The Coffee House reported in May about the North Pacific gyre becoming a dead zone for human plastic trash. This is clearly taking hold on the imagination of the public judging by the number of hits received.
People are particularly interested in seeing images of this nightmare but they have proved difficult to find. The Coffee House will endeavour to contact the organisation making these research trips into the Pacific, to see if they can release any suitable photos.
Marieta Francis, the Director of Operations at Algalita Marine Research Foundation has provided The Coffee House with links to image and video. See here.
In the meantime the US government is trying to get a grip on the problem but is clearly struggling. Holly Bamford, an oceanographer and director of the marine debris program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there is some debate as to its size so, it is collecting its own data to assess the area and density.
Bamford added that the agency had attempted to take satellite photos of the area last year, but the overhead photos were inconclusive. “It’s hard to distinguish a whale reaching the surface versus a piece of plastic,” she said.
Still, Bamford said the agency is considering flying unmanned aircraft that can be launched from boats to skim the ocean’s surface and collect data.
But launching the drones is 18 months away, Bamford said. It could be two years before a federal plan is enacted to remove the plastic – if it’s warranted, Bamford said.
“Once we get to that stage, we’d need to ask, ‘If we can remove it, what would be the best way? And what would we do with it afterward? If we collect it, would we bring it back to shore – and then what, put it in a landfill?’ ”
The dramatic growth in plastics use over the past two decades is what distresses activists like Charles Moore. Moore is the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years. The annual production of plastic resin in the United States has roughly doubled in the past 20 years, from nearly 60 billion pounds in 1987 to an estimated 120 billion pounds in 2007, according to a study by the American Chemistry Council, which represents the nation’s largest plastic and chemical manufacturers.
Keith Cristman, a senior director of packaging at the American Chemistry Council, said the plastics industry is aware of its connection to marine debris and said the council is working with federal and state agencies to put more recycling bins on California beaches in an attempt to stop plastic bottles and bags from making their way to the sea.
At the end of November, Cristman said, the council is co-sponsoring its first marine debris workshop with state and federal agencies.
Cristman said he’d rather see more plastic recycled than production slowed.
“Plastic is a valuable resource,” he said. “It shouldn’t be wasted, it should be recycled.”
Asked if the council would assist in any cleanup of the Garbage Patch if the federal government called on it, Cristman said, “We’re always interested in working with NOAA and the EPA.”
Moore said his crew had collected new data that suggested more plastic is entering the gyre, yet he was hesitant to elaborate until he finalized the research.
“The ocean is downhill from everywhere,” Moore said. “It’s like a toilet that never flushes. You can’t take these particles out of the ocean. You can just stop putting them in.”