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A Garbage Dump Twice the Size of The US

Somewhere off the coast of California, between Hawaii and Japan lies a vortex of “plastic soup” twice the size of the continental United states. Held together by underwater currents, 100 million tons of “flotsam,” as floating trash is known, “moves around like a big animal without a leash,” according to oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer.

It seems unlikely that such an enormous mass would have gone unnoticed by science until fairly recently. Yet, the flotsam evaded satellite imagery because it resides underwater. Scientists studying the North Pacific flotsam warn that unless consumers radically change their behavior the flotsam will double in size over the next decade. While there are significant environmental implications for marine animals the impact on human health must be a concern: Chemicals from plastics (such as DDT and hydrocarbons) leach their way into the food chain, ultimately ending up on your dinner plate.

Check out the entire article over at The Independent. Thank you Kathy Marks and Daniel Howden!

4 Responses

  1. This is so crazy to me! It’s understandable how it has gone undetected though, because it can’t be seen from above. So, if nothing is done about this, will the flotsam continue to grow vertically or horizontally? That is to say, could this pile of flotsam potentially reach the surface of the ocean and be seen by passing planes and boats? And as you pointed out, Andrew, this could definitely have some very scary and harmful potential effects on the underwater ecosystem that will eventually run through the food chain and reach other populations. Have you read anything about anyone doing more research on this problem or anyone who has come up with some potential ideas for how to fix this or what exactly the effects (if nothing is done) it could have? Thanks for the really interesting article!

  2. I am going to be this for Halloween! True story; I have a shopping bag and raincoat from http://www.trashybags.org/, and when people ask what I am, I will say I’m the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and throw plastic detritus at them (softly) from the shopping bag.

  3. hahaha, Adam that is genius! I love it; very creative. Let me know the kinds of responses you get… Could be a great conversation starter! Good luck 🙂

  4. I remember hearing about this issue when they were searching for the downed Air France plane off the coast of Brazil. Here is an article that discusses how this hindered the search for debris from the plane crash: http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/06/05/marine.debris.crash/index.html

    From what I have read, it looks like the UN has decided that “more information is needed” and has recommended what can be done to obtain that data. It is really discouraging that the response is so vague. Here are some of the most recent suggestions from the UN:

    **Countries and regions should adopt long-term plans to prevent litter from ending up in the oceans.
    **Countries should monitor marine litter using international standards and methodologies.
    **Ports should encourage fishing boats not to discard nets at sea.
    **Efforts to reduce marine litter should get more funding.

    (Quoted from cnn.com – see article above)

    My favorite is “efforts to reduce marine litter should get more funding.” Exactly how do we encourage such funding? My guess is that if you try to slip that into a country’s yearly budget, you would be laughed out of the room.

    The bottom line: the UN has once again provided a slap on the wrist as a prescription for change instead of taking the lead on an issue that has the potential to become a very big problem.

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