HomeArticlesOceanic garbage islands - a new heritage of civilization

plastic problem

The garbage that mankind produces is not only increasing in quantity every year, but also covers more and more new territories. The spheres of influence of human activities on Earth have reached, without exaggeration, the depths of the ocean. The inhabitants of aquatic ecosystems, invisible to the human eye, as well as those that are ten times larger than a human, have experienced all the delights of civilization. The cycle of plastic in nature ultimately closes on all living beings: after production and consumption, it gets through the soil, water, ocean, plants, along the food chain to all animals and humans.

But the vast majority of the population does not know about this situation, since it is not given mass publicity and is not put at the forefront of political figures. This further exacerbates the complexity of an already deplorable situation. The article provides facts about marine litter and information on methods of solving the problem available to each of us.

Where does the garbage in the ocean come from

Garbage in the ocean

Man does not live in the ocean - so where did the huge garbage islands come from? 80% of garbage enters the ocean from terrestrial sources: from the currents of rivers from land, from the shores of the seas, where tourists like to relax without cleaning up after themselves. The main part of this garbage is water bottles, glasses, caps, bags. The remaining 20% ​​is waste from oil rigs and shipping: fishing nets (more than 705,000 tons), garbage directly from ships, discarded or lost cargo containers.

The danger of plastic in the ocean

Floating on the surface of the water, debris blocks sunlight, which is dangerous for the life of plankton and algae, which play a critical biological role in the food chain and maintaining the ecosystem by producing essential nutrients. Being food for other sea creatures, the disappearance of plankton and algae will lead to the disappearance of other species, including those that humans consume.

Turtle tangled in fishing nets

In addition, plastic is dangerous because it does not disintegrate in water for a long time, as it cools and becomes covered with algae. Marine debris becomes dangerous food for local inhabitants (gets stuck in the stomach, as a result of which the animal can no longer eat, dying of hunger), and also often causes physical damage (entanglement in nets, packaging materials, etc.). Scientists predict that by 2050, 99.8% of seabirds will eat plastic. Taking small granules of plastic for eggs, birds feed their cubs with them, which leads to their imminent death.

Photodegradation (decomposition by sunlight) releases dyes and chemicals (bisphenol A) from plastic, which enter the water. Plastic also has the property of accumulating toxins in its granules, which are passed on to marine life when consumed instead of food , which can cause genetic problems, poisoning, and accumulation in bodies. Thus, along the food chain, it is transmitted to other animals, and also reaches humans. Scientists have long proven that plastic is found in people's bodies.

How are garbage islands formed?

What are these garbage islands or spots? They are a large concentration of anthropogenic (i.e., human-made) debris that drifts on the surface of the water. How is plastic collected in them? These spots are formed due to the convergence of ocean currents and wind at one point, which twist the garbage into a whirlwind and drag it to the center. Such large currents are present at six points in the world ocean: the North Pacific (east and west currents), the South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic, and the Indian.

Garbage islands (spots) in the ocean and ocean currents

The largest garbage patch is the Great Pacific, also known as the Pacific garbage whirlpool ("garbage swirl"). It is located in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, approximately between 135°-155° west longitude and 35°-42° north latitude. It consists of two parts: the western one from Japan and the eastern one off the coast of California and Hawaii. patch officially discovered in 1997, although its formation was predicted in 1988 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) after years of monitoring the amount of garbage dumped into the ocean. The Great Garbage Patch was first discovered by Captain Charles Moore while crossing the subtropical current of the North Pacific Ocean, where he noticed a huge amount of marine debris (pieces of plastic) around his ship.

Strong whirlpools in this part of the Pacific Ocean are formed when warm southerly currents meet cold Arctic currents due to the rotation of the Earth. Thus, a plastic bottle thrown on the coast of California, caught in the center of the whirlpool, picked up by the southern current, reaches the coast of Mexico, where it can be overtaken by the northern equatorial current and carried across the ocean. Off the coast of Japan, the bottle can be intercepted by the powerful northern current and eventually enter the western part of the North Pacific Current.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not visible from satellite and is not a free-floating island of debris. It is made up of small particles of plastic called microplastics that form a cloudy soup. Researchers have collected more than 750,000 pieces of microplastics in 1 square kilometer at this site. The seabed beneath the Great Garbage Patch could soon become a huge landfill: scientists have found that about 70% of the garbage goes under water. Sources of pollution - North America and Asia.

In addition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there are others: the Indian (in the central Indian Ocean, was discovered in 2010) and the North Atlantic (in the Sargasso Sea), as well as other tropical ocean currents that collect garbage.

Problematic solution

The main snag in solving the problem of cleaning the ocean from garbage is that none of the countries takes responsibility for its formation and, accordingly, refuses to apply any measures. As Charles Moore, the discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Island, says, clearing the ocean of garbage will bankrupt any country that undertakes it.

Another issue is the complexity of the cleanup mechanism itself. Since the garbage is small, it is difficult to catch it separately from marine life. In addition, the disproportionately large size of the ocean area plays a role, which greatly complicates the process technically. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Marine Debris Program has estimated that it would take 67 ships a year to clean up less than 1% of the North Pacific.

Based on the increase in plastic turnover in the modern world, it is easy to assume that plastic waste is growing every year and, accordingly, more and more garbage ends up in the ocean. Charles Moore, while raising awareness through his own environmental organization, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, used drones to monitor the slick from the air during an expedition in 2014. The plastic content was found to be 100 times higher than the previous value. The expedition team also discovered new plastic formations, or islands, about 15 meters long.

How to keep the oceans free of debris?

The solution to this global problem, like any other, lies at its root - it is necessary to reduce the production, consumption, release of plastic as much as possible (see the principle of refuse-reduce-reuse-… in the article "Proper Waste Management") . At the state level of all countries, a program to inform the population about this issue should be carried out, the practice of processing plastic waste, cleaning coastal zones and beaches from garbage (installing appropriate signs, containers, imposing fines) should be introduced.

A significant personal step would be to phase out (or reduce consumption of) seafood , as fishing plays a big role in polluting the oceans with net waste and overfishing upsets the balance of aquatic ecosystems, causing many species to decline faster than they can recover.

The most significant role in the approach of the catastrophe is played by one-time consumption , the extent of which depends on each of us. It is necessary to abandon one-time personal comforts ( water in plastic bottles , coffee in take-away cups, fast food establishments , disposable tableware , plastic bags in supermarkets , etc.) for a more global and lasting effect. Nature is changing slowly but steadily. If you don’t think and stop now, it’s scary to imagine what kind of world we will live in in a couple of decades.

Minimize your plastic consumption (discard wherever possible, and otherwise reuse and recycle if possible), cheer others up, take out the trash, share information , support relevant organizations and together we can save those beautiful wonders, what nature has given us.

May all living beings be happy! 🙂

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Victoria Shurupova Victoria Shurupova

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