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Pacific

Garbage
Patch
Mitigation Strategies
and Solutions

Terry Evans
Pacific Garbage Patch
The Gyres

What, you may ask, is a gyre? A gyre is a wind driven surface current which swirls around a

vortex and it describes the movement of the major oceanic currents. Our oceans have the

following major gyres:

North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre

North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre

Gulf Stream, Labrador Current, East Greenland Current, North

Atlantic Current, North Atlantic Equatorial Current

South Atlantic Subtropical Gyre

Contains the smaller Brazil Current

South Pacific Subtropical Gyre

Contains the smaller East Australian Current System

Indian Ocean Subtropical Gyre (Southern Hemisphere)


Contains the smaller Agulhas Current System

Antarctic Circumpolar Current

Weddell Sea Subpolar Gyre (Southern Ocean)

Ross Sea Subpolar Gyre (Southern Ocean)

North Pacific Subpolar Gyre

Contains the smaller Alaska Gyre

North Pacific Subtropical Gyre aka North Pacific Gyre

North Pacific Current, California Current, North Equatorial Current,

Kuroshio Current ()

The gyre that I will be focusing on is the North Pacific Gyre. This gyre occupies the

major portion of the North Pacific Ocean. A high-pressure zone is at the center of a subtropical

gyre around which the circulation is clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter

clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the Coriolis force (the equation of motion of an

object in a rotating frame of reference), which you can observe for yourself in your bathroom. It

is what causes the bathwater to drain in clockwise vortex above the equator and in a counter

clockwise vortex below the equator. See the illustration below to get an idea of how the different

currents rotate within the North Pacific Gyre.


Figure 1 North Pacific Subtropical Gyre()

The Problem

The circulation of the North Pacific Gyre is rotating within the better part of the Northern Pacific

Ocean. The currents rotate in a clockwise direction and covers about 10 million square miles of

the Northern Pacific Ocean. Any debris that is swept up by the current that flows along the North

Pacific Rim accumulates within the gyre’s vortex between the west coast of North America and

the Hawaiian Islands. This mass of accumulated garbage covers an area twice the size of Texas

and extends 100 feet below the surface.

Eighty percent of the trash within the gyre has a terrestrial origin and consists mostly of

plastic of all types. Also found within the garbage is rope, nylon fishing line, drift nets, barrels of

toxic substances, untreated human waste, various toxic substances, and countless marine animal
species, including whales, dolphins and sea turtles that have become trapped in the debris or

succumbed to the toxic effects of the area. And that’s not counting the million or so albatrosses

that have fallen victim to ingesting plastic they have mistaken as a food source and the 500,000

albatross chicks that have perished as a result of consuming plastic fed to them by their parents.

Plastic is not biodegradable, so it does not eventually disintegrate and be rendered

harmless. What it does, after extended exposure to sunlight, is break up into smaller and smaller

pieces until it is finally rendered into a grain like substance called ‘plastic sand’ which has, so

far, according to ocean and environmental experts and scientists, proven to be impossible to

clean up. The gyre occasionally slings huge amounts of the accumulated garbage onto beaches

that are within the gyre. Hawaiian beaches can be inundated with several feet of trash that has

been washed onto shore from the gyre. The larger pieces of debris are collected and properly

disposed of. Accumulation of plastic sand on beaches and drifting in the ocean and other

accumulated trash is a problem whose affects every continent including both poles. (Silverman,

2007).

In 2006, Congress passed legislation that would increase funding for cleanup efforts and

ordered several government agencies to expand cleanup efforts. This is an important step, but

cleanup efforts are like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. There need to be steps taken to

stop the dumping of waste from ocean going vessels and stiff fines handed out to all violators,

including the operators of oil tankers. The trash that has a land-based origin has to stop, starting

with a nationwide ban on the production and use of petroleum based plastic grocery bags. If we

can accomplish the discontinuation of plastic grocery bag use, we can find alternative substances

to replace the use of plastic altogether. Recycling programs need to be nationalized and

mandatory for everyone including the government.


Americans are used to having things their way and are traditionally resistant to change

especially if change means sacrificing something that has made life a little more convenient for

them. I understand. I do not like giving up any of my conveniences either, but when shown the

big picture of what some of these conveniences are doing to the planet and the animal lives that

are crushed under the weight of these conveniences including our own, most of us will do the

right thing. By sacrificing petroleum based plastic products on the alter of environmental

sustainability, mankind will be rewarded with a cleaner, less toxic world that can once again

support the myriad life that depends on it.

Of course the biggest resisters to change of this type, also has the deepest pockets to pay

for retaining the status quo. These would be the oil magnates and the producers of plastic

products. We can also include manufacturers whose production methods create toxic byproducts

that they dump into waterways to avoid paying to have it properly disposed of. The cleanup of

the Pacific Garbage Patch has to be a global effort, but I think Europe will be less resistant to the

effort than either the U.S. or Middle East.

References

contributors, W. (2008, November 14). Oceanic gyre. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from
Wikipedia the Free Encylopedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Oceanic_gyre&oldid=251698967
Jack. (1943). The North Pacific Gyre. Image: Ocean currents . Wikimedia Commons.
Silverman, J. (2007, September 19). Why is the world's biggest landfill in the Pacific Ocean?
Retrieved November 24, 2009, from How Stuff Works: http://science.howstuffworks.com/great-
pacific-garbage-patch1.htm