cant mention the one without the other being brought up. The thing is there’s a very clear reason as to why that relationship exists and you would assume the general populace would be clued up on just how dire the issue of plastic pollution was. Well, you would think so at least. Turns out even the top dogs, the plastic pollution pioneers are yet to fully understand the magnitude at which it is affecting the ocean and everything in it. Right now, a huge, swirling pile of trash in the Pacific Ocean is growing faster than expected and is now three times the size of France, covering roughly 1.6 million square kilometres in size — up to 16 times bigger than previous estimates, according to a recently published study.

Roughly half of the 80’000 metric tons of trash bobbing about aimlessly at sea is comprised of “ghost nets” the term given to discarded fishing nets, entangling countless life forms. Beyond this, it is believed that 20% of the total volume of trash in the gyre found its way in there via the 2011 Japanese tsunami. The study was conducted by a team of scientists from around the world, The The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, six universities and an aerial sensor company making use of two aircraft surveys and 30 vessels to cross the patch.
Supporting the team’s findings was an earlier study published in Marine Policy that concluded that fishing gear discarded overboard made up an overwhelming amount of marine plastic debris. If the statistics are to be believed it is estimated that roughly 640,000 tons of fishing gear are dumped/lost in the ocean every year. “lt’s not fair to just blame it on the fishermen or the top 20 countries for mismanaging waste,” said Hardesty, the principal research scientist for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia. “Instead we need to look at the true value and cost of plastics, and factor in the costs of livelihood and tourism.”

The team of dedicated researchers made use of a variety of specialised equipment to record certain parameters including two 6-meter-wide devices to capture medium to large sized objects. The two aerial surveys featured two crafts equipt with advanced sensors to collect 3D scans of the ocean garbage. In the end, they collected 0ver 1.2 million samples of plastic and scanned over 300 square kms of ocean. The majority or bulk of the floating garbage heap is made up of large objects whilst surprisingly only 8% of the total mass being comprised of microplastics (fragments less than 5mm). 
We were surprised by the amount of large plastic objects we encountered,” Chief Scientist Julia Reisser said in a statement. “We used to think most of the debris consists of small fragments, but this new analysis shines a new light on the scope of the debris.” 
 The Trash Isles, ever heard of it? Well, a group of environmentalists recently approached the United Nations to declare the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a country, called The Trash Isles, complete with its own currency – debris. They even went so far as to attempt to declare some 200,000 people citizens of The Trash Isles, including the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman). 
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first stumbled upon back in 1997 by  Charles Moore an oceanographer whilst heading home after the Transpacific Yacht Race between California and Hawaii. “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” 
“Plastic pollution in the ocean is visible and trackable,” said Hardesty. “We can definitely make a difference in how we vote with our pocketbook and think about each decision we make, whether we take our own bags to the supermarkets, refuse straws, bring our own coffee cups, accept single-use items or think about mindful alternatives.”
The problem is quite literally too large to ignore, so next time you are out having that pink sundowner say no to the straw, 15 minutes on the lips equals 200 years in the ocean. While you at it, do what you can to avoid buying single-use plastics such as shopping bags and styrofoam take away containers. It may be a challenge, no one is denying that, but why not take that challenge. Convenience is no longer an excuse. As ocean users we are stewards of our ocean, we need to take collective action. Ultimately, the end goal would be to entirely replace plastic with a more environmentally friendly alternative but for now, what you can immediately start doing is reducing consumption. 

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