Image courtesy of Greenpeace
Deep Sea News' Kevin Zilnio points us to a great piece in The Independent describing what has become known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," or "trash vortex" - essentially a floating expanse of waste and debris in the Pacific Ocean now covering an area twice the size of the continental U.S. Believed to hold almost 100m tons of flotsam, this vast "plastic soup" stretches 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan:
"The "soup" is actually two linked areas, either side of the islands of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. About one-fifth of the junk – which includes everything from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land."David Karl, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii, believes the "plastic soup" may actually represent a new habitat; he plans on organizing a research expedition later this year to examine its size and nature. Plastic waste is one of the most significant sources of marine pollution: According to UNEP, plastic accounts for 90% of all debris floating in the oceans - with every square mile containing close to 46,000 pieces.
The pernicious effects of this "trash vortex" aren't just limited to the marine ecosystem either. Every year, hundreds of millions of nurdles, tiny pieces of plastic, are dumped into or lost at sea, where they eventually make their way into the food chain by acting as sponges for a variety of anthropogenic chemicals (e.g. hydrocarbons and DDT).
Marcus Eriksen, research director of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, put is thusly: "What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It's that simple."