Researchers Reach Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Hang Heads, Come Back Home

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been getting loads of attention in recent months from researchers and activists. But even those who are aware of and prepared for the disaster area in the middle of the Pacific still are shocked at the sheer mass of floating trash. Such was the case with SEAPLEX, the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, when they sailed this month to assess the damage and couldn't quite grasp the situation. On August 2, researchers headed out to take samples from the patch and try to determine the extent to which the floating plastic is damaging the environment and marine animals. It was an eye-opening experience, fulfilling its goal of educating graduate students aboard the vessel.

From Science Daily, "Finding so much plastic there was shocking," said [Miriam Goldstein of SIO, chief scientist of the expedition] "How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean--a thousand miles from land?"

The short answer is because humans have this odd out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the ultimate lesson in the fact that there is no "away" when we toss things. We're simply just putting them in another place, and usually that place is not so healthy.

Studying various marine life in the most densely plastic-ified areas, the researchers hoped to assess the scale of the problem. But even if we can finally wrap our heads around it...what might be the solution to fixing it? As plastic breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces, it becomes easier for marine life to ingest it, and the plastic is working its way back up the food chain to our dinner plates.

Not such an appetizing thought.

At least one project, Project Kaisei, is working on figuring out how to capture and recycle the plastic. It's a monumental effort, but if it proves to be workable, then it's the start to an important clean-up endeavor.

So, the conclusion from the voyage? "By the end of the expedition, the researchers were intrigued by the gyre, but had seen their fill of its trash."

I'll bet.

More on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Following Algalita's "Junk" to the North Pacific Gyre
Charles Moore and Dirty Talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
David de Rothschild Sets Sail on Plastic Ship

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