Let’s start this article off by thinking about California and Hawaii. Hopefully, pleasant images and thoughts come into your mind. (Okay… maybe not for Hawaii at the moment). My mind is engulfed in images of picturesque beaches, the splendid Redwood forests, and delicious tacos.
However, looming in between these two states is something far from pleasant. It’s the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch is devastatingly large and scientists estimate it to be around 1.6 million square kilometers. That’s twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France! (1). An array of all different kinds of garbage and debris have been located in the patch from the usual plastic bottles to crates, ghost nets etc… Most of the debris aren’t pieces of discernible trash. However, microplastic makes up a sizeable majority.
Microplastic is essentially what the name states: tiny pieces of plastic with long-term exposure to sun rays, ocean waves, marine life and temperature changes. However, the dangers of microplastic lie in its size. These tiny specks have been found on the ocean surface to as far done as the ocean ground. They are often mistakened as food by marine life. Moreover, no viable solutions have been developed yet as particles this tiny can be extremely hard to remove.
As mentioned above, marine animals are at risk every single second of the day to being consumed and/or becoming entangled in the debris. Images of sea turtles, sharks, and sea lions are becoming more prevalent on the web. Yet, people forget the effects of microplastic on species such as Zooplankton, which represent a critical energy source in the marine environment (2). Zooplankton are the first link in the food chain and are primary producers who allow for energy conservation to higher trophic levels (4). However, despite their minuscule size, Zooplankton also mistaken microplastic for food. Additionally, 84% of the plastic found in the patch contains at least one Persistent Bio-accumulative Toxic (PBT) chemical, so when animals are consuming these plastics they are not only consuming inedible objects but also toxins (1).
The problem of ocean pollution also affects us as well. The ingestion of plastics by many of the creatures we consume means that we’re also consuming plastic. Although the impact of microplastic on humans hasn’t been thoroughly researched, based on existing medical literature, a diverse amount of effects have been found such as DNA damage, changes in gene and protein expression, cell clotting and lesions to organs (3).
With 1.15 to 2.41 million tons of plastic finding its way into the ocean each year, The Great Pacific Ocean Patch will only continue to get larger. Now is the time to act. The Great Pacific Ocean Patch is the accumulation of trash from thousands, if not millions of people around the world who carelessly threw what they didn’t want into their local rivers. Let’s take initiative to make our oceans a cleaner place. The next time you think about throwing something in your local waters, go the extra mile and place it in the correct recycling or trash bin. Your one action ensures that one less animal is injured and The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one bit smaller.
(1) Ocean Cleanup. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The Ocean Cleanup, Mar. 2018, http://www.theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/.
(2) Desforges, Jean-Pierre W., et al. “Ingestion of Microplastics by Zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean.” SpringerLink, Springer, Dordrecht, 12 June 2015, link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00244-015-0172-5.
(3) Lusher A, Hollman P, Mendoza-Hill J (2017) Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture. Status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper, p 615
(4) Gallo, Frederic, et al. “Marine Litter Plastics and Microplastics and Their Toxic Chemicals Components: the Need for Urgent Preventive Measures.” Environmental Sciences Europe, SpringerOpen, 18 Apr. 2018, enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-018-0139-z.