Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Great *Atlantic* Garbage Patch

         Many environmentalists have heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch but not many have heard about the garbage patches in other oceans. There are five other garbage patches including one that sits just hundreds of miles off the coast on The United States; this is the Atlantic Garbage Patch. The main part of the Atlantic garbage patch reaches from 22°N to 38°N. This is equivalent to the distance between Virginia and Cuba. There is no knowledge of how tall the patch reaches because no one has yet to venture the whole length.

The average plastic concentration in the North Atlantic
Garbage Patch.
         The Atlantic Garbage Patch is invisible from space and it can sometimes not been seen from the deck of a boat. Contrary to popular belief, the patch is not a large floating island of plastic waste. The plastic has been broken down by the sun drying it out. There are 520,000 fragments per square mile in the Atlantic patch.  90% of which are plastic. Eighty percent of the garbage in the Atlantic had comes from land sources. Either it has been dumped a lot the beach or has been blown from open waste disposals. The ocean currents concentrate the garbage in a gyre. It took 22 years to map out the concentrations of the garbage in the Atlantic. The concentrations in the Atlantic have not increased by a notable amount compared to the other garbage patches that on average have increased by 5x.
         One of the major issues with the patch is its impact on aquatic life. As many as 100,000 marine animal die from trash-related deaths each year. Birds eat the plastic and cannot break it down and it causes them to not receive nutrients that it needs to survive. Aquatic life can get plastic rings stuck around their necks and choke because of it. Bottle caps, balloons, and plastic wrap can be a choking hazard. Filter feeders can mistake the fractions of the plastic for fish eggs. Barnacles can drift to non-native areas by being stuck to the plastic. Also the plastic degrades in the water due to the sunlight and it releases toxins into the water that can bioaccumulate.

       Because of the damage to marine life a clean-up strategy needs to come very soon. It is said that this issue is caused by population growth and having more waste. The other issue is that only 7% of plastic in the United States is recycled. Clean-up would be difficult because the particles are small and hard to see until you take a net and collect them. Some of the particles drift down to 300 ft. below the surface. One idea to make the plastic marketable by turning it into fuel but the patch is too far away from the shore that it would take too long to gather the resources. It would also take up massive amounts of time. Taking nets to the water could endanger the marine life. The most realistic option is to stop the spread on beaches and have better waste disposal by the coasts. 

1 comment:

  1. The sources of these plastic are not well understood, but we are more aware of how extensive they are in a qualitative sense. Inland cities are not "off the hook," as it is clear that at least some plastic pollution is transported by waterways to the coast. In the Great Lakes, the focus has been on micro-plastics generated by use of a variety of personal care products. http://wgntv.com/2014/04/16/lawmaker-moves-to-ban-microbeads-linked-to-lake-pollution/