It’s a breezy summer evening, and a boy and a girl are on their first date. They are walking along a festively lit boardwalk, eating dippin dots and showing off for each other. The dippin dots are finished, and both boy and girl toss their cups into a nearby trash can. One bounces off the rim of the trash can, and falls into the black water below. The boy and girl look over the side, shrug, and say, “too bad.” As far as they’re concerned, that tiny piece of plastic is nothing compared to such a big ocean, and although it’s unfortunate, there’s no use diving in after it. Turns out its not such a big ocean. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii, lies the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
This patch of garbage floating in the ocean accumulates because of a phenomenon called the north pacific gyre, which is an area of heavy wind and currents that essentially create a slow-moving whirlpool. Trash from all over the world accumulates in this spot, and the dump’s size is growing. Right now, it is estimated to be about 8 feet thick and twice the size of Texas. It is composed mostly of plastics, which then break down in the gyre into rice-sized pieces. These small pieces are ingested by fish and birds that feed on plankton, and are toxic to the bodies of these animals. The presence of these harmful chemicals is becoming more detectable in larger ocean predators, such as whales and seals, as they are consuming large amounts of prey containing toxins.
This abomination is not the only one of its kind; scientists estimate that there are five similar garbage patches around the world. Although the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered in 1991 by a sailor, it is recently making its way into international attention. I first read about it a couple of years ago in one of the nature magazines my parents subscribe to, and couldn’t believe I had never heard of it before. I’ve heard a lot more about it in the recent months, reading about it in Rolling Stone in October and now in The New York Times in November. It’s good that this monstrosity is finally being brought into the public eye, but I fear it may be too late.
It would take lots of time, energy, and money to physically clean out the patch, three things that no nation wants to give up. Scientists are trying to find ways to convert the plastics into a diesel-fuel, but so far the process uses more energy than it creates. We land-lubbers often forget how dependent we are on the ocean. This garbage patch could destroy fisheries worldwide, sending economies into the shitter (pardon my french). It is also often easy to forget that every single thing we do has some sort of effect on the environment. I don’t know if all the people in Japan, China, the US, Canada, and the Philippines knew what they were doing when they decided not to properly dispose of their plastics, fishing lines, and other waste, but the effects of such actions are becoming clear. A problem like this seems to have no solution; the only thing we can do is sit and watch it get worse. It’s times like these where I want to make like Tim Treadwell and go live with bears or something, because we’ve dug our grave too deep. We’re going to have a jolly good time getting out of this mess.