The Myth Of The Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

Russell McLendon brings something important to light here. Amidst the search for the wreckage of the fatal airplane crash of Air France flight 447, authorities thought they were finding pieces of the jet. Upon further investigation though, they determined what they were finding was good ol’ ocean trash, and not parts of the plane. Though this was in the Atlantic, Russell McLendon decided to dig deep into the myth of the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

Do your part – if you see some trash on the beach, pick it up. Don’t just let it sit there only to greet you the next time you’re in the lineup.

That ‘convergence zone’ is where the patch is believed to be living.

As reported by Russell McLendon on

The mistake highlighted a worldwide problem: marine debris, most of it plastic, that begins in human hands but ends up in the ocean, often inside animals’ stomachs or around their necks. Reports about these “garbage patches” have been trickling in for years, but they’ve picked up steam recently. While the Air France mix-up took place in the Atlantic — and these nebulous, tangled trash heaps are showing up all around the globe — the poster child for plastic pollution remains the sprawling Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest dump.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has sometimes been described as a “trash island,” but that’s a misconception, says Holly Bamford, director of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. If only things were that simple.

“We could just go out there and scoop up an island,” Bamford says. “If it was one big mass, it would make our jobs a whole lot easier.”
Instead, it’s like a galaxy of garbage, populated by billions of smaller trash islands that may be hidden underwater or spread out over many miles. That can make it maddeningly difficult to study — Bamford says we still don’t know how big the garbage patch is, despite the oft-cited claim that it’s as big as Texas.
“You see these quotes that it’s the size of Texas, then it’s the size of France, and I even heard one description of it as a continent,” she says. “That alone should lend some concern that there’s not consistency in our idea of its size. It’s these hot spots, not one big mass. Maybe if you added them all up it’s the size of Texas, but we still don’t know. It could be bigger than Texas.”

While there’s still much we don’t understand about the garbage patch, we do know that most of it’s made of plastic.

Earth has five or six major oceanic gyres — huge spirals of seawater formed by colliding currents — but one of the largest is the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, filling most of the space between Japan and California. The upper part of this gyre, a few hundred miles north of Hawaii, is where warm water from the South Pacific crashes into cooler water from the north. Known as the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, this is also where the trash collects.

Bamford refers to the convergence zone as a “trash superhighway” because it ferries plastic rubbish along an elongated, east-west corridor that links two spinning eddies known as the Eastern Garbage Patch and the Western Garbage Patch. The whole system collectively makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
It may take several years for debris to reach this area, depending where it’s coming from. Plastic can be washed from the interiors of continents to the sea via sewers, streams and rivers, or it might simply wash away from the coast. Either way, it can be a six- or seven-year journey before it’s spinning around in the garbage patch. On the other hand, fishing nets and steel containers are often dropped right in with the rest of the trash.
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For more on the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, head to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program here.