Oceans of Garbage

August 17th, 2006

Stomach Contents, Albatross, Midway IslandTurtle Caught in a Ghost Net

The largest dump in the world isn’t outside New York or London or Shanghai but in a desolate stretch of the Pacific Ocean nearly a thousand miles from the nearest island. Held together by a slowly rotating system of currents northeast of Hawaii, the Eastern Garbage Patch is more than just a few floating plastic bottles washed out to sea; the Patch is a giant mass of trash-laden water nearly double the size of Texas.

The Eastern Garbage Patch is just the most obvious manifestation of the amount of pollution filling the seas. Even though seventy percent of plastic items will eventually sink, the UNEP estimates there are 46,000 pieces of marine debris for every square mile of all the world’s oceans. Nearly four fifths of this garbage has been carried from litter on land, washed into storm drains, or floated down rivers.

The problem, of course, is plastic and its nearly complete resistance to the elements. Able to last indefinitely in seawater, plastics will continue to plague the Eastern Pacific long after new solutions have been adopted on land.

The LA Times’ five-part series on pollution in the ocean.

Related Posts: Designing Against Bycatch, Seafood Watch, Exportation and Explotation of E-Waste

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Update: I wasn’t able to find a good picture of the Garbage Patch itself, instead falling back on the visual consequences to marine wildlife seen above. As for maps, Google Earth seems to focus on undersea geography instead of surface events.

Update: Link to a kmz illustrating Part 4 of 5 of “Altered Oceans” anyway.—ed. Jessica

Update: Congrats to the L.A. Times which won a Pulitzer Prize for its story, including coverage of the Eastern Garbage Patch. Meanwhile, Digg.com users have marked the article as possibly innaccurate.