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Lidia M. Lujan Professor BIOL 2406 Environmental Biology Spring, 2011 Water Issue: Floating Garbage Patches Are they real? Are there really floating islands of garbage and plastic to be found in our oceans? Yes, they exist really! The hard to recognize, but definitely present, enormous areas of floating garbage, kill many sea animals and release toxins, that can even come into our own food chains…
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Download file to see previous pages Most of the litter is so small that it is present in the top layer of the water columns. Due to this fact, they are very hard to see, even with a satellite view. These plastics end up in stomachs of birds and marine animals. Not only the larger animals are affected, but whole eco-systems (starting with the smaller fish or jellyfish) can be suffering from hormonal disruptions and toxins. The water and wind currents have gathered masses of garbage in some kind of soup. Scientists say that the biggest one, the Pacific Garbage Patch, is about the size of the state of Texas (UNEP). The Creation of the Garbage Patches At first, the thought was that the islands were formed by the water currents in the oceans, gathering all the rubbish. But, the rubbish also seemed to come from the land, where the wind takes it and brings it out to the sea. According to researches, 80% of the plastic in the sea originates from land and roughly 20% comes from boats (Greenpeace Int.). A passenger cruise ship can produce about eight tons of solid waste every week (Greenpeace Int.). Most of this waste is organic, but much of it will directly go the garbage patches. Due to the currents in the oceans, the garbage is contained and trapped in the swirling waters. Because of these currents, several garbage patches were created in our oceans; the North Atlantic Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre, the Indian Ocean Gyre, the South Pacific Gyre and the North Pacific Gyre. The patches were already predicted in 1988, in a research paper from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This research was based on measurements of plastic and concentrations of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean (Day). The Problems of the Garbage Patches Plastic does not decay, but disintegrates into constantly smaller particles, till the molecular level. The molecules don’t decay any further and stay plastic polymers. Because they don’t fall apart, they stay afloat in the top layers of the water, where they are easily mistaken for food by fish and birds, that normally would get their food out of this part of the water (Greenpeace Int.). These animals will eat the plastic and give the toxins to their young, which sometimes die because of this. When the dead animals decay and end up back in the ocean, the plastic will return as well, where it can kill again. The levels of toxins in the water can become very high (Morton). Smaller fish, which swallow the toxins, are also food for other sea life like turtles or albatrosses, which will swallow the toxins and so on and so forth, until the chemicals end up on our own diner plate as well. The United Nations Environment Program (2005) says that the plastic is responsible for the deaths of more than 1.000.000 million seabirds and more than 100.000 sea animals, like whales, dolphins and seals. Further investigation has concluded that at least 267 animal species are being affected by this pollution (Greenpeace Int.). Around 6.4 million tons of litter comes into the seas every year. 8 million items are dumped in the sea every day, of which 5 million is thrown from ships (UNEP). The plastic does not only stay at the top of the water, it also sinks to the bottom. Here it covers and smothers the coral and sea life on the bottom of the ocean (UNEP). Greenpeace claims that about 70% of the plastic that ends up in the sea, will eventually ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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