I found a few pages of a discarded Vancouver Sun the other day on the bus, and was kind of disturbed by an article about “islands of garbage” showing up in the middle of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, at the center of slowly circular ocean currents called gyres. I did a little bit of research and found some things that were truly frightening. Dave Semeniuk wrote a post on this last April, but I assume people aren’t in the habit of checking the archives from nine months ago, so here’s an update. In his post, Dave gave a link to an in-progress video series on the mess in the North Pacific Gyre. The series has since been completed, and you can check it out here. If you don’t have time to watch the videos, there’s a short article by the same guy here. I won’t spoil it all for you, but what you NEED to know is:
-In the North Pacific Gyre, there is an area about the size of Texas that’s basically a soup of bits of plastic and rubber, from microscopic pieces to tires and larger.
-There are five main ocean gyres, and it’s quite possible that all of them have a puddle of garbage in the middle of them.
-Plastic can soak up chemicals called persistent organic pollutants, such as DDT and DDE, resulting in higher levels of these chemicals in the garbage patch.
-Much of the plastic is in small enough fragments that it’s easily ingestible by birds, fish, and other sea creatures, which causes hell for them and anything up the food chain.
-Floating plastic accounts for only about 30% of the plastic in the ocean. The remaining 70% sinks to the bottom.
Quite horrified by this, I mentioned it to a friend, who responded by filling me in on even more bad news. Ever heard of “dead zones” in the ocean? The technical term for the situation is “hypoxia”, and basically, it’s when there’s not enough oxygen in the water to support marine life. There’s a number of causes, but the main one is excess nitrogen from agricultural runoff. The nitrogen causes algae blooms, which then die, and the decomposition process sucks the oxygen out of the water. There’s a giant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi drains, but a recent study counts over 400 of these areas around the world. For a quick introduction to the problem, check out this article from the Washington Post back in April.
There’s possibly an element of sensationalism about all of this, but if these things are as bad as people say they are… well, it’s bloody depressing, and there’s no solution short of a modern miracle. If there was still any doubt about it, this is some strong evidence that we’ve all made a pretty big mess of our planet.