The Garbage Patch is brought together by the ocean currents, fueled by the uneven warming of the earth which is created by the rotation of the planet. Currents are further affected by numerous different factors including wind and differences in depth across the floor of the ocean.
A combination of the Western Garbage Patch (near Japan) and the Eastern Garbage Patch (between Hawaii and California) create The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The great garbage patch lives in the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone where the warm, South Pacific water meets the cold, Arctic water, linking the two piles of garbage together and creating a thoroughfare for the debris.
The four different current interactions: California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro, and North Pacific, create clockwise currents that encompass 7.7 million square miles of still ocean in the convergence zone.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not an island of trash as some may imagine. The majority of the debris in the garbage patch is nearly invisible microplastics, or tiny pieces of plastic that cause the water to appear cloudy. Mixed in with the microplastics are pieces of trash.
Additionally, more trash is being discovered under the surface of the water. Oceanographers and ecologist have estimated that 70% of debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Although it is impossible to scientifically estimate the size or mass of any garbage patch due to the movement of the ocean’s water, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is said to be roughly twice the size of Texas.
Where does the trash come from?
- 80% comes from humans on land
- 20% comes from humans on offshore vessels
By 2050 plastic production is estimated to quadruple to 100 million tons – its only been 76 years since plastic was first produced
136,000 seals, sea lions, and whales are killed each year from abandoned fishing gear (World Animal Protection)
Layson Albatross are the most affected by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because they primarily feed off of the surface of the water. Midway Island in the Pacific contains multiple thousand Albatross carcasses are found stuffed with plastic.
As marine life ingests more and more plastic, the toxins work their way up the food chain and eventually into humans.
Scientists estimate a 6:1 ratio of plastic to plankton.
6 kilograms of plastic for every 1 kilogram of plankton (Charles Moore).
The plastic and garbage block the sunlight from the plankton and algae, reducing the amount carbon these organisms can absorb.