The Pacific Ocean garbage patch, also called the Pacific trash vortex, is a large rotating system of currents in the central area of the North Pacific Ocean where a huge quantity of marine debris is deposited. The size of the area is not precisely determined, estimates ranging between 700,000 and 1,500,000 square kilometers, but, roughly, it is located between 135 degrees W to 155 degrees W and 35 degrees N to 42 degrees N.
What Type of Debris Is Deposited in the Pacific Garbage Patch?
The Pacific Ocean garbage patch consists mainly of chemical sludge from sewage and wastewater and plastic waste. Most of the waste in the area is not biodegradable, which means that it is just broken by the water into tiny, in most cases microscopic debris particles that are invisible to the naked eye and can be detected only by analyzing the water column among laboratory circumstances. However, despite the fact that most part of the debris is microscopic, the quantity of the waste in the area is so large that the volume of the visible waste is also significant. More than two-thirds of the debris comes from the land and about 20 percent is released into the water by ships.
How Did the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch Form?
The trash vortex formed gradually, over a long period of time. With the increase of marine pollution, the currents captured more and more debris and due to their rotational movement, the debris was directed towards the center of the vortex. The currents surrounding the patch collect the waste released into the water in the North Pacific area, including the waters of Japan and North America. A plastic bottle thrown into the sea at the coast of Japan will be carried North by the Kuroshio Current, and then it will be passed on to the North Pacific Current, which will carry it westward. When the bottle arrives at the vortex, it will be drawn towards its center, where it gets deposited in the calm waters.
How Was the Garbage Patch Discovered?
The formation was predicted in a study released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1988, but it was not until later, in 1999, that Charles J. Moore, an internationally acclaimed expert in marine pollution, discovered it. As he was traveling through the vortex, he noticed a huge patch of floating waste. The area was initially named the Eastern Garbage Patch by an oceanographer called Curtis Ebbesmeyer.
How the Pacific Garbage Vortex Affects Marine Life
At the current state of scientific knowledge, it is still not completely clear how this enormous quantity of debris affects the marine ecosystem. Some fish and birds mistake the plastic particles for food and become ill after eating the pieces, and the floating debris is harmful also because many animals get entangled in the plastic objects deposited in the area. There are numerous species, such as crabs, water insects or barnacles that thrive because the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch
exists, but this can be dangerous, too, because their uncontrolled proliferation can upset the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem they live in.