Meet the new Garbage Patch State rising in the middle of the oceans, where plastic is king. The new country’s flag is blue like the seas, with an emblem of red recycling signs. As of April 11, 2013, the garbage patches scattered in the five oceans across the world are symbolically recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a federal nation.
What Is the Garbage Patch State?
patches are giant swirling masses of
plastic trash and other debris that have been trapped by the oceanic currents
and are floating on the water. The plastic littering the sea comes from various
marine and land sources, such as shipping, tourism, fishing, and other solid
waste carried into the oceans by rivers.
The exact dimensions of the five islands of the Garbage Patch State aren't known. Some say it's the largest concentration of plastic debris in the world. The Garbage Patch in the North Pacific alone is believed to be the size of Texas or perhaps twice that size.
Charles Moore, the oceanographer who first discovered the North Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, told the San Francisco Chronicle that it isn’t a solid island, as some people believe. Instead, it resembles a soupy mass, undetectable by overhead satellite photos because it's 80 percent plastic and therefore translucent. The plastic moves just beneath the surface, from one inch to depths of 300 feet, he added.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that “regardless of its exact size, mass, and location, manmade debris does not belong in our oceans and waterways.”
Why Is It Dangerous?
Dr. Onno Gross is a marine biologist, environmental journalist, and president of the Marine Conservation Organization DEEPWAVE. He wrote on the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal blog that “thousands of sea animals die in agony through the deadly flotsam of our consumer society. There are at least 138 marine species that regularly entangle themselves in this rubbish.”
Unlike organic debris, which is biodegradable, plastic disintegrates under the sunlight into tiny pieces that never decompose. These small particles become a source of food for marine birds and animals, such as sea turtles, albatrosses, and even whales.
“The massive production of plastic and inadequate disposal has made plastic debris an important and constant pollutant on beaches and in oceans around the world,” Lorena M. Rios Mendoza, Ph.D., said at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting on April 8 in New Orleans. Her team was announcing the discovery of a garbage patch even in the Great Lakes!
Fish and birds could be harmed from accidently eating the plastic particles or absorbing toxic substances that leach out into the water, Rios said. Her team knows from analyses of fish stomachs that fish are consuming the plastic particles. Fish also could pass such substances to consumers.
What Can We Do to Help Clean Up?
NOAA believes that cleaning up is very challenging. “It is certainly not cost-effective to skim the surface of the entire ocean.”
“You can't take these particles out of the ocean. You can just stop putting them in", agrees oceanographer Charles Moore.
“No more trash in our oceans must be our highest priority”, warns Dr. Gross.
The Ocean Conservancy, an organization that fights on behalf of oceans, offers many tips to help treat the problem at its roots:
- Put trash in a secure, lidded receptacle, since most marine debris starts out on land.
- Properly recycle everything you can in your area.
- Less is more: don't buy stuff you don't need, and choose items that use less packaging.
- Inform and inspire your friends to help stop marine debris at the source and volunteer to clean up beaches.
- Bring your own containers for picnics instead of using disposables.
- Take your own reusable bags whenever you go shopping.
What are your ideas on how to help clean up the growing patches of garbage in our oceans? Share them in the comments section below!
—Kid Reporter Hannah PrenskyPhoto via Flickr.