The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Microplastics’ can kill pelicans, fish, and other wildlife that mistakes them for food. All of those hastily discarded plastic water bottles start to add up. Thousands of miles off the coast of California, millions of tons of plastic make up the socalled “Great Pacific Garbage
Patch,” and as it breaks down, it becomes more enticing to the creatures living in the open ocean. “Most of the animals out there are really small, which is why we are more concerned about having millions of tiny pieces of plastic than having a couple of big pieces,” says Miriam Goldstein, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Goldstein’s latest report
released last fortnight (May, 2012), estimates that particles of “micro plastic” pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm in diameter have increased by more than 100 times since the early 1970s. Last year, her team found that nearly 10 percent of fish in the area had eaten plastic. “We know fish, mammals, and birds often mistake pieces of plastic for food,” says Dianna Parker, of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. “We’ve heard of albatross that live in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands found dead with their stomachs full of plastics.” The garbage patch spans hundreds of thousands of square miles—it’s either the size of Texas, or twice the size of the United States. “It’s not really easy to see. The ocean looks like the ocean anywhere else, although you will see larger pieces of trash floating by,” Goldstein says. “But if you put a net in the water, you’ll grab hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of plastic.” There’s little scientists can do to clean up the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch,’ experts say. (Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report).