Plastic. We all know it well. We all use it. Our oceans know it well too. The dead zones within oceans are becoming plastic junk yards where 100’s of miles of plastic crap can be found. Not fresh oceans producing a fresh catch of fish for your family’s dinner. No, instead you may have to rely on serving up a meal of oily plastic. Well, at least it would be colourful.
The North Pacific subtropical high—the big “H” on weather maps— protects Southern California’s enviable weather by pushing storms north or south. The H is the eye of a circle of currents thousands of miles wide called the North Pacific gyre. The high’s weak winds and sluggish currents naturally collect flotsam, earning it the unfortunate nickname of the “Eastern Garbage Patch.” Similar wind and current patterns exist in all the major oceans, and all presumably suffer from similar contamination.
Because most plastics are lighter than seawater, they float on the surface for years, slowly breaking down into smaller and smaller fragments—which often end up in the ocean’s drifting, filter-feeding animals, like jellyfish.
A gentleman from California, Charles Moore, has sailed his research vessel through these plastic junk yards for 100s of miles, never to find their end.
And just in case you were thinking its only a problem for the Pacific Ocean here’s a very good article about the Atlantic Ocean, from another sailing researcher; Sailing on a sea of plastic.
Update: (31/10/07) For the latest report on the Pacific gyre trash zone click here.