Garbage Patch in the Oceans

One of the problems of not considering the territorial distribution based on basins, is that we create the idea that we can solve problems by getting rid of them. For instance, we clean by throwing garbage (e.g. a plastic bottle or drinking straw) to the river without considering the effects downstream. Our location may be clean, but we just passed the problem (garbage) to the ones downstream. Something like sweep under the carpet.

I chose the example of plastic objects, since they are the main component of a big environmental problem in the oceans known as "garbage patches". Garbage patches are large oceanic areas where the currents concentrate marine debris. All the combined trash from sewer, solid waste, landfills and trash discarded in the street eventually ends up in the ocean. As material is captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move floating debris toward the center the patches, trapping them in the region.
Figure 1. Example of marine debris

It is important to note that some missunderstood was created by using the term of "garbage continent". Actually, the patches are not visible as they consist of very small pieces with low density. Hence, they are suspended beneath the surface of the ocean.

Where are they located?
The major garbage patches are located in eastern and western Pacific patches. Recently, new garbage patches were reported in the North Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Model simulation predicted the future existence of 5 potential patches as showed in the figure, and described in the table.

Figure 2. Location of potential garbage patches

Table 1. Characteristics of the potential garbage patches
Patch name Eastern Garbage Patch Western Garbage Patch Northern Garbage Patch Southern Garbage Patch Indian Garbage Patch
Location Pacific Ocean Pacific Ocean Atlantic Ocean Atlantic Ocean Indian Ocean
Surface [km^2] 8095000 715520 3625753 1296180 2183480

Is there a solution?
Unfortunately, there is no fast and easy solution. Cleaning? The time and cost of cleaning make that alternative an unfeasible one. Moreover, it is not a solution, since eventually the garbage will return to the sea and the problem will persist.

The solution consists on 4 concepts. Prevention, reduction, management and education.
Be conscious of plastics that you use and dispose of. Even the smallest pieces of plastic can pose a threat to the health of marine and animals and our planet. Try using reusable water bottles and shopping bags. Also try using products with less packaging and avoid single use plastics. The more we reduce plastics consumption, the cleaner we can keep our oceans.

Additional Reading:
Plastic Debris in the Ocean
The Garbage Patch in the Oceans: The problem and possible solutions
What we know about: The garbage patches
Huge garbage patch found in Atlntic too
New ocean garbage patch discovered
Help put a stop to ocean garbage patches
Garbage patch in lakes

1 comment:

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