When the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered in 1997 by Capt. Charles Moore while sailing between Hawaii and Japan, it was estimated to cover an area equivalent to France. With research its size grew until last year scientists thought it was about the size of Texas. Today, the most recent research conducted by the Ocean Cleanup Foundation suggests that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is huge, three times the size of France, or twice the size of Texas and growing.
1 Million Square Miles of Floating Waste
According to Scientific Reports, a three-year study using a fleet of sixteen boats dragging nets in their wake, simultaneously crossed a central section of the patch. These results were augmented with aerial images that covered larger areas. After three years of digesting the data, their newest estimate is that the patch covers 1.6 million square km (nearly 1 million square miles) and contains roughly 80,000 tons of plastic. That’s a volume that is four to 16 times greater than what was estimated previously. (photo – Earth.com)
Of that total mass, 54% is composed of trillions of pieces of plastic from everyday consumer products that slowly and insidiously break down into “microplastics.”
The other 46% is fishing gear discarded at sea. As reported in Inertia that amounts to 700,000 tons of fishing gear, abandoned every year.
Ghost Gear Haunts
You have seen the haunting photos of turtles and dolphins entangled in plastic nets. Even whales cannot escape ghost gear, remember our article about Joe Howlett, the brave whale rescuer, out of Campobello, crushed to death after cutting a North Atlantic Right Whale free from abandoned fishing nets.
“Fishing gear is designed to catch and kill marine life, and ‘ghost gear’—abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear—is the most harmful form of marine debris for animals.” Says Didier Reynders Minister of European Affairs for Belgium.
A report from World Animal Protection presents haunting statistics that captures the scale of the problem. Just one fishery in the northeastern Atlantic recorded 25,000 lost or discarded nets each year. While 5000 “ghost” nets recovered in Puget Sound were thought to have entangled over 3.5 million marine animals. (photo – Jordi Chias-naturepl.com
Commercial fisheries are not held responsible for lost gear consequently conservationists have stepped in. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative was begun by World Animal Protection, to retrieve and recycle abandoned fishing gear.
And we have seen some great examples of how recycled gear can be turned into useful new products, like running shoes made by Adidas.
Can we clean up this mess?
The Ocean Cleanup Project believes it can. It has just moved into the former Alameda naval air station near San Francisco where it will assemble its trash collecting apparatus.
The idea was conceived by Boyan Slat, an aerospace engineer, in 2013. Since then the system has undergone numerous tests and revisions, but the basic concept remains the same. Ocean currents will push plastic debris toward enormous booms floating on the ocean surface. The booms catch floating trash and hold it for removal, while marine life will harmlessly pass below. (photo – Ocean Cleanup Project)
Once assembled the 600 meter-long booms will be towed into the Pacific Ocean later this year. The project continues despite the criticism heaped upon it from many directions. Ocean Cleanup says that they are mindful of concerns and will continuously monitor the effect its giant booms will have on marine life.
We all realize the very real danger created by an ocean of floating plastic pollution so let’s wish Ocean Cleanup well.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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