The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) which is located halfway between Hawaii and California is considered as the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation sites in the world’s oceans. Surveys say that approximately 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean every year from rivers and other water bodies. More than half of this plastic is way less dense than the water suggesting that it doesn’t sink once it meets the sea. Strong and buoyant plastic is more resilient in the marine environment that enables them to be transported to far off places, finally getting accumulated in the patch. Once these plastics enter the gyre, they only leave when they disintegrate into small pieces or microplastics due to the effects of the sun, waves, and marine animals.
The GPGP covers a surface area of approximately 1.6 million square kilometers which is equivalent to twice the size of Texas and thrice the size of France. For formulating this number, the group of scientists had conducted a sampling method that consisted of a fleet of 30 boats, 652 surface nets, and two flights over the patch for gathering the aerial image of the debris. Because of the seasonal and interannual variability of winds and currents, the location and structure of the GPGP keeps changing. On average the patch orbits around 32°N and 145°W but there is a seasonal shift from West to East and changes in latitude depending on the year.
How does it affect human and animal health?
The plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch not only poses health risks to marine animals but also causes heath and economic problems to humans. Due to its size and color, marine animals confuse the plastic for food which leads to malnutrition and threatens their behavior and overall health. Surveys and reports suggest that about 700 species that have encountered marine debris, 92% of these interactions have been with plastic. Fishing nets make up for 47% of the mass in the GPGP and they prove to be highly dangerous for animals who swim or get entrapped in them as they are not able to extract themselves from these nets. The interactions with these nets have been termed as GHOST NETS because it often leads to the death of the animal.
Once plastic enters the marine food chain, there are high chances of it contaminating the human food chain as well. Through a process known as bioaccumulation, chemicals in plastic enter the bodies of animals that feed on plastic and as the feeder becomes our prey, the chemicals are likely to get passed on to the predator- us humans. For conducting its research, the ocean cleanup conducted research expeditions in the area. Some of these expeditions were multi-level-trawl expedition, Mega Expedition, Aerial expedition, etc. Once the ocean plastic was brought back to the Netherlands, the work of counting, classification, and analysis starts followed by a detailed study of the physical properties of the plastic.
According to scientists and explorers, limited use or elimination of the use of disposable plastic and an increase in the use of biodegradable resources is the only and best way to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Organizations such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Plastic Ocean Foundation are using social media and campaigns for supporting individuals and manufacturers in their change from using toxic disposable plastic to biodegradable reusable materials.