Five Gyres

This post is part of our Earth-Day-inspired April series about marine debris and pollution.

A display of beach trash at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, OR

A display at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, OR shows trash picked up on a local beach during just two hours.

You’ve probably seen or heard media reports about the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California where plastic debris is trapped by converging currents. Confetti-sized flakes of broken-down plastic are suspended just below the surface of the sea over an area some estimate to be millions of square acres wide, punctuated here and there by visible trash such as drifting fishing nets.

It turns out that that’s just one of five ocean gyres — places where converging currents trap floating debris — worldwide. This article published in the Santa Monica Mirror on April 4th, 2011 reports on these gyres and the research some people are doing to understand their impact on the environment.

One Santa Monica couple has started a nonprofit called 5 Gyres to explore these areas. You can follow their work at the 5 Gyres web site, where they aptly describe the problem as: “Plastics: made to last forever, designed to throw away.”

We know that one consequence of animals ingesting the plastic fragments is that their intestines become blocked and they starve to death. But scientists are just beginning to research the effects of the chemicals that leach from the plastic into the water and enter the food web.

These floating garbage patches are going to be difficult, if not impossible, to clean up. Our best bet is to reduce our production of plastic, especially such disposable items as plastic bags and beverage bottles. You can do your part by reducing your plastic usage, taking part in activities such as our April 23rd beach cleanup, and encouraging your friends and relatives — and the companies who make and sell the items you buy — to do the same.

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