Manmade garbage patch expanding in the Pacific


Maddie Sayre

More than 1.6 million square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean is taken up by garbage. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch holds tons of plastic waste, trash, fishing nets, and is growing every day. Humans created the garbage patch and contribute to the increasing size through their daily consumption of simple products like straws, plastic grocery bags, and plastic bottles. Although it had been forming for many years, the garbage patch was only discovered in 1997 and now is larger than the size of Texas. This is one of the world’s biggest pollution problems because the trash floating in the ocean is ingested by marine life and birds, ultimately killing them. In addition, the washed up fishing nets entangle and kill fish, turtles, and other marine life.

In his New York Times Op-Ed, Choking the Oceans with Plastic, Captain Charles J. Moore of the U.S. Merchant Marine, claims that his research has shown that more animals are “killed by vagrant plastic waste than by even climate change.” Moore believes that synthetic debris is one of the main causes of the garbage patch. He laments that despite the best efforts of environmentalists trying to cleanup the trash, it is almost impossible to remove all the plastic from this giant patch because, “there’s too much turbulent ocean dispersing and mixing up the mess.” In addition, Bradnee Chambers of the Inter Press Service adds in his Op-Ed, The Ugly Truth about Garbage and Island Biodiversity, that many garbage gyres also adversely affect the economies of small island nations. For example, small islands such as American Samoa, Paloa, and Indonesia, are popular for ecotourism and receive a lot of revenue from it. In order to remain attractive to tourists however, they are having to protect the animal species native to their area from the garbage patch. Manta rays in particular, are native to Indonesia and their fishing and export is banned. “As a tourist attraction, a manta ray is worth in excess of 1 million dollars; as meat or medicine no more than 500 dollars,” Chambers states. In Slate, Daniel Engber writes in his Op-Ed that although it can be hard to believe there is a gigantic pile of trash just floating in the ocean, there have been many reports on it and the patch continues to grow. Satellites can not scan it and he claims that, “the problem of marine debris became so abstract, in the 1990s, that it was, for a time, nearly forgotten.” It is easy to believe that something like this is a myth, however Engber believes the patch is in fact real because of the evidence and research found.

In addition to reducing our reliance on certain plastic products, like straws, I believe that we need to figure out a way where used plastic does not reach the ocean in the first place. In my research I learned that most plastic garbage is created on land and reaches the sea through sewers and drains, however, marine vessels, freighters, and boats, have been accused of using the ocean “as a giant waste disposal unit.” More and more of this trash is adding to the gyres in the Pacific ocean and I think those who are responsible should be fined. The proceeds from these fines could then be used for education about recycling properly and influence people to use less plastic in general.