Pictures of trash on beaches, a whale found with a belly full of garbage and turtles with plastic straws up their nose are no laughing matter. They are all just a tiny snapshot of reality today.
The impact of the world’s overuse of plastic is causing havoc on the environment and much of the debris is making its way to the ocean.
If you’ve watched any of the documentaries such as a Netflix’ “A Plastic Ocean” or “Trashed,” you’re probably aware of garbage patches in the ocean.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says that garbage patches are the largest areas in the ocean where litter, fishing gear and marine debris collect as a result of “gyres,” or rotating ocean currents, which pulls the debris into the center of the gyre.
The most famous patch of the five in the ocean is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” located between Hawaii and California.
Although it is called a patch, NOAA says the term is misleading in the fact that the debris is not just on the surface of the ocean, it extends deep down to the ocean floor as well. The majority of the patches are made up of microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm in size – therefore not visible to the naked eye.
At this point in time, the impact of the garbage is not finite and research on marine life is still underway. However, scientists have found a number of ways it can affect wildlife: entanglement and ghost fishing, where fishing nets and plastic debris with loops (plastic bags, 6-pack rings, packing straps) can get hooked on wildlife; ingestion – where animals eat the plastic and other debris which fills up their stomach, eventually killing them; non-native species, where marine debris can transport species from one place to another and eventually disrupt the ecosystem.
For the full story, see the April 21 issue or subscribe online.
By Sonia Duggan • [email protected]