The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N. Although many scientists suggest that the patch extends over a very wide area, with estimates ranging from an area the size of the state of Texas (!!!)to one larger than the continental United States (?), the exact size is unknown. Recent data collected from Pacific albatross populations suggest there may be two distinct zones of concentrated debris in the Pacific.
The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography since it primarily consists of suspended particulates in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to ever smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels known of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photodegradation in the neustonic layer of water. Unlike debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.
As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms which reside near the ocean's surface. Plastic waste thus enters the food chain through its concentration in the neuston.*
*(Neuston is the collective term for the organisms that float on the top of water or live right under the surface. Neustons are made up of some species of fish, beetles, protozoans, bacteria and spiders. A water strider is a common example that skips across water's surface tension)
Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, and their young, including sea turtles, and the Black-footed Albatross. Besides the particles' danger to wildlife, the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs. Aside from toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish. Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals. Marine plastics also facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems.
How long can we allow this disgrace to go on?
Perhaps we should outlaw the manufacture of plastic.
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(info from Wikipedia)