The ocean garbage patch is a swirling sea of plastic bags, bottles and other debris that is growing in the North Pacific, and now another one has been found in the Atlantic. Ocean currents collect floating garbage for thousands of miles and drop it into the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, one of the major ocean vortexes around the world.
Plastic products can be extremely harmful to marine life in the gyre. For example, loggerhead sea turtles commonly mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, their favorite food. Many marine mammals and birds, such as albatrosses, have become strangled by the plastic rings used to hold six-packs of soda together.
Marine debris can also disrupt marine food webs
in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. As microplastics and other trash
collect on the surface of the ocean, they block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below. Algae and plankton are the most common autotrophs in the marine food web. If
algae and plankton communities are threatened, the entire food web may
change. Animals such as fish and turtles that feed on algae and plankton
will have less food. If those animals start to die, there will be less
food for predator species such as tuna, sharks, and whales.
Because the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so far from any country’s coastline, no nation will take responsibility or provide the funding to clean it up. Cleaning up marine debris is not as easy as it sounds. Many pieces of
debris are the same size as small sea animals, so nets designed to scoop
up trash would catch these creatures as well. Even if we could design
nets that would just catch garbage, the size of the oceans makes this
job too time-consuming to consider. And no one can reach trash that has
sunk to the ocean floor. However, we can slow the patch from growing if we use biodegradable plastics and be reusing plastic rather than throwing it in the trash.
For a video of a sea turtle eating a plastic bag : http://www.tourdeturtles.org/flash/MarineDebris.swf
- Victoria Mehlhaff -