Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why is the world's biggest landfill in the Pacific Ocean?

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre has become clogged with trash. Due to its lack of large fish and gentle breezes, fishermen and sailors rarely travel through the gyre. But the area is filled with something besides plankton: trash, millions of pounds of it, most of it plastic. There are two patches, the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. The western patch is between Hawaii and Japan, while the eastern one is between Hawaii and California. The patches are connected by a thin 6,000-mile long current called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. Research flights showed that significant amounts of trash also accumulate in the Convergence Zone.

Plastic constitutes 90 percent of all trash floating in the world's oceans. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

The main problem with plastic is it doesn't biodegrade. The durability of plastic which makes it attractive to use in products is what makes it not biodegrade. Instead it photodegrades and becomes shards of plastic. The tiny plastic particles can be sucked up by filter feeders and damage their bodies, and in general the plastic enters the food chain of the ocean. The fish are harmed and since we humans consume lots of seafood it will eventually harm us as well.

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