As World Oceans Day approaches on June 8th, it's time to really think about what's going on in our world's seas and waterways. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a problem of such massive proportion, it's hard to even comprehend.
If you haven't already read about this daunting mess in the Pacific, here's what you should know about it. Also known as the Pacific trash vortex, this meandering cloud of marine debris spans from Japan to the West Coast of North America.
There are actually two known areas of the Patch, the Eastern Garbage Patch located between Hawaii and California, and the Western Garbage Patch located near Japan. Marine debris is essentially litter that ends up in the ocean and much of this litter is made up of plastic particles, which never fully biodegrade, EVER.
They don't break down like other materials, they simply break into smaller and smaller pieces until they become like a murky soup in the ocean. In addition, fishing gear and nets that are dropped off of fishing boats and even random items like Legos and shoes that fall off of container ships make up a large portion of the Patch.
And even more frightening is the fact that much of this debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean, jeopardizing marine life in almost every square inch of the sea. No one knows exactly how much marine debris is in our oceans; the problem is just too vast to even measure.
Items such as plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic bottle caps, and Styrofoam cups/containers are the biggest threat to our oceans and other large bodies of water. Various types of marine life often mistake certain plastics for food, which in turn causes them to ingest these plastics and, as a result, either die of ruptured organs or starvation.
Plastic fishing nets are a huge problem as many types of fish and ocean mammals get entangled in discarded nets and die of strangulation or become trapped and unable to forage for food.
Another issue is the fact that these plastic particles collect on the surface of the ocean and block sunlight from reaching the algae and plankton, which rely on the sun's rays in order to produce their nourishment. Sea turtles and other animals that feed on the algae and plankton will face starvation and extinction as their food source diminishes.
This interruption in the marine food chain can cause catastrophic consequences for the entire marine ecosystem. If these fish and turtles who feed on the algae and plankton become extinct, then the larger predators who feed on the smaller marine animals no longer have their sustenance, which then reduces the whole marine population, affecting the human seafood source, making seafood less available and more expensive.
The dangers become even greater when the plastics that are floating in our oceans leach out harmful chemicals, which enter the human food chain via seafood, exposing humans to all sorts of toxins.
To say that the notion of cleaning up the marine debris in our oceans is daunting is an understatement. It's virtually impossible to begin to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because of the sheer size of the ocean and the unknown scope of the marine debris.
Furthermore, there are no nets that can capture these tiny plastic particles without also bringing valuable sea life and plants along with them. Without question, the most effective way to address this issue is to reduce or eliminate use of all plastic items in our everyday lives.
Utilizing reusable items, such as reusable water bottles; items that can be recycled after multiple uses, such as glass items; and biodegradable materials whenever possible is the way we can all make a difference. This problem is overwhelming, for sure, but if we can all make an effort to reduce any wasteful habits we may be hanging on to, we can contribute to the solution.