Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Enormity of the Garbage Patches

At tonight's meeting of Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter, I showed a copy of the graphic from the Toronto Globe and Mail depicting the garbage patches in the Pacific Ocean. At least one person asked "Isn't there some way we can clean this up?" And, later during our break and discussion period, I was asked why I thought it the trash could not be picked up. I replied "Because of the enormity of it all," explaining that these patches were so large and plastics of varying sizes are spread throughout the patches at depths up to 10 meters. Anna Cummins, Eduction Advisor of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, had a guest blog post in the LA Times just the other day and wrote,
" • The garbage does indeed exist. HOWEVER it is not a "patch" of garbage, nor a trash island. It's more like a huge bowl of dilute plastic soup, from California to Japan.

• We can't clean it up, net it away, or sieve it out. It's an area twice the size of the United States, and the debris is too spread out. Imagine a handful of plastic cornflakes sprinkled over a football field. Now imagine 9 million football fields in the Pacific Ocean."
Possible the devastation to the marine environment has gotten even worse than before, Cummins writes, "What we found this year: the problem has gotten much, much worse. Though our samples are still being processed, Captain Moore guesstimates a fivefold increase in 10 years, bumping plastic to plankton ratios up to 30:1."

In order to raise awareness, Cummins and two others are sailing Junkraft, a raft made out of 15,000 plastic bottles, an old airplane and other junk materials from Long Beach to Hawaii. One June 1, they set sail from Long Beach Aquarium and will be carrying hundreds of messages about plastics debris to be delivered to Congress in Washington DC. You can write your own message here.