With 71% of the world’s surface covered by water, it can be hard to visualize the impact of our individual actions on the wildlife within. The cumulative scope can be understood in a small way, though, by one area of tremendous impact: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the Northern Pacific Ocean. This massive span of polluted waters is estimated to be about 270,000 square miles – or around the size of the state of Texas. It is comprised of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris. A 2011 EPA report explained:
The primary source of marine debris is the improper waste disposal or management of trash and manufacturing products, including plastics (e.g., littering, illegal dumping) … Debris is generated on land at marinas, ports, rivers, harbors, docks, and storm drains. Debris is generated at sea from fishing vessels, stationary platforms and cargo ships.
That plastic bag that gets away from you, the cigarette butt dumped on the sidewalk, the wrapper that doesn’t quite make it into the trashcan. All of these pieces of litter can accumulate in stunning fashion. And the impact is nothing to laugh about. Research by Greenpeace found that more than 267 marine species are impacted by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Only a handful of those are actually located in the region.
Consider the Laysan Albatross. Of the 1.5 million Laysan Albatross in the Midway Atoll, nearly all have be found to have debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in their stomachs. More than one third of their chicks dying from ingesting the same garbage.
The importance of individual action
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the result of a single corporation or government dumping trash into the waters. It is the result of years of human indifference to their impact on the Pacific Ocean. We may not be able to eliminate that field of sludge today, but we can do everything in our power to prevent similar patches from developing.