Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Plastic Vortex No One Wants You To Know About

Floating islands are usually magical exotic places that capture the audience’s imagination whether young or old. Consider SeaStar Island which can usually be found floating somewhere off the coast of Brazil and is considered by some to be one of the favourite stopping places of the Giant Pink Sea Snail.

Dr. Doolittle, his human friends (Tommy, Matthew, & Emma), Polynesia (the parrot) and Chee-Chee (the chimp) set out to find SeaStar Island and the Giant Pink Sea Snail. The island is found drifting off-course; so, Dr. Doolittle enlists the aid of a blue whale to push it back on track. The Giant Pink Sea Snail is discovered living under SeaStar Island and offers to take the children, Polynesia and Chee-Chee home under the ocean in his watertight shell while the doctor stays on the island to track down the Giant Lunar Moth. The stuff dreams are made of.

If only it were SeaStar Island having floated off-course again; and now, finds itself trapped in a vortex between California and Hawaii (the conservative estimate). This island of floating trash is “estimated to be double the size of Texas” (the conservative estimate). Just how big is “double the size of Texas”? This whirling island of death for our marine friends is estimated to be at least 533,706 square miles.

The American oceanographer who discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “trash vortex”, Charles Moore, believes that a staggering 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region.

Research Director, Marcus Eriksen, of US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation (founded by Charles Moore) said: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States." This seems to be the largest estimate at 6,435,626 square miles.

Whether it’s 533,706 sq. mi. or 6,435,626 sq. mi. or anywhere in between - it’s too much.

The Independent (a UK newspaper) describes it this way: “The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world's largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan“.

They say 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 is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land.

A deeper look into what happens to all this debris in the next blog. Meanwhile, a look at the Los Angeles Public Works department removing debris caught by booms from the L.A. River after a storm. Photo courtesy Algalita.org.

Excellent video on the plastic vortex:

1 comment:

kathi said...

criminal.. and so, so sad...