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Twice the size of Texas, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches for hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean and is one of the most frightening examples of just how much human activity is violating the planet.

Spanning from the West Coast of North America to Japan, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of the Eastern Garbage Patch, near Japan, and the Western Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. In other words, it is absolutely colossal. And scarier still as oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70 percent of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean, so what we do know about the amount of waste in the ocean is likely just the very tip of the iceberg.

We are only just beginning to understand the true scale of just how much the planet is suffering as a result of marine debris. The contents of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have been described as a toxic “plastic soup,” for which we have provided all the ingredients. As new research surfaces linking plastic debris to marine species extinction, the consequences of our waste are clearly becoming more and more devastating. But before we delve further into this horror story we must first understand how we created this monster in the first place.

We are Feeding a Cancer in the Ocean

According to the National Geographic about 80 percent of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia and the other 20 percent comes from boats, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships. The majority of this 20 percent, about 705,000 tons, is fishing nets.

The trash gets trapped between two main gyres that act as a whirlpool and collect this trash. Greenpeace has published an animation that explains how this all works.

 

The trash then accumulates because many plastics are non-biodegradable and do not wear down. Instead, they only break into tinier and tinier pieces creating the “plastic soup” mentioned earlier.

For us, the most frightening aspect of all of this is just how quickly this monster has grown in a relatively short period of time.

Plastic was initially mass-produced in the 1940s and in 1957 the single-use plastic bag first appeared in the U.S. with bottled water only entering the mass market in the mid-1980s. So, it seems that in just half a century we have managed to create the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But that is not the scary thing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, we will see yearly plastic production quadruple to a disturbing one hundred million tons. Just how big could the Great Pacific Garbage Patch get? This monster is growing and we are the ones filling its gut.

A Catastrophe for Wildlife

We have watched many wildlife and environmental films that have filled us with sadness, anger, disbelief … but none have shaken us to the core more than a new film, still in production, called “Midway: Message from the Gyre.” And so far we only have the trailer to really go on. The trailer alone is one of the most tragic pieces of film we have ever witnessed and it is with great apprehension that we look forward to when the full length it is finally released. Check out the trailer below.

 

“The viewer will experience stunning juxtapositions of beauty and horror, destruction and renewal, grief and joy, birth and death, coming out the other side with their heart broken open and their worldview shifted.”

The trailer powerfully shows the scale of the problem and suffering caused to wildlife as a result of marine debris. The albatrosses mistake plastic pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs. The photography of Chris Jordan shows this better than any words can properly describe. Have you ever seen a more tragic example of our impact on the natural world?

But it is not just birdlife that suffers. Marine debris can be very harmful to all marine life. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish which they then mistakenly eat.

Many marine mammals are especially at risk from “ghost gear” with abandoned fishing gear turning oceans into death traps for sea animals.

plastic-pollution-seal-trappedCoastal Care

 

World Animal Protection highlight that around 640,000 tons of gear is discarded annually resulting in at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales being killed each year. Animals that fall victim to ghost gear become entangled. Some, the “lucky ones,” may either drown within minutes. The unlucky victims can endure long, slow & painful deaths that can last for months and years, suffering from debilitating wounds, infection and starvation.

Even the smallest creatures in the sea are affected. Microplastics and other trash block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below the surface. In a previous article, we highlighted the importance of plankton to the ecosystem as an important source of food for other sea creatures but also as ecological sponges for carbon. So it goes without saying that the impacts of the plastic soup can have enormous unseen impacts to the planet.

How You Can Help End This Monstrosity

Every piece of plastic discarded is directly feeding this monster in the ocean which is acting like a cancerous clot determined to destroy every living thing in its path. We have to act to stop this. So what is the chemotherapy for this manmade cancer?

Check out the Sea Change campaign from World Animal Protection and do everything you can to spread to the word and support them. Share the Midway trailer with your friends, family and contacts. Check out this list of ten things you can do to help save the ocean. And most important of all, purge plastic from your life. Click here to learn how.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.

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Lead image source: Paul Williams/Flickr



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30 comments on “How the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Destroying the Oceans and the Future for Marine Life”

Click to add comment
Karen Shaw
8 Months Ago

I cannot believe that someone isn't trying to clean this up...maybe the oil companies need to be required to since petroleum is the base for plastic...The ocean has always been the human dumping ground, but the plastics are just as deadly as the chemicals.


Reply
Stela Maricic
8 Months Ago

What people are capable to do just for dirty money and profit truly disgusted me! Can't believe that human race is so horrible ignorant to not to understand that when Oceans will die, the human population will die too ! Save the Oceans !


Reply
Genevieve Dee Wiedenhoeft
8 Months Ago

IT'S BEEN USED AS A DUMP FOR A HUNDRED YEARS, THAT IS HOW IT HAS GOTTEN THIS BAD.


Reply
Sholeh Bousheri
8 Months Ago

K, I'll help clean it up. Come get me. I'll need a vegan diet and a place to study on the boat. Or, I'll have to put together a team when I graduate college.


Reply
Don Ronaldo
8 Months Ago

yes for this i promote to built Eco Blocs with gypsum and woodchips to put PET Bottles inside,,see http://magic-plaster.blogspot.com


Reply
Kate Williams
8 Months Ago

Would we care more if this was occurring beneath the Golden Gate Bridge instead of thousands of miles away? This is what a "disposable society" builds...


Reply
Mary Kay Duffy
8 Months Ago

my heart breaks every day over these kinds of posts. I haven't had bottled water in 20+ years, and practice re-use, recycle, reduce, but to little avail. A young man told me recently when I asked him why he didn't care: It hasn't touched my life yet. geeesh, the ignorance.


Reply
Petra Glenn
8 Months Ago

yes and now we got all this poison from Brasil In the atlantic Ozean...


Reply
Jen Lacola
8 Months Ago

Awful


Reply
Laura Fischler
8 Months Ago

Support the banning of plastic bottles. Their caps are also seriously damaging. Stop buying them too... Its a start in the right direction.


Reply


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