Jur-trash-ic Park: about the trash patches floating in the Pacific
We don’t talk enough about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A collection of microplastics, macroplastics, and regular plastics collected itself in the vortex that flows between the Americas and Eurasia. There are tons and tons and tons and tons of trash that are filling the Pacific, even forming islands here and there. The Garbage Patch was initially discovered in 1997, and was, to most people, an oddity that couldn’t really be dealt with. The Patch is far outside any country’s international waters, and the amount of time, effort, and resources needed to clean it up would cause a new crisis itself.
Now, originally, people just thought of the Patch as plastic soup. Sorry everyone, no giant islands of plastic here. Just plastic soup with little pieces of plastic in it.
Unfortunately, that reality only lasted a few years, as scientists then found actual, honest to god floating plastic islands, up to 50 feet long — islands, so there were multiple of these suckers. (These aren't actually congealed islands, but rather patches of plastic debris that extend across the water's surface and from the surface down to the ocean floor.)
With a name like Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it’s hard to take it seriously. I, for one, am waiting for the new special, "It’s the Great Garbage, Charlie Brown," to hit theaters before I make any judgments on the Patch, but in reality, this is very dangerous. Microplastics, a scientific word for "small plastics," are very dangerous, the same way small objects are dangerous for toddlers and hyperactive statistics majors (It was one time, okay?), and their grouping in the ocean is devastating to life there. That’s nothing to say of all the plastic that has sunk in the last few decades, since according to studies, 70 percent of plastic waste sinks. That stuff doesn’t degrade, or turn into something natural; it just sits and clogs things. Fish, sea mammals, and anything that lives underwater are at threat from these giant trash islands, and the world’s plastic consumption needs to change in order to deal with it.
That’s serious and all, but did you know they found life on those suckers? Yeah, you heard me, there is organic life on these trash heaps. Not just aquatic organic life too — coastal invertebrate ecosystems have populated almost three quarters of the plastic surveyed, not open ocean species that scientists usually find floating on natural debris. The open ocean species were outcompeted by the coastal ones, and thanks to the permanent nature of those plastics, there was nothing making these islands fall apart. They were stable, slow moving, and the perfect environment to build a new ecosystem. Life really does find a way.
That garbage patch is, however, only going to grow. If we don’t slow down our usage of plastics, there’s going to be more and more garbage for these little lifeforms to grow on. While it's cute for them, it's horrible for the oceans, the fish, and, downstream from that, the humans that live off of fishing. The U.N. is in the process of creating a legally-binding agreement to decrease plastic use, and we should do our best to try to support it.
Until then, try not to watch "Jurassic Park." I’m not sure it isn’t a documentary.