Sailing the plastic sea
It has come to be known as “the garbage patch”, “the great pacific garbage patch“, “the trash vortex,” and the Stevensonian “trash island”. By and large, the material that makes up this swirling mess is plastic: supermarket bags, fast-food straws and lids, ball-point pens, you name it. In its more sedentary portions, it stretches across a square area twice the size of Texas, but Pacific currents in the North Pacific Gyre also keep tons of plastic afloat, circling around the Hawaiian Islands like migrating fish.
Of course, plastic biodegrades much slower than paper, which is one reason that there’s so much of the stuff collecting in the oceans. But what is potentially even more worrisome is what happens when the molecular compounds in the plastic do start to break down, releasing such toxic hazards as PCB’s.
It is estimated that there are now 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer in the world’s oceans. More troubling, wildlife, confused by the proliferation of plastic bits and pieces, are mistaking the stuff for food, eating it, and dying off at alarming rates. And, yes, a similar “swirling soup” has also been found in the Atlantic Ocean.