Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, the Continent of Garbage

A New Continent

There is a new continent in the Pacific Ocean.

Actually it has been forming for years. It was documented in the 1950s. It is larger now - by some reports it is twice the size of Texas... and growing. The most amazing thing of all is the substance of the island. Can you guess what it is made of?

Plastic. Trash. Junk. Mountains of trash that has not (and will not) biodegraded is trapped in an area roughly 10 million square miles in size... Ten MILLION square miles.The North Pacific Gyre is an area of swirling currents moving in a clockwise pattern that all the major ocean currents lead into. Think of it as an aquatic roundabout in heavy traffic- very difficult to get off of. Over time the plastics and trash that have been intentionally and accidentally (remember the Nike sneaker wash of 1990?) dumped into our oceans have journeyed to the North Pacific Gyre and it remains there. Accumulating at an alarming rate, it is literally forming a continent made of trash.

Map by Paricia J. Wynne
Map by Paricia J. Wynne

The Problem of Plastic

Plastic does not biodegrade but it does break down into smaller and smaller pieces. The material in the Pacific Gyre is breaks down into tiny particles of plastic "sand". If you were to travel to the area you would find plastics and trash in various stages of breaking down, from the plastic rings that hold soda cans together to the tiniest pieces of colorful plastic dancing in the current.

Apparently the mass of the plastic particles is six times more than the amount of the natural plankton in the area. This large expanse of ocean is becoming more and more unhealthy and less and less navigable. Currently the plastic is found at depths of up to 30 meters. It is literally creating a landmass.

But that's still not all.

Deadly to Marine Life

Green Peace estimates that a million sea birds a year die form ingesting plastics. The plastic fills their stomachs, they can't digest it and they die, slow agonizing deaths by starvation with full bellies. Sea turtles mistake floating shopping bags for jellyfish, and even the small single celled creatures that act as natural filters for the water have been discovered with colorful flecks of plastic in their transparent bodies. One soda bottle can break down in enough small particles to leave one on every beach in the world!

Why is this a problem? Read on!

The plastic as it breaks down releases large amounts of toxic substances into the water of the Pacific ocean. Whatever might have originally been stored in the plastic: DDT, PCBs, other oils and pollutants, is all released into the water as the plastic breaks down.

Anyone hungry for some fresh, wild caught Pacific Salmon?

Sailing Around the Vortex

In 1998 Charles Moore and his crew sailed through the vortex about 1,000 miles, and using fine mesh net the crew sampled the water at different levels for plastics and plankton. He wrote that every day, as far as the eye could see, plastics and trash floated and bobbed in the waves.

The estimate is that there is 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean in this area.

Plastic in the Open Ocean

The Solution

In one way there isn't one. All of that plastic cannot be cleaned out of the ocean, ever. Scientists say that the only possible way to improve the situation is to reduce and even eliminate the use of plastics. Even if everyone totally stopped using it now the plastics all ready on Trash Island would stull be there in a thousand years. If society stopped using it now, thousands of pieces of plastic would still sink to the bottom of the ocean and disrupt the fragile ecosystems there.

In 2001 the average American used over 200 lbs of plastic. A large percentage of that was not recycled.

Future scientists will be able to recognize the twentieth century by a layer of colorful plastics in the layers of earth they dig through. Ocean currents will continue to deposit the trash into the vortex as long as we continue to be irresponsible with the earth. However, by being ecologiclaly responsible we can keep the problem from getting worse.

Practical Steps to Take

It always starts with the small things. Here are a few practical steps you can take.

1. Use canvas bags to shop.

2. Take your own mug to Starbucks.

3. Recycle plastic as much as you can.

4. Use glass and other recyclable materials when possible.

5. Limit the amout of things you buy that are encased in plastic.

6. Continue to educate yourself on the issue and be aware of new information as it is released.

7. Let others know - share the information that you have.

By taking steps to change the habits that contribute to pollution of all kinds, society can make a difference in the future health of the eco-system.

More by this Author


Comments 55 comments

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

When I was in the navy 25 years ago, we used to routinely dump our garbage over the stern when the bridge would sound the order. This occurred frequently in the Indian Ocean, so your report about the continent of garbage does not surprise me. I have been told that this practice has since been stopped, but it might be too little too late.


john doe 4 years ago

WE NEED TO USE MORE GLASS AND SHOP AT LOCAL FARMS


Summer 4 years ago

It is great I like it


Michelle 4 years ago

I just think that garbage in the ocean is just wrong all the animals that are dying is just sad because of that island


5 years ago

so... what did greenpeace do?


Dr Rockpile profile image

Dr Rockpile 5 years ago from USA

I've heard of this garbage patch. So sad. :(


sara 5 years ago

ver interesting


Dennis Tobin 5 years ago

How about looking into cleaning this mess up. I have a few ideas on how to cleanup this and pay for for itself. of course all hands will be paid adquility. the rest will be Non-Profit.Unless you can up with all the needed equipment,seasoned crew and funding You will not need me. but upon my 30+ years on and around my travles upon the ocean .I know a few this as to how mother ocean works This could and should work.I hope to you A.S.A.P


camdjohnston12 profile image

camdjohnston12 5 years ago

So true! Great hub.


romdimar 5 years ago

I think those plastic product companies and the producers of its raw materials must help to clean up the mess and garbages of this sort wherever it could be found in our planet earth. This is our home and so it must be kept tidy. Should they fail to shoulder the responsibility, then the maker of this home will act against them in the future-Revelation 11:18.


kenra hoover 5 years ago

i only learned of the plastic situation that we have,last night.I believe we could take some advise the Indian's,gave us, to respect the earth,to give back what we have used,that we own nothing on this earth,we use it,and give it back,at our death.Where do we put old apliances,and computers,I bet that's a scary sight also.Please show pictures since they do speak volume;s,we as humans and Americans need the shock factor.The company's need to also be held accountable ,better ways to manufacture products using plastic.The grocery store's should not provide plasic bags and make it known the customer needs to bring there canvas bags,which could save the store money.Also and imbose a fine for not sparating plastic items.This may seem harsh but it work;s.


Ian 5 years ago

I m not sure if being skeptical means not being able to read and listen to the material that u r given. For the most part the plastic is very heavy, so its actually under the water like 20 or 30 meters for you yanks its like 60 to 90 feet below the surface of the ocean.

We all need to reform our terrible ways and not be so shortsighted. Clean up is possible and in hopefully my lifetime I will see change. To give up now is to doom our species in the name of the american dream. recycle reuse and stop buying all the crap that we don t need.


Kenyyatta Jones 6 years ago

I am saddened at this attrocity and how we go on to allow it to exist. God is not pleased, and we will eventually see more of the aftermath if we do not be mindful of this carelessness! Lets try to do something each day to improve upon our terrible actions, so this will not, someday, be in our own backyards.


MN 6 years ago

WOW! i cant believe that its twice the size of texas! how horrifying it must be for the fish! we really ought to do something about this! PRONTO!


Harvel 6 years ago

Hats off to Ron Lund. After four and a half billion years of evolution humans have managed to do more harm to our very fragile planet in the last 200 years than is even imaginable. For such an intelligent species humans are undoubtedly the most ignorant,stupid creatures ever to inhabit this wonderful planet. I personally welcome that asteroid.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 6 years ago from Long Island, NY

In a 1999 published study by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation reported that there were 6 times more plastic than plankton in the North Pacific Gyre. This is three times greater than noted in their reports ten years earlier.


immab profile image

immab 6 years ago from Long Island, NY!

this is insane. do you think we can one day extract pieces of this plastic land-form and recycle them?


michelle 6 years ago

lets use less water nd things


BNN 6 years ago

Has anyone even seen a picture or actually seen this mountain?


HNH 9 6 years ago

OMG! That's really, really, terrible. I agree, everyone should know about this. Everyone should take action on it. Also, mabe factories and other people could find a material that is strong enough to hold items, and animals can digest it. Then, throwing grocery bags into the ocean wouldn't do as much harm as it is now. In addition, like Maddy said 20 hours before me, we should take a big boat and just scoop up all of the trash - but both of those ideas are probably easier said then done...


Maddy 6 years ago

That is awful! but why can't they build a gigantic boat and ship it out with a huge net attached to it and scoop all the plastic and stuff into the boat or push it to shore so it can be recycled?? would that work?


Brody Evans 6 years ago

couldn't we like clean all of it up put it on a big ars rocket and shoot it at the sun and all of it burn up?


RyanSAS 6 years ago

Another adverse side effect of course from the production or change in production of biodegradable plastics is that they must be produced from food crops that as we saw from the biodegradable fuel era is that they affect global food markets and costs... thus again affecting third world countries... again affecting global policies... taking another 50 years of democratic debates. Humanity is doomed!


FreeHumanBeing 6 years ago

This issue is larger then anything... I wonder why they never talk about this... Its because they are trying to bankrupt the population of the earth with ridiculous taxes on carbon....


Set's All Set profile image

Set's All Set 6 years ago from New England

"How about we simply make biodegradeble plastic?"

Because plastic never truly biodegrades. It just breaks up into smaller and smaller particles of plastic, it doesn't get converted to different materials.

Wrong. Scientists have already discovered a nylon-eating bacteria. Just as plastics came from this earth, nature will find a way to break it down or cope with it. Keep polluting fellas.


Shannon 6 years ago

Just to think of how much crap we all throw away is sickening and to know that all that plastic is in the oceans and in lakes, rivers and on the ground makes me sad. I have been livin by the three R's (reduce, reuse, recycle) for 12 years and wish more people would to.


Derrick 6 years ago

I guess the only real solution would be to dragnet the area with a fine enough net to get all the plastic. of course, that would pick up every living thing in the net too, but it sounds like only the lowest food chain animals will survive there anyway due to the plastic. we might have to consider the area lost at somepoint and attempt to reclaim it.


Flossie62 6 years ago

I think we need to wake up as human beings and think about what we are doing to this planet and to each other!

Ok well we know the rubbish is there?? Who the hell is going to clean it up? Is it going to stay there so it will be a story to tell on Oprah and the internet? Or are all the countries who contributed to it thinking of ways to clear it up? Oh by the way, the other oceans need not be left out...they seem to be polluted also.

Humans have not been on this earth that long, look at what we have done to it in that short time. Look what we are doing to each other.

I like to think I am a positive person, lets all go into the New Year getting things right.


John 6 years ago

The plastic in the world's oceans is indeed a problem, but you are doing a real disservice to the cause by overstating it as you (and many others) have. Do a google search on the subject to see where you've gone off the rails. There's no visible island, let alone a continent, and the plastics absorb hazardous chemicals more than they leach them. Don't "Algore" out on me, man.


green freaks 6 years ago

I joined green peace when I was drunk at livestock in florida in the 80's but this sounds load a load of chrap to me.Instead of worrying about this,why don't we worry about the travisties that happen to humans in Africa and China that are being abused everyday and don't even get me started about the middle east.If you want to save the world, then first save the people of the world and then woory about this fake continent in the Pacific.People are so nieve and if I told you that the sky was falling would you believe that also.Wake up and get edjucated about what's going on in this world.As my grandfather said believe nothing of what you read and half of what you see son.


ross flecknoy 7 years ago

um pictures please???


Stephanie 7 years ago

Unfortunately, this information is very misleading! I absolutely believe we should do everything we can to fight pollution, but we need to be truthful. The implication here is that there is some huge pile of floating plastic out in the Pacific ocean (eg. "continent", "island", and "mountains of trash"). This simply isn't true. But the truth is disturbing enough. There IS a large expanse in the Pacific Ocean that contains a high concentration of very ,very small pieces of suspended plastic. This IS disturbing, but they are not visible from satelite, plane, or even boats (well maybe a small one, if you look real hard). That's why there aren't any pictures (or islands, mountains ,or continents). I hope we can find a solution to our pollution problems, but let's be truthful!


Ron Lund 7 years ago

Well...........everybody. We can make all the comments we want about how horrible the plastic situation has gotten, but I think the only real answer to this is for mother nature to cleanse the planet once again with a good sized asteroid like it did 65 million years ago. Man does not deserve to exist here with his atittude.


jaybojas profile image

jaybojas 7 years ago

wow, im from the pacific ocean and have no idea about the plastic thingy. very informative. Thank you and nice hub.


katelyn 7 years ago

wow really interesting thanks helped a lot with my school project i did n't know it was that bad


RomerianReptile profile image

RomerianReptile 7 years ago

"How about we simply make biodegradeble plastic?"

Because plastic never truly biodegrades. It just breaks up into smaller and smaller particles of plastic, it doesn't get converted to different materials.


Eric 7 years ago

2 points I would like to make.

from the article...

The Solution

In one way there isn't one. All of that plastic cannot be cleaned out of the ocean.

"Tell me why we cannot get ships out there to start picking this crap up and burning it? OK it will take an effort by the nations to donate ships cranes manpower etc. and it may take years and decades but at least the effort will be being made. And for bigger thinkers maybe we could start thinking about compacting this stuff and sending it into space."

Scientists say that the only solution is to reduce, even eliminate our use of plastics.

"How about we simply make biodegradeble plastic? We already can make it they just don't want too because they don't want containers decomposing with all the headaches that that could produce. Well tough make the plastic to start degrading in say a year and for starters definitely make all things like garbage bags biodegradable in a year or even less and if in a year someone goes to get a bag in their cupboard and it's already decomposed go buy another one. Small price to pay.".


jake 7 years ago

does anyone know of a group that i could help with this island of trash


jarkarse 7 years ago

I love , Malcolm Latwat, or aka Malcolm "the twat". We are all going to love paying 40% more for many products while the rest of the world keeps right on making and using plastic. Simple minds believe Utopia can be created through government.


Pierre 7 years ago

Although I can't readily find pictures...Where do you think the garbage that gets dumped off of barges daily by the tons really goes to? Atlantis? The Earth's core?


eajk 7 years ago

everyone needs to stop waiting for the government to do something. there are plenty of people with boats and fishing net....can't ANYONE get up and get out there and start DOING something themselves??????


Niki 7 years ago

Really People!?!

This is a hoax if I've ever read one. where are the pictures?


midnightbliss profile image

midnightbliss 7 years ago from Hermosa Beach

this information is saddening. Thanks for posting and helping to increase cosial awareness that our oceans needs our help.


Malcolm Latwat 7 years ago

I have a couple of Ideas i would like to get out there to maybe germinate and affect a change. Governments are affected by the people they govern, many directly through democratic processes, so if the people pressure the governments enough they will have to listen. I would propose two things. One, we should push for a complete ban on the production and use of new plastic. there is more than enough already for the purposes we use it for, and two we should use it as a recyclable resource, to be actually 'mined' from the oceans and the environment for re-use... If society wants plastic they should have no choice but to obtain it from where it has been discarded. Cleaning up the environment would be a business, so the corporations could make their money, while doing a world of good. Literally.


oats 8 years ago

i grow up in the pacific ocean, and this is very sad for me, i think we need to get everybody ready to help, i am currently forming a team from all over americas to help this important situation , please every body help if you can one way or another , rescatame dice el mar. send a comment if your ready to help . peace OATS


solarstories profile image

solarstories 8 years ago from Pacific Northwest

I had no idea how out of control it had gotten. Thank you for posting this!!!


d├ęcor lady 8 years ago

Thanks for this great hub. As caretakers of this world we are definitely falling below the bar on this issue, it just takes someone like you to bring it to the foreground to get enough attention. Great job!


HubSub Urban Mom profile image

HubSub Urban Mom 8 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

As a native Californian who participates in beach clean-ups this makes me sad. Hey fellow Hubbers: When you are at the beach, make sure to pick up all your trash + make it a point to pick up 2-3 pieces that are not your own. You would be amazed at the crap we've found ... right along barefoot 5 year olds playing in the waves.


Evolving1 profile image

Evolving1 8 years ago from United States

Wonderful Hub Marye,

It's sickening to see the results of such collective ignorance. You've done a marvelous job of presenting an issue we can each address, even if only at the personal level in the ways we consume and dispose.


sweetsu 8 years ago

Is it not possible that there is a great mind on this planet who can devise a "plastic magnet"? That is, something that draws plastic to itself without harming the environment. I am not a scientist, biologist, or engineer but it would seem to me that this is possible. Allowing the Pacific Ocean to become increasingly toxic is simply not acceptable.


sunstreeks profile image

sunstreeks 8 years ago from Western Washington

Wow. I had no idea. Very interesting hub. It's not just individual participation that is neccesary. Manufacturers use so much plastic in packaging its ridiculous. Some of the presents my daughter received for christmas had more plastic in the packaging then the toy itself.


Mark Knowles profile image

Mark Knowles 9 years ago

Great Hub. we all need to be worried about this.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 9 years ago from North America

Thank you for this Hub! I was trying to find it again when I wrote about recycling. Thank you Thank you.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

A really useful hub. I knew, generally, that we were dumping trash into the oceans, but I didn't realize it reached such momentous proportions.


Angela Harris profile image

Angela Harris 9 years ago from Around the USA

Wow, I had heard of this but didn't know it was this bad. I take my plastic bags back to the store to reuse them and try to buy products with less packaging. It looks as if I'm going to have to be even more environmentally conscious. Thanks for this startling information.

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