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Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Can It be Fixed?

pacific garbage patch
Lying about a thousand miles off the coast of California is a vast collection of marine debris, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This problematic heap of floating artificial waste is continually exacerbated by photodegradation, the process by which the sun corrodes plastic into smaller units of the same material. These smaller pieces make the trash pool much more difficult to collect and contaminate marine animals’ food supply.

Fish, sea turtles and birds are consuming these small pieces of plastic in massive numbers. Since plastic is known to absorb toxins from the oceans, scientists have attributed the decline of numerous species’ populations to these tiny, poisonous particles. BBC reported that “about one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.”

Yet, animal rights activists are not the only groups that should be incensed by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Boating and submarine equipment has been reportedly damaged by run-ins with this Texas-sized reservoir of trash. In addition, lovers of seafood are now exposed to the harmful toxins harbored by fish caught near the area, as the polluted region is a common stop for commercial fisherman. Finally, currents are transporting the trash from the gyre to the once pristine beaches of Hawaii, burying vacation destinations in multiple feet of plastic.

Any large-scale cleanup effort appears to be difficult to attain at any reasonable cost. The most basic method would involve using gigantic nets to collect the trash and convert it into oil. However, such an ill-fated strategy would inadvertently catch and kill an unreasonable number of commercial fish, turtles, sharks and other vital members of the marine animal kingdom.

However, 19-year-old Boyan Slat has provided some hope for the future. He proposed an innovated technique that has been endorsed by marine biologists and engineers alike. Slat believes that a collection of floating buoys and platforms on the ocean’s surface can separate the waste without capturing innocent wildlife. Learn more about the project at Boyan Slat’s website.

Although Slat’s project is years away from any potential implementation, it would be in the best interest of both man and animal if this theory can successfully be put into practice.

— Sam Preston

Sources: National Geographic, US Department of Commerce, BBC, How Stuff Works
Photo: Global Energy Profs