Study Garbage Pile in Pacific
By CHRISTINE RIEDEL
Condensed by Native Village
Researchers are studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a
giant swath of open ocean that has become a floating garbage dump.
The Pacific Garbage Patch may cover an area once or twice the
size of Texas, or about 262,000 - 524,000 square miles. It's
located about 1,000 miles west of California and 1,000 miles north
of Hawaii in an area called the North Pacific Gyre, where currents
from the equator, North America and Asia swirl together and deposit
trash, mostly plastic.
Sea garbage is a major
threat. It smothers coral reefs and harms animals
including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
"It's not like this is an island. It's not something you can walk
on," said Holly Bamford from
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Sometimes you
can cruise along for 10 nautical miles and not see anything and
then, bam, you come to a hot spot" of visible trash."
"Small particles -- fingernail-size chips -- make up most of it,"
said Robert Knox from the University of California, San
Diego. Knox described the trash zone as a "stretched-out bull's-eye" that
runs from east to west.
Scientists will investigate how much
trash might be in the gyre, and how it affects sea life,
particularly smaller animals. The will learn whether
zooplankton -- microscopic organisms that are a food source for
bigger animals -- eat the plastics, and whether it is digestible or
poisonous for them.
"Do pieces move species and introduce invasive species? What are the
implications of the transport of species from Point A to B?" Knox
said. "There's quite a web of scientific questions to be put
The answers could have major implications for the gyre, one of the
Earth's largest ecosystems.
"The question is, how badly are we monkeying with the machinery
by using the Pacific as our freebie landfill?" Knox asked.
will also look at ways the trash could be removed and recycled. It
could be turned into products like diesel fuel, building materials
Bamford is eager to see what the researchers
"We find debris out there coming from all countries. It's an
international problem," she said.
The northern Pacific isn't the only place with circulation vortexes
where trash accumulates. There's another one in the South Pacific,
two in the Atlantic and one in the southern Indian Ocean.
People can start taking steps right now to keep the problem from
getting worse. During a 2008 waterway cleanup, Ocean Conservancy
volunteers retrieved 1,360,000,000 pounds of trash, mostly from
inland waterways, in 104 countries. Trash that ends up in the ocean
comes from hundreds of miles inland.
"The easiest thing to do to push back against this problem is for
people to dispose of plastic properly," Knox said. "Just don't chuck it out by the roadside,
because it's going to go downhill and into the ocean."
Native Village News
September 2009Native Village Home Page
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