Facts about Atlantic Trash Island

The Pacific Garbage Patch is not alone

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TheWorldCounts, 12 November, 2014

The Pacific Garbage Patch is not alone

Unbelievably, there are is another floating island of garbage in the Atlantic Ocean, in the Sargasso Sea. It is not as big or as popular as the Texas-sized Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but it poses the same health risk to animals, birds, other marine mammals and us.

More: Plastic Island Pacific Ocean

The Sargasso sea is bounded by the North Atlantic Current, the Canary Current, the North Atlantic Equatorial Current and the Gulf stream. These currents carry the trash thrown into the ocean into the Sargasso Sea – where it gets trapped and accumulates.

The NOAA has conducted studies of these trash islands, including 5 other ocean gyres in the world. The trash soup is a collection of pelagic plastic particles, consumer products and sludge. The plastic particles are so small that when the water is rough, you won’t even see it, but it’s there. Some research studies say that there are 200,000 bits of trash per square kilometer. What you see in the surface is just a portion of what’s there, since plastic gets pushed down below the surface.

Trash islands are not islands that you can walk on. They’re more like a collection of garbage that gets stuck in one location because of the ocean gyres. It’s a collection of our trash such as abandoned fishing gears, bottle caps, toothbrush, plastic bags and so on.

Since plastic doesn’t biodegrade, what is thrown into the ocean will just photo-degrade into little bits of itself. It will always be there. Trillions of these plastics get trapped in the trash island.

The danger of plastics floating in the ocean

DDT, PCB and other toxic chemicals do not dissolve in water. However, they can be absorbed by plastic just like a sponge. Just imagine that each of the trillion micro plastic particles have absorbed some of the chemicals floating around in the ocean.

Since they’re very miniscule, they are mistaken as food by fish, seabirds and other marine animals. Once ingested, scientists speculate that the toxins can seep from the plastic into fish tissue. If the fish don’t die from ingesting the plastic, they will be contaminated.

More: Plastic Bag Pollution Facts

Now, these small fish gets eaten by larger fish, the kind that is sold in the market. Once the bigger fish eats the contaminated fish, it also acquires the toxins – in greater numbers even, since they have a pretty large appetite… and then the fishermen catches the big fish and we cook them in our kitchen and feed it to our families.

The rest of the animals die since the plastic accumulates in their stomachs. The horror is that even when the body of the animal decomposes… the plastics are still there.

Can we clean up the ocean?

As much as 80% of marine debris comes from land. 20% comes from ocean going vessels. Since we are mainly responsible for them, can we clean up these trash islands?

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. There have been some efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture the industrial plastic pellets in the Atlantic ocean. The effort lessened the number somewhat – but pellets only make up less than 10% of the trash out there. There’s too much material scattered over a too large an area to make a significant impact.

Experts say that throwing out a net into the ocean will also capture millions of marine animals along with the trash. That would be defeating the purpose.

What can we do?

The solution is to minimize the waste here on land and to properly dispose of our trash. Policies on recycling and disposal should be strengthened and reinforced.

Read more about the latest global environmental issues at The World Counts: Stories.
Go green and find green products and ethical companies at FirmHugger.

References

  1. Huge Garbage Patch Found In Atlantic Too
  2. Office of Response and Restoration – How much would it cost to Clean Up the Pacific Garbage Patches
  3. About Education: Trash Islands

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