Planet Earth’s oceans now have a second confirmed garbage patch filled with plastic detritus.
The discovery of the first garbage patch is credited to Charles Moore, an ocean researcher who discovered the large patch of plastic floating in the Pacific in 1997. Now, the Atlantic can lay claim to a human produced waste patch of its own.
Wife and husband team Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in February between Bermuda and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores Islands. In the middle of the Atlantic is the Sargasso Sea, an area surrounded by various ocean currents, including the well known Gulf Stream. The pair took samples ever 100 miles (160 kilometres) and each time they pulled up their trawl it was full of plastic.
“We found the great Atlantic garbage patch,” said Anna Cummins. “Our job now is to let people know that plastic ocean pollution is a global problem – it unfortunately is not confined to a single patch.”
Why the importance on letting people know that this is a problem? Because there is no feasible way to go about cleaning up the ocean garbage patches.
This is not a new discovery, but rather a confirmation of long held beliefs and smaller studies. One such study is that by undergraduates at the Woods Hole, Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association, who have been collecting more than 6,000 samples on trips between Canada and the Caribbean over two decades. The lead investigator, Kara Lavendar Law, said they found the highest concentrations of plastics between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude, an offshore patch equivalent to the area between roughly Cuba and Washington, D.C.
“It’s shocking to see it firsthand,” Cummins said. “Nothing compares to being out there. We’ve managed to leave our footprint really everywhere.”
Putting aside the sheer absurdity that humans believe we can just pollute the planet until it dies, these garbage patches provide a huge danger to animals, both water based and air based. Plastics entangle birds while fish unwittingly mistake small bits of plastic for plankton and other edible treats. Countless stories exist of fish being caught and their bellies being full of plastic debris.
Don’t care about the animals? Listen to Lisa DiPinto, acting director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “That plastic has the potential to impact our resources and impact our economy.”
So pay attention next time there’s a recycle drive in your area, or when you’re down at the beach and finished with your bottle of water.