EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appeared in an earlier version of Plastic Free Times
The oft-quoted description of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a giant patch of garbage, “twice the size of Texas,” is an inaccurate conflation of facts that has been repeated one too many times. The truth of the matter is in fact far more disturbing. The use of disposable, single-use plastic items has effectively turned our oceans into plastic soup. While it is true that not all marine garbage is plastic, current peer-reviewed research clearly indicates that plastic is the dominant material littering the ocean, and its proportion consistently varies between 60 and 80 percent of the total garbage in the ocean.
Marine research organization 5 Gyres has found a high concentration of both discernible bits of plastic and less obvious, but arguably more dangerous, plasticizing chemicals in all of the world’s five primary ocean gyres. Gyres are large, slow-moving currents that act as giant whirlpools in the world’s oceans.
Impact on Marine Mammals and Sea Birds
In addition to the plastic pollution found in the ocean, researchers are finding more and more plastic washing up on the shores of remote islands, and in the bellies of dead sea birds and marine mammals. In its August 2006 Pollution Bulletin, the Marine Mammal Commission wrote, “The accumulating debris poses increasingly significant threats to marine mammals, seabirds, turtles, fish, and crustaceans. The threats are straightforward and primarily mechanical. Individual animals may become entangled in loops or openings of floating or submerged debris or they may ingest plastic materials. Animals that become entangled may drown, have their ability to catch food or avoid predators impaired, or incur wounds from abrasive or cutting action of attached debris. Ingested plastics may block digestive tracts, damage stomach linings, or lessen feeding drives. The deceptively simple nature of the threat, the perceived abundance of marine life, and the size of the oceans have, until recently, caused resource managers to overlook or dismiss the proliferation of potentially harmful plastic debris as being insignificant. However, developing information suggests that the mechanical effects of these materials affect many marine species in many ocean areas, and that these effects justify recognition of persistent plastic debris as a major form of ocean pollution.”
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