Plastic trash is collecting in vast areas of the north Pacific Ocean – and staying there – according to Marcus Eriksen of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in California.
Marcus Eriksen: You get debris that leaves our coastal watersheds, goes out to sea, and gets stuck in the middle.
Eriksen said this garbage in the north Pacific is less like a floating island, and more like a “soup” of plastic.
Marcus Eriksen: There are particles of cups of spoons and knives of plastic bags and plastic bottles, and they get smaller down to the basic plastic polymer, which is microscopic.
The circular movement of the ocean – in the form of an ocean gyre – is trapping all this plastic. Eriksen spoke of the large rotating ocean gyre that covers much of the north Pacific.
Marcus Eriksen: The size of the gyre is the entire garbage patch. It’s roughly twice the size of the United States.
Eriksen said the plastic doesn’t fully biodegrade and is often toxic. He said marine life feeds on it, including fish eaten by humans.
Marcus Eriksen: It’s absorbing PCBs, pesticides from farms, oil drops from cars like a sponge. Aa plastic particle, we have documented, can have up to a million times more pollutants stuck on it than ambient seawater. And because the Earth is spinning, that causes the oceans to spin. So you get these rotating gyres — they’re like giant toilet bowls that never flush.
Erikson said that one thing will help: curbing our use of disposable plastic.
Our thanks to:
Dr. Marcus Eriksen
Director of Education and Research
Algalita Marine Research Foundation
Long Beach, CA
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.