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Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The island of plastic

shutterstock 556842991

WHAT IT IS

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]
  • The GPGP is located in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California. [National Geographic]

  • Estimated size: 1.6 million square kilometers (617,763 square miles), containing 1.8 trillion plastic pieces.[Nature]

  • 46% of the total mass is made of fishing nets, also known as "ghost nets." [Nature]

WHY IT MATTERS

 

After long periods in water with exposure to sun, plastic will break down into smaller particles called microplastics. [NOAA] Not only are microplastics extremely difficult to remove from the ocean, but these smaller pieces also resemble food particles for marine life and can float all the way down to the ocean floor.

 

About 53% of the GPGP is composed of microplastics. [The Ocean Cleanup]

IMPACT ON HUMANS

Food chain

Humans are indirectly eating the toxic plastics found in the GPGP. This process is known as bioaccumulation. [The Ocean Cleanup]

toc gpgp bioaccumulation 1280The Ocean Cleanup

"Chemicals in plastics will enter the body of the animal feeding on the plastic, and as the feeder becomes prey, the chemicals will pass to the predator - making their way up the food web that includes humans."

Economy

Environmental damage from the GPGP costs about $13 billion per year. That cost accounts for beach cleanups and financial loss by fisheries. [The Ocean Cleanup]

IMPACT ON WILDLIFE

Death

Sea animals "can be killed directly by ingesting plastics, through blockage of the intestines or through piercing of the intestinal wall,"

-Qamar Schuyler, researcher at The University of Queensland. [The Washington Post]

 

 

Toxic

Not only does the plastic block the intestine, but it is also highly toxic. 84% of plastic found had at least one Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) chemical. [The Ocean Cleanup]

 

 

Entanglement

Fishing nets are 46% of the mass in the GPGP. These ghost nets and are near impossible for animals to swim out of once stuck. [The Washington Post]

  • Estimated 100,000 marine animals are strangled, suffocated, or injured by ghost nets each year. [National Geographic]

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Sept. 2018: Scientists launched the world’s first machine to clean up half of the trash (40,000 metric tons) within 5 years. Learn more about the giant floating trashcan.

  • According to the United Nations, over 300 million tons of plastic will be produced in a year. [The New York Times] 

  • Foresight Future of the Sea found that plastic pollution in the ocean could triple by 2050 unless a “major response” occurs.

  • Some scientists estimate that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans will outnumber all fish. [The Washington Post]

  • Aug 6, 2020: After 35 days at sea, a ship returns 67 tons of plastic from the GPGP. [Honolulu Star Advertiser]

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • Starbucks announced it will ban all plastic straws by 2020. [NPR] Is the straw truly enough when consumers drink out of a plastic cup?
  • Some states are passing a ban on "single-use plastic" but entire countries abroad are ahead in mandating it across the country. [The New York Times]
  • What is deterring political leaders to make meaningful steps towards climate health?
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