There are 5 major ocean gyres: The Indian Ocean Gyre, the North Atlantic Gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre, and the South Pacific Gyre. The India Ocean Gyre contains the Indian Ocean Garbage patch, and the North Atlantic Gyre contains the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, which is equal to the North Pacific Garbage Patch.
Marine debris is accumulated through the ocean's currents. Experts speculate that the formation of the Garbage Patch began during World War II, when the manufacturing and usage of plastics exponentially increased. People then started to throw out plastics in unsustainable ways, creating the Plastic Paradise.
The Great Pacific Garbage was actually discovered in 1997, by Captain Charles J. Moore. Moore and his crew were on their way back to Southern California after finishing a Transpacific sailing race. It was in the North Pacific Gyre where they first saw the island of garbage.
“So on the way back to our home port in Long Beach, California, we decided to take a shortcut through the gyre, which few seafarers ever cross. Fishermen shun it because its waters lack the nutrients to support an abundant catch. Sailors dodge it because it lacks the wind to propel their sailboats.
Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.
It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. Months later, after I discussed what I had seen with the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, perhaps the world's leading expert on flotsam, he began referring to the area as the Eastern Garbage Patch.” – Captain Charles J. Moore
Research done by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, shows that the volume of the plastic debris in this patch has increased by at least 100 times over the past 40 years.
A study done by the UN Environment Program in 2006 revealed that every square mile of the affected areas in the ocean contains about 46,000 floating pieces of plastic.
(Source: The Ocean Conservancy)
According to scientist Charles Moore, this “Garbage Island” will likely double in size within the next ten years.
Some interesting facts about the PGB:
• 7 million tons of weight
• Twice the size of Texas
• Up to 9 feet deep
• In the Great Pacific Ocean Gyre there is 6 times more plastic than plankton, which the main food for many ocean animals
• By estimation 80% of the plastic originates from land; floating in rivers to the ocean or blew by the wind into the ocean
• The remaining 20% of the plastic originates from oil platforms and ships
• According scientist it is the largest plastic dump on earth; so plastic patches are larger than waste dumps on land
• Debris found in any region of the ocean can easily be ingested by marine species causing choking, starvation, and other impairments
The story of stuff project has estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
So.. What can be done?
Mainly, there needs to be a global reduction in plastic use.
Many countries around the world have started phasing out single use plastic items. For example, plastic bags at the grocery store
Try to adapt a zero waste lifestyle
Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Replace lights bulbs with CFL bulbs
Turn down your water heater down a couple of degrees
Buy local, sustainable food
Adapt a vegetarian lifestyle
Turn off the water faucet while brushing teeth
Pick up urban beekeeping
Carpool whenever possible
Use up-cycled rags instead of paper towels
Some websites to check out for more information!