The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

sally.rose's picture

Water samples taken in the patch from the research vessel Alguita in 2001 revealed the presence of six times more plastic than plankton.

Not long ago I was horrified to hear about something named The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Claims there was an expanse of garbage floating off the coast of California that was "twice the size of Texas".

Surely, in this age of satellite imaging, if such an abomination existed there would be pictures. I looked and didn't find any.

In the absence of any photographs of a floating garbage pile, I hoped it was just a beat-up. Unfortunately all further enquiries have led me to understand that the real story behind the name is much worse than anything I had imagined.

The so called Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of intense water pollution collected within a sub-tropical high pressure system in the northern Pacific Ocean, hereby referred to as the gyre.

From the surface, the gyre dubbed The Great Pacific Garbage Patch appears fairly normal. Towards the centre there is a higher than normal incidence of plastic bottles floating by, but it just didn't appear that catastrophic. However these visible flotsam and jetsam are the least of our worries.

Garbage sinks, collecting underwater. Beneath the ocean's surface things are really bad. Water samples taken in the patch from the research vessel Agualita in 2001 revealed the presence of six times more plastic than plankton.  

Ocean gyres create whirlpools, rounding up all the junk that escapes stormwater drains or blows off landfill. In this way our refuse is carried out to sea, largely out of sight and out of mind. The oceans have always done this. In the past our waste was left to biodegrade. But that was when our rubbish was organic.

Plastic is fantastic because it lasts, which is precisely why it is such a menace. Through photo-degradation plastic breaks apart, rather breaking down. This process creates ever smaller particles, which are referred to us nurdles or mermaid's tears. So the plastic is harder to see, separate or clean up, but it persists.

Nurdles are ingested by birds and fish, thereby entering the food chain we rely on. When immersed in water over time plastics leach toxic chemicals. In the gyre there is so much plastic leaching that it has created what many commentators call a "toxic soup".

At present there is no solution to clean this mess up. The best case scenario is if we were to stop adding to the plastic, then eventually the oceans would over time spew most of it up on the beaches where it would have the opportunity to photo-grade, (or we could collect the big chunks and recycle it or dispose of it more carefully).

We simply have to stop filling the oceans with plastic.

This will only happen is if as consumers we buy less plastic, use less plastic and recycle more plastic. It doesn't seem that far fetched to think, given the economic demand, private industry can deliver us a non-toxic, biodegradable alternative to make coffee cup lids out of.  

It just doesn't make sense to insist on using a material that lasts forever to manufacture products which are only ever intended to be disposable? 

Sally Rose

For more information see:




The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Ohh my God! Is there any limit to the destruction we do to our planet. I was shocked reading this Blog and am determined to seek out more info. l hope it's not as bad as is suggested.

I have never considered it a possibility that our oceans could engulf our plastic rubbish in such a concentrated location, actually I had never considered where all the plastic goes after it leaves our hands. I assumed it was buried in non-recyclable dumps out of my sight. I feel guilty now for all the mount franklin water bottles I have mindlessly discarded over the years.

I hope that articles like this one can get into the hands of people who care about our planet and are willing to make the changed necessary to reduce this toxic soup. I will be more conscious of how I use and discard my plastics.

A response from the Algalita Maribe Research Foundation

Hello Sally,
Thank you for contacting us and providing the link to your blog. It's basically correct, but I'd like to give you a few changes.

The name of our research vessel is Alguita, which is very similar to the name of our foundation so it is confusing.

The water samples contained six times more plastic by weight than zooplankton.

As for your description of the debris in the Gyre, it is not mostly plastic bottles. In fact, most of the debris is small pieces/fragments of plastic that have been floating around for years photodegrading in the ocean. The make up of the debris is universal, basically anything that floats and persists in the ocean, with 90% plus being plastic. While we do see buoys, television tubes and soap bottles, etc, they are not piled up in a group for photographing. The majority of the debris consists of small plastic fragments and broken objects just below the surface, which are obscured by surface wavelets when observed from any angle but directly above.

As a research foundation we are happy to share our findings with others to be used in educational programs, blogs, etc. However, we want to make sure that the info is being protrayed accurately. There is a lot of mis-information out there due to the large nubmer of media stories being generated.

Thanks again for checking with us and thank you for helping us educate the world!

Marieta Francis
Acting Executive Director

Algalita Marine Research Foundation
148 N Marina Drive
Long Beach, CA 90803

phone - 562-598-4889
fax - 562-598-0712