- Big data, big impact?
- Feeding the 9 billion
- Countryside in Crisis?
- The Energy Water Food Stress Nexus
- Unsustainable Fishing
- Keeping pace with a digital revolution
- Global health in the 21st Century
- Adapting to an urban future
- Educating for tomorrow
- Digital technology in Africa
- Persistent poverty in Britain
- Can the UK ever be sustainable?
- Plastic pollution in the oceans
- Natural disasters: how to improve?
- Not In My Back Yard
- Digital Divide in the UK?
- Importing goods, exporting drought?
- Britain’s ageing population
- Engineering our climate
- The future shape of Capitalism
- Migration: skills and the job market
- Razing the Rainforest
- London under water
- Concreting the countryside
- Future of low carbon energy
- Africa in the 21st Century
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
It is an area in the North Pacific Ocean where vast amounts of marine litter is caught up in oceanic currents. Much of this litter is microscopic pieces of plastic. These currents accumulate waste floating in the ocean.
The area is an oceanic desert, filled with tiny phytoplankton but few big fish or mammals. Due to its lack of large fish and gentle breezes, fishermen and sailors rarely travel through the gyre.
A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (2006) stated that in the Central Pacific, there are up to 6 pounds of marine litter to every pound of plankton.
The year that Captain Charles Moore discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. He is an American yacht-racer who was sailing home across the North Pacific from a competition in Hawaii, USA.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch had been predicted as early as the late 1980s
Captain Moore went on to establish The Algalita Marine Research Foundation to raise awareness of the problem and find ways to restrict its growth.
What is a gyre?
A slowly moving spiral of oceanic currents created by a high-pressure system of air currents.
This forms a place for ocean debris to collect. Plastic is then carried into stable circular currents, or gyres like ocean ring-roads.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be bigger than the size of the State of Texas.
There are 5 main oceanic gyres:
Source: Wikimedia Commons
- North Pacific Ocean
- South Pacific Ocean
- North Atlantic Ocean
- South Atlantic Ocean
- Indian Ocean
There are also several smaller gyres in Alaska and Antarctica.
The number of pieces of plastic estimated by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2006 to be floating in every square mile of ocean.
"In the last 25 years, I haven't been diving anywhere, even 2 miles under the sea, without seeing some form of trash, a lot of it plastic"
Almost all pieces of plastic that has ever been created still exists, except for a small amount that has been incinerated.
As plastic does not biodegrade it is unable to be broken down into its constituent elements by natural processes.
If plastic ends up trapped in an ocean gyre, it breaks down over time by sunlight and wave action, to become smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, eventually microscopic in size.
Source: Sustainable Coastlines
Plastics have become an integral part of our daily lives with virtually everything we do and much of the food and drink we consume involving the use of plastics in some form or other. It has become one of the defining materials of the last 60 years.
As a result plastic makes up an increasing proportion of our household waste today.
We produce and use 20 times more plastic today than we did 50 years ago.
Estimated amount of plastic thrown out per household each year in UK.
Several of Hawaii's beaches are covered in plastic rubbish washed-up from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Hawaii is the world's most isolated island-chain. But there are enormous quantities of plastic debris on many beaches, and the plastic is breaking-down into smaller and smaller fragments the size of sand granules, making it impossible to remove.
What are nurdles?
Nurdles are the plastic pellets used in plastic manufacturing.
If these remain in the ocean, they can accumulate toxins and eventually work their way into the food chain as marine animals digest these thinking they are food.
Source: Paul L. Nettles