Humanity's flotsam and debris growing at alarming rate

‘There have been pieces of plastic washed and dredged up that are more than 50 years old.’ Discovered by a sailor in 1997, the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ or ‘trash vortex’ that floats around in oceanic gyres is now of great interest to scientists, biologists, weather forecasters and marine researchers for the information it reveals about ocean currents.

There is a soup of waste – humanity’s flotsam and debris – literally clogging the Pacific Ocean. Experts say it’s growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the USA. This floating rubbish dump stretches from Hawaii almost to Japan and is held in place by swirling underwater currents.

Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the phenomenon and coined the phrases ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ or ‘trash vortex’, believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region.

Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Moore founded, describes it as “a plastic soup”.

“It moves around and when it comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic.”

About one-fifth of the stuff is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest has been discarded from the land.

Moore, a former sailor, first encountered the rubbish in 1997, while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race. He had steered his craft into the ‘North Pacific gyre’, a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems.

Gobsmacked by its magnitude, Moore, the heir to a family fortune from the oil industry, was inspired to sell his business interests and become an environmental activist. These days he warns people that unless consumers cut back on their use of disposable plastics, the plastic stew will double in size over the next decade.

In the past, rubbish that ended up in oceanic gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics are so durable that objects half-a-century old have been found in the north Pacific dump.

Moore said that because the sea of rubbish is translucent and lies just below the water’s surface, it is not detectable in satellite photographs. ‘You only see it from the bows of ships,’ he said. — full article in Marine Business News