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The Largest 'Landfill' On Earth; the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

By Saikat Basu     Jul 28, 2008 in Environment
You can call it the 'Plastic Soup'. I bet you haven't heard about the world's largest junkyard. Also, rather 'infamously' known as the Pacific Trash Vortex.
The world's largest landfill is located in the Northern Pacific ocean, in an area of slow moving sea currents called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. It is an oceanic desert, its denizens phytoplanktons but scarce other marine life. Far away from the world's shipping lanes, its chief 'flora' is the massive mass of floating detritus. The size of this mass believe it or not equivalent to that of the continental United States.
This huge garbage island is actually two different but linked areas – The Eastern Garbage Patch, is located between Hawaii and California and said to be the size of Texas. The Western Garbage Patch, spreads from the east of Japan to the west of Hawaii.
The patches are connected by a thin 6,000-mile long current called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. The patches are a mess and mass of debris and junk, human and otherwise collected from all corners. From discarded electronics, to children is a profusion of waste. The chief concentration though is as usual - plastic, abundant and unbiodegradable.
Cost to the environment...and us.
Studies show that concentrations of plastic is nearly one million pieces of plastic per square mile! Earlier, non-polymerous debris used to biodegrade, but with increasing consumption of plastic around the world, the substance has taken over the entire mass. Plastics though do photodegrade rather slowly and even with slow photodegradation, the plastics are now breaking into other forms of pollutants. As the plastic gets fragmented (called nurdles) they are ingested by jellyfish and other marine fauna. Toxicity from such plastic pollutants seeps into the ocean water and thus into our food chain.
And here's a little food for thought...
A study on the Black Footed Albatross on Midway Islands (off the Eastern Garbage Patch) revealed that of the 500,000 chicks born every year 200,000 of them die, many of them by choking on plastic fed to them by their parents, who mistake it for food.
Is their a solution?
Experts say the idea of trawling the ocean for trash is physically not viable. The garbage is not only expansive in area and content but is also dispersed into smaller areas submerged and floating hundred feet below the ocean surface. Trawling over such a vast area would also harm the endemic marine ecosystem. The solution is long term and involves the usual global exhortations regarding management of future waste. Its back to square one.
Sources: Wikipedia
The NY Times
See also, an organization that has studied the patch for years.
More about Great pacific garbage, Marine, Waste
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