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Pollution - The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Updated on March 8, 2013

Sometimes, it takes a little fiction to bring some truth into your life. Yesterday, I received a little bit of the factual fiction through a book I am reading. I am a Bond-a-holic; love James Bond. My favorite movie of the Bond series is Goldfinger, and the line "No Mister Bond, I expect you to die!" ranks right there with "Frankly Scarlet I don't give a damn!" as one of the greatest lines ever in the film industry.

Back to my reading. I am currently about 2/3 of the way through Jeffery Deaver's Bond novel Carte Blanche. It has been a good read so far, full of intrigue and action. I have heard it is in the running as a possible Bond movie. In the book, a statement was made regarding the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the fact that there is four times as much plastic in the Pacific Ocean as there is zooplankton. I could not believe that statement, even for fiction; so I rushed to the computer and searched Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

There it was.

Real. An identified portion of the ocean that is full of garbage. Reputed to be twice the size of Texas.

Let me say that one more time for effect: Twice the size of Texas. Other reports put it as large as twice the size as the continental United States, or roughly 8% of the entire Pacific Ocean.

A floating mat of trash in the Pacific Ocean. Now, lest you picture a solid mass of floating debris, that is not what it is. Instead, it is a portion of the ocean that holds a higher than normal amount of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, or currents. It is not visible to satellite imagery, rather it resides in the water column as submerged particles. The plastics break down to smaller polymers and the area is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris is significantly higher than average.

In August of 2009, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography dompleted a survey during the Project Kaisei in which they discovered plastic debris in 100 consecutive samples taken by nets of varying size and depths along a 1,700 mile path throughout the patch. 1,700 miles of travel, dipping the nets into different locations and depths, and they found significant debris in every single one of them. Imagine driving halfway across the country and at every stop you check the water or air and find it contaminated with something harmful.

Oh wait, you can. Sorry.

The concentration is the greatest near the surface, and as it disintegrates it becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms (I assume this means fish and the like), and in this manner it becomes part of the food chain. What does it contain? Toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCB's, and polystyrene.

Bisphenol A was used to make baby bottles, water bottles, and sports equipment. It is banned for use in baby bottles now in Europe, Canada, and the United States, although it is still in use for water bottles.

PCB's are in coolant fluids, and is used in transformers, capacitors, and electric motors. It was banned in 1979 in the U.S. and by the Stockhom Convention in 2001. All it does is cause cancer, such as non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Polystyrene is used in CD and DVD cases, and also in food containers such as clam shells, bottles, and plastic cutlery. How long will it last? Hundreds of years. It does not readily break down, and is resistant to photolysis.

Now, its effect on the animal life. Near the Midway Atoll, there live some 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses. Virtually all of them have plastic in their digestive system. Out of the approximately 1/3 of the chicks that die, almost all were due to being fed plastic by their parents. Even jellyfish will ingest the debris, and they themselves are consumed by larger fish, thus allowing the pollutants to enter the food chain that ultimately leads to Man.

Now, for more bad news. The Pacific is not alone in having its very own floating garbage dump. The North Atlantic Garbage Patch exists, and while not as large as the Pacific Patch, it has been around longer. It was first documented in 1972, and at present measures hundreds of kilometers across with a density of over 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometer.

What do we do about it? Well, I guess we can do what we as humans are best at, and just ignore it, hoping it will go away. It won't. It will continue to grow and grow until at some point it might even take on an actual density sufficient to stand on. Then it will become an island of trash. Who knows; maybe we will find a solution to the prisoner issue, and ban all law breakers to the Island of Trash like England did with Australia, thereby placing them out of sight, out of mind.

Or, we can learn and take an active measure to reduce and eliminate and recycle. Why throw something like a plastic water bottle into the trash when we know it will not disintegrate for hundreds or thousands of years? Oh yeah: we don't care. Or at least some don't. I do. My family does. We all should. But that "outta sight, outta mind" mentality persists, and until it floats up to our shores, or begins to accumulate on our doorsteps, America won't actively do anything about it. We will voluntarily try to reduce our waste, we will recycle some things, while others are deemed non-recyclable. And we will continue to trash our planet, our oceans, and all the while we are lowly killing ourselves and the other inhabitants of this world.

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    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you Pearl for the comment and the share. We have to care more because of those who won't, so every little bit helps.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Mr Archer, I am definitely sharing this article. We who do care have a duty to harp and harp on it until those that don't care get so tired of hearing it, they will FINALLY do something about it.

      It's apathy, big business and big money that rules this world, unfortunately. Until they all start caring about the planet instead of all the money they can make from poisoning it, nothing will change. As you say, it will just become bigger.

      Voted this awesome hub Way Up++ and will share

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you young lady! I agree, we all need to be more aware of our surroundings and realize that what we do affects so many others.

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      I have known about this floating garbage dump for a few years. It amazes me this is not in the news everyday! Great hub and I will share this as the whole wold really needs this information!

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      We went for a drive just a couple of days ago along a local river. The water is up from snowmelt and the banks are littered with plastic, paper, bottles, and other trash. I just do not understand why people cannot think beyond the end of their driveway. I too remember those piles of cigarette butts, and other waste not worth the time to dispose of properly. Thanks for the read and the comment. Help to spread the word!

    • pagesvoice profile image

      Dennis L. Page 4 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Voted up, useful and interesting. Thank you for this informative, although rather depressing article. It is a depressing read because of the lack of care some have regarding our planet. I do think many more people are taking a proactive role regarding recycling and trying not to create as much waste as we once did.

      As a child I remember those long Sunday drives and looking out the window only to be assaulted by nothing but litter on the sides of highways. Remember when people would open their car doors and dump out an entire ashtray of cigarette butts? I don't see that happening too often anymore...thankfully.

      I get so disgusted walking the shoreline of Lake Ontario in late spring. The are is nothing but plastic and junk that was washed ashore during the winter months. It truly is a sad sight.

      We are firm believers in recycling. Everything from batteries, to cell phones and paper, cardboard, bottles, cans and plastic.

      I hope your hope strikes a nerve for some so that they too can start to make a difference.

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Absolutely April! I love it. We definitely need to get the word out to those who can help to make a difference in our world. Thank you!!!

    • April Reynolds profile image

      April Reynolds 4 years ago from Arizona

      well written, the word needs to get out and people need to care. May I link this to my hub "the earth is not our garbage dump" ? It's about the garbage in the caribbean.

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you Rolly. Yes, we should be ashamed. If we do not change something, the illnesses will continue and before we know it, it will be too late.

      Tina and I went to the recycle center today, and there were a lot of people there. We took our plastics, cardboard, glass, aluminum, and tin cans and patiently stood in line at each location, waiting to place our items into the bins. We even found a couple of books, like James A Michener's Iberia. Take care and Recycle America!

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi Mr Archer... thank you for sharing this with us. What a shame to think of what we have done to our world. Is it any wonder we have so much sickness.

      Hugs and Blessings

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      I would recycle those bottles too. Usually a nickel apiece or so, but with a little bit of work we had some spending money. Maybe that's what we need; some kind of a surcharge or incentive to recycle. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Well that's disgusting. And sad. Thankfully, so many communities now offer curbside recycling. I remember when they charged a deposit for glass bottles. People still used to throw them on the ground. But we kids picked them out of the weeds to turn in. We'd make enough money to buy a soda or candy!

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Glad to help, Mike. Spread the word.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Had no idea about this; thanks for sharing.

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Another thing I was unaware of. How long will we treat this planet this way? Thanks for the stop and comment, cheaptrick. Best to you!

    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 4 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      There's also a river of trash that follows the Gulf Stream.You can actually navigate along it.We've sailed through it many times.The staining of my boats hull was so deep there was no scrubbing it off.I have to paint the hull every year to cover it.

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you Cam, I appreciate your comments and thoughts. We recycle, but there are somethings that are just not accepted. If more would do something we might put a dent in the problem. Thanks for the posting on your fb page, I really appreciate that. Stay safe.

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thanks Eddy. Share it and maybe we'll make a difference.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Oh so interesting and useful; I hope many take heed ;I vote up,across and share.

      Eddy.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Mike, I appreciate what you have written here. It does bother me, and I am committed to doing more than I do now, which consists of recycling everything possible. But I do accept things like plastic clam shell containers for restaurant leftovers and I will buy an occasional plastic bottle of some kind of drink. I've posted this article on my fb page dedicated to freelance writers. Great article. http://www.facebook.com/cam8510

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      I remember the old Indian Iron Eyes Cody sitting on a horse beside the highway looking at all the trash and the cars flying by, and that single tear rolling down his face. That was the first time I thought about what we as a race were doing to our world. We have certainly come a long ways, but we most definitely still have a long ways to go. Thank you Bill.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mike, while I was reading this I was thinking back to when I was a kid. My folks would toss stuff out of the car while driving. Then if we were on a boat fishing my dad would toss empties into the bay. I think of that and just shake my head. We really have come a long way with regards to recycling, but as a society we have a very long way to go for this planet.