Drowning in plastic: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of France

There are now 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the world’s oceans, killing a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year. Worse still, there seems to be nothing we can do to clean it up. So how do we turn the tide?

Way out in the Pacific Ocean, in an area once known as the doldrums, an enormous, accidental monument to modern society has formed. Invisible to satellites, poorly understood by scientists and perhaps twice the size of France, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a solid mass, as is sometimes imagined, but a kind of marine soup whose main ingredient is floating plastic debris.

It was discovered in 1997 by a Californian sailor, surfer, volunteer environmentalist and early-retired furniture restorer named Charles Moore, who was heading home with his crew from a sailing race in Hawaii, at the helm of a 50ft catamaran that he had built himself.

For the hell of it, he decided to turn on the engine and take a shortcut across the edge of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a region that seafarers have long avoided. It is a perennial high pressure zone, an immense slowly spiralling vortex of warm equatorial air that pulls in winds and turns them gently until they expire. Several major sea currents also converge in the gyre and bring with them most of the flotsam from the Pacific coasts of Southeast Asia, North America, Canada and Mexico. Fifty years ago nearly all that flotsam was biodegradable. These days it is 90 per cent plastic.

‘It took us a week to get across and there was always some plastic thing bobbing by,’ says Moore, who speaks in a jaded, sardonic drawl that occasionally flares up into heartfelt oratory. ‘Bottle caps, toothbrushes, styrofoam cups, detergent bottles, pieces of polystyrene packaging and plastic bags. Half of it was just little chips that we couldn’t identify. It wasn’t a revelation so much as a gradual sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong here. Two years later I went back with a fine-mesh net, and that was the real mind-boggling discovery.’

Floating beneath the surface of the water, to a depth of 10 metres, was a multitude of small plastic flecks and particles, in many colours, swirling like snowflakes or fish food. An awful thought occurred to Moore and he started measuring the weight of plastic in the water compared to that of plankton. Plastic won, and it wasn’t even close. ‘We found six times more plastic than plankton, and this was just colossal,’ he says. ‘No one had any idea this was happening, or what it might mean for marine ecosystems, or even where all this stuff was coming from.’

More…

– Research Thanks to Robin S.

12 Responses to “Drowning in plastic: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of France”

  1. M says:

    Dennis,

    You have provided us with yet another symptom. Lets get to the real problem. If you google world population growth, you really find some interesting information about where the grouth is occuring and implications. This is a quick snapshot.

    The world population has grown tremendously over the past two thousand years. In 1999, the world population passed the six billion mark.

    Latest official world population estimate, for mid-year 2007, is estimated at 6,602,224,175.

    The chart below shows past world population data back to the year one and future world population projections through the year 2050.

    World Population Growth

    Year Population
    1 200 million
    1000 275 million
    1500 450 million
    1650 500 million
    1750 700 million
    1804 1 billion
    1850 1.2 billion
    1900 1.6 billion
    1927 2 billion
    1950 2.55 billion
    1955 2.8 billion
    1960 3 billion
    1965 3.3 billion
    1970 3.7 billion
    1975 4 billion
    1980 4.5 billion
    1985 4.85 billion
    1990 5.3 billion
    1995 5.7 billion
    1999 6 billion
    2006 6.5 billion
    2010 6.8 billion
    2012 7 billion
    2020 7.6 billion
    2030 8.2 billion
    2040 8.8 billion
    2050 9.2 billion

  2. Dennis says:

    M,

    I like your idea of looking beyond the symptoms for the causes behind them.

    Are you aware that there are a lot of people who have looked at the population problem and come to the conclusion that a lot of it, if not most of is, is driven by the lack of human rights for women and poverty?

    We’ve all heard the story where the poor farmers will have as many kids as they can so they will have both a lot of helping hands in their productive years and a community of progeny to take care of them when they are old.

    But a lesser known population-related story is that when women live in societies where they can make their own reproductive decisions and not have them imposed on them by the men that ‘own’ them, they inevitably opt for having fewer children.

    So, these two things; poverty and lack of human rights for women, are the deeper causes of the world’s population spiraling out of control.

    So, in my opinion, population is itself a symptom.

  3. M says:

    Well, that is one way to look at things. However, the problem is too many people. How we fix the problem is the solution. Let see, if I follow your chain of though, then all we have to do is impose some world wide edicts to outlaw poverty, and then we insist that Islam start treating women as equals. That should do It. Oh, I forgot, maybe we can get India to see the light. How do you suppose we pull this off?

    M

  4. M says:

    By the way, please provide me with a concrete examaple where some how poverty and improved womans rights were magicly changed and population growth susided. I do know that fertility rates drop when you crowd people. Egypt is a good example. Same happens when industrialization becomes the prominent means of employment. In both cases fertility rates decrease. Not necessaraily that womans rights and poverty is improved.

  5. Dennis says:

    M,

    My dear boy, you are going to have to stay focused and drive between the lines. So far, all we’ve talked about is causes verses effects and now you want to fault me because the deeper cause I’ve just pointed out doesn’t come with an automatic solution with it? It’s a good debater’s trick but I think more highly of you than that .

    There’s no argument from me that real solutions are a thorny problem.

    But if one is going to proceed in an orderly and efficient manner, we’ve got to identify the real root causes of problems before we go looking at solutions. Yes?

  6. Dennis says:

    M,

    I don’t think that the correlation between rising affluence and lowering birthrates is in doubt. There’s quite a bit out on the web about it.

    And, it is the same with the correlations between increasing freedom for women to make their own reproductive choices and lowering birth rates.

    These are not liberal tree-hugger smoke dreams. Sociologists have documented these things.

    I first read about them several years ago when I compiled my five book book report and posted it here on Samadhisoft.

    http://samadhisoft.com/2006/07/02/book-report-on-five-books/

    Several of these authors discussed these issues.

  7. M says:

    Dennis,

    What kind of BS answer is this??? This is college leavel crap. Give me an answer and not giberish!!!!! The numbers don’t lie. You want to say oh, its womans rights and poverty. Fix this and the world will self correct. Well even if it is, and I doubt it, then what? You are giving me the runaround. Its the usual formula with a black box in the middle, and when you ask what’s that black box represent. The answer is ” Oh,, thats where the miracle happens. You say you expect more from me! You have completely disapointed me with this cop out.

    M

  8. Dennis says:

    Ah, M, you are your own worst enemy in a discussion.

  9. MD says:

    Dennis,

    Maybe so. Nevertheless, if you look at the numbers I provided you can easily see that population growth has not abated since the year 1. Most likely it began earlier than that, it just did not seem to matter when the numbers were very small.

    Your premise that it’s due to poverty and feminine inequality does not wash. In order to humor you, let’s supose your assumptions are correct. I would submit that if we have not fixed these two issues in 2000 years, we most likely will not do it in a time frame that will avert the calamity on the horizon, which all of the symptoms your doomsday posts allude to. Hence my comment about the chances of getting the Muslims and the Indians to see things as you do is very unlikely. So, growth will continue until the bottom falls out not withstanding the fine list of books and articles you provided.

    By the way, what are the Sociologists doing about this anyway? Inquiring minds want to know.

    M

  10. Dennis says:

    M,

    How do you then explain the strong drops in birth rates in advanced western nations?

    How do you then explain the fact that better educated women choose to have less children?

    How do you then explain the fact that as women gain control of their own reproductive destiny, they inevitably have less children?

    Am I saying that giving women world-wide the right to choose their reproductive destinies *and* ensuring that everyone has a certain minimum standard of living will solve the world’s population problems?

    No, I haven’t said that. I’ve merely stated that overpopulation is an effect and then I went looking for causes and suggested two that clearly bear on birthrates – but don’t necessarily account for the entire problem.

    Making sure that people have a certain minimum level of affluence and that women can decide to have children on their own without being pushed into it by men will indeed go a long way towards alleviating the problem but I never said it would solve it.

    You seem to have trouble staying on one track in our discussions. We were discussing causes of overpopulation and suddenly you are off on another track asserting that, “…growth will continue until the bottom falls out not withstanding the fine list of books and articles you provided.”

    There’s a definite difference between theorizing about why things might be happening and what’s likely to happen as we move forward. Why and What are two different subjects.

    If you want to discuss what’s likely to happen, let’s do. If you want to discuss why it is likely to happen, then lets do.

    The truth is, I have very little hope that we can change the probable outcomes now. But that hasn’t made me any less interested in understanding why things are happening as they are. The fact that we are very likely to go to hell in a handbag doesn’t make me want to get depressed and stop trying to understand and stop Blogging.

    Nope. The world’s going to hell and I still get up every morning happy to be alive and excited that maybe today I’ll understand a little more of what’s going on. I like Blogging about this stuff and trying to spread greater awareness because it is an inherently right thing to do in and of itself. I’m not doing it because I think it will change the world. But, on the other hand, I do it because I know the world is more likely to change if I do it than it is, if I do not. I don’t care if the difference is infinitesimal.

  11. MD says:

    Dennis,

    I do not think I am inconsistent. I started by stating that reporting on all of the catastrophic things going on in the world are symptoms of a greater problem. That problem is overpopulation. To prove my point, none of the man made issues / catastrophes / dilemmas you post would be happening if we had no people on the planet.

    Now if we add some people, the world will cope. If we keep adding people it hits the tipping point and then “s*@& happens. We have hit that tipping point some time ago.

    You came back at me saying the root causes were poverty and woman’s rights. I rejected that argument immediately. I did so because the numbers don’t support it. I guess if we would assume that human kind has always been based upon the notion that suppressing women and keeping them pregnant, whether they like it or not is how things always were and always will be, then we can agree that might have some bearing on this. I am not so sure it’s that simple. Take Islam and the Catholic Church for example. No birth control and large families is the way to go. I know lots of women who believe this and think that it is their Raison d’être in life. You know this. Also, when the population of India hit 1 Billion several years back they had a huge national celebration. Poverty is another issue. It can’t be solved. As a matter of fact, it is hand in hand with size of population, more people more poverty, a vicious circle. For you last point, on civilized countries, this is a mixed bag. One, fertilization rates drop dramatically, it cost too much to raise large families and, people get an education so the see the cause and effect. But again the same issue, you can’t dictate to nations. We tried this with India in the 1960’s. We help with clean water, sanitation and huge quantities of food. Their population exploded, we gave up and came home. China now has an upside down problem. The instituted the 1 child per family concept. It worked so well that they are facing a huge aging population problem. Now they are advocating having kids, lots of kids.
    .
    The problem now is, we can’t influence the places we need to influence. These countries reject out of hand western ideology. Egypt has the fastest growing population, believe it or not Afghanistan is in the top 5, I suspect Pakistan is up there to. Take a look at where this is occurring, assess the chances of us brilliant whities actually influencing this problem.

    Your last point on why you do it. I don’t fault you for your efforts. However, since you and I are the only two having this discussion, how many people actually care?

    Still you friend, M

  12. Dennis says:

    M,

    It always seems that the longer we talk, the closer our positions are revealed to be in the end. Most of what you say here, I agree with.

    Any animal with good food and space will expand to fill its environment and humans are no different. I’m just saying that animals usually cut back on their population expansions automatically when food and/or space gets tight. We humans are a bit more twisted and don’t in some cases. Poor people and women with low reproductive freedoms are two of those special cases. Alleviating these two problems won’t fix the situation but it can make it better.

    And, I think we agree that regardless of how keen our analysis might be, this train is headed off the tracks, regardless.

    And, final point, is that even if it is only you and I talking, I don’t care. I don’t do any of this for rewards – though if someone reads my stuff and likes it, I’m not immune to feeling pleasure. But, if waiting for ego strokes was why I was writing, I have quit long ago as there’s only slim feedback in this business.

    Cheers!