The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Maya Colchamiro, Staff Writer



The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of non biodegradable plastics in the Pacific Ocean (between California and Hawaii), continues to expand, threatening marine life. The Garbage Patch has grown so large that multiple species can grow and live in this environment. CNN explains, “They’re part of a community of creatures thriving in the 620,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers) of plastic debris — an area roughly the size of Alaska — that’s hosting a floating ecosystem.” This giant amount of plastic engulfs so much of the ocean that full ecosystems are forced to live on this “garbage island.” CNN further explains that the species living “there are violet sea snails in the Janthina genus and bright-blue jellyfish relatives known as sea rafts (Velella genus) and blue sea buttons (Porpita genus).” Sophomore Daniella Menser explains, “These species will probably adjust and adapt to this new environment, which can be dangerous, as their descendants will most likely be adapted to only this garbage island.” Menser further explains, “I think it is really sad how much plastic has accumulated in oceans and other natural ecosystems/ environments.” While many ecosystems also face destruction through anthropogenic (human-caused) events, or pollution, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a great visual representation of real human impacts on Earth.

Similarly, other aquatic organisms who do not live on the patch itself face the effects. WWF (World Wildlife Fund) states, “1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are affected every year, as well as many other species.” This can look like abandoned fishing/ industrial equipment trapping animals, animals mistaking plastic bags/ caps as food sources, and microplastics breaking down and eventually ending up in animal body tissue. Senior Shannon Hardisty explains, “I think seals are commonly affected by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as they commonly consume plastic mistaken for their prey.” Further, aquatic plants that serve as food sources could be limited as a whole. Junior Ilyaas Motiwalla further adds, “Plastic in oceans could also harm plants, as it blocks light from the surface from entering the ocean properly and limits the plants ability to photosynthesize properly.” These negative effects of plastic in oceans results in food chain inefficiencies and can even lead to decreased food sources for humans. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has numerous negative effects, so how can humans work to alleviate the issue? First of all, reducing plastic use all around will have a great effect on the amount of waste in oceans. National Geographic explains “Scientists and explorers agree that limiting or eliminating our use of disposable plastics and increasing our use of biodegradable resources will be the best way to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” By reducing, reusing, recycling, and using biodegradable plastics over standard plastics, society can work to limit the further expansion of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and hopefully get rid of it all together. Freshman Ayden Junwoo Park explains,“Recycling plastic correctly is super important to ensuring that plastic never reaches the oceans. I also think that companies have some sort of a responsibility to reduce plastic production for their packaging, as it is frequently frivolous and unnecessary.” Additionally, cleaning the already massive garbage patch is a tiring process that some clean ocean organizations and volunteers attempt to take on. The Ocean Cleanup Project explains, “To achieve this objective [of cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch], we have to work on a combination of closing the sources of plastic pollution and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean and doesn’t go away by itself. This goal means we plan to put ourselves out of business – once we have completed this project, our work is done.” Further they use many complex processes/ systems in order to clean the oceans. They explain, “To clean an area of this size, a strategic and energy-efficient solution is required. With a relative speed difference maintained between the cleanup system and the plastic, we create artificial coastlines, where there are none, to concentrate the plastic. The system is comprised of a long U-shaped barrier that guides the plastic into a retention zone at its far end. Through active propulsion,  we maintain a slow forward speed  with the system.” These complex activities are one of the few solutions available to clean plastic waste in oceans, and are only a last resort to combat years and years of damage from humans.

In summary, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a giant patch of garbage in the middle of the ocean that continues to grow. This massive garbage “island” is so large that many aquatic organisms are forced to live on this patch of garbage, making it an ecosystem. However, this plastic is  toxic to marine organisms as it can enter their body’s tissue as microplastics, or get stuck in the jaws and/or throats of organisms who think these plastics are food. The best way to avoid this is to widely reduce plastic use, which can be achieved by reducing, reusing, and recycling more.