Tag Archives: north pacific trash gyre

We’re still following that gyre, and yes, that is a bird full of plastic: “What happened to that disposable Solo cup—the one you used once at a work party—after you tossed it into the garbage? For that matter, what happens to any of the countless plastic products (shopping bags, coffee stirrers, water bottles, etc.) we use and then discard on a daily basis? Of course, conventional plastic doesn’t readily biodegrade; so where is it now? If you live in North America or Asia, there’s a chance that cup is trapped in a broad ocean current, known as a gyre, in the middle of the northern Pacific Ocean along with an untold number of other pieces of litter in what has been named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Read the interview with Gyre photographer Chris Jordan.  Or just check out his work.

North Atlantic Trash Gyre aka TRASH EVERYWHERE!

So before I start I’ll say that I realize that GreenMNP has sat mostly dormant for a few months.  There are a few elements that have contributed to this.  Our Main Ninja, Jessie, has had her hands full pursuing her various real-life interests.  Also, our new format for the site in general is aimed at slower more content-rich material – a slight change from the furious ninja pace you may be used to.

Approximately the Speed of Light

A few months back we brought you a post about the supposed “North Pacific Trash Gyre.”  Basically, what this refers to is a swirling mass of trash in our ocean that is definitely not beneficial for marine life – or non-marine life, for that matter.

In a dramatic second round of the petroleum wars,  the same organization that discovered the NPTG has found another site of destruction: the North Atlantic.  This news was broken by Anna Cummings and Marcus Eriksen, both researchers for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Of course, skeptics will immediately argue (and could be right) that you don’t see this garbage and therefore it doesn’t exist.  The problem, according to the researchers, is that most of the trash is located below the surface.  Before we get into the specifics of the Gyre, we’ll show you some random pics of trash in the ocean to get you riled up:

Garbage in the North Pacific (subject matter of our last post)

Researches originally found the trash gyres by doing what’s called “trawling.”  This, more or less, involves dragging giant nets that collect water and particulate matter and later analyzing what comes up.  The researchers in question were quite horrified when they found that PPM (parts per million) levels of plastic were particularly elevated.

an example of trawling

Clearly it’s a ridiculous proposition that there’s no trash in the ocean, especially given that we live on a planet where so many people use products that incorporate non bio-degradable elements every day.  Plastic, which is an oil-based substance, may be the most ubiquitous, if not the most nefarious of all of these pollutants.  While chemicals like mercury cause immediate and measurable damage to biological organisms, plastic tends to break down into particulates that could be harmful to living things in the long run (if you use your common sense).

The SEA Organization, which sponsors semesters at SEA, allowing undergraduates to participate in marine research, has also carried out several studies that seem to confirm the high abundance of the plastic contaminant in our water:

For more than 20 years SEA has been carefully measuring the abundance of plastic marine debris in the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea on the sailing oceanographic research vessels SSVs Westward and Corwith Cramer, and also in the North and South Pacific since the arrival of the SSV Robert C. Seamans in 2001.

More than 6150 surface net tows have been carried out from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean Islands, collecting 64,000+ plastic pieces that have been handpicked from net samples. On cruises from Hawaii to the west coast of the U.S. samples have been collected in the much-popularized “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

a fish with a piece of plastic embedded in stomach

The effects the buildup of plastic in our oceans, in the bodies of marine animals, and ultimately the larger mammals (read: humans) that ingest them are still largely unknown.  Additionally, like so many of the last century’s environmental hot topics, how concerned one should be could depend on who you ask.  Left wing environmental organizations put out studies that are frequently contradicted by studies funded by the businesses with the most stake in the matter.  Though the results of these contradictory studies may often be correct, because of the political push and pull and the nature of science itself, we will most likely remain in a dubious position of indecision until the effects are rampant or the threat disappears.  I know I don’t sound like an optimist right now, but reality bites.

WTF is a Gyre??

A “gyre“, in oceanographic terms, is a rotating set of currents that basically swirl in a circle.  The currents are caused by such factors as wind currents, the shapes of land masses, ocean temperatures, the shape of the sea floor,  um, and God.  The trash gyres came to be known as such because of the currents that swirl in a circular fashion and tend to cause trash (and other solids) to concentrate in certain places.  While out trawling the oceans for plastic, researchers noticed that the concentrations of plastic are higher in certain areas than in others.

the five major ocean gyres

Like I said before, it can be hard to see these gyres because the plastic being measured is often times in the form of particles that are super-small.  That is not to say that there’s not blatantly tons of junk floating around in these very same places.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right spot.

What do you guys think of this situation?  As of right now there exists no reliable method in which to clean the ocean, and there’s a fat chance there ever will be.  In my opinion, this is a much more tangible problem than carbon in the atmosphere.  Maybe the government should try regulating product packaging to reduce this problem, given that a great many alternatives exist to plastic.

the trash has invaded

If you’ve ever seen the Industry commercials, you know that plastic is a wonderful substance that has greatly advanced our society.  Its subsequent breakdown in our oceans, however, may be our downfall.

SOC Surfrider Foundation Commercial: “Plastic Has No Place Here” from Ryan Fitzgerald on Vimeo.

Here’s a video from Algalita:


MNP is well aware that “gyre” is also, amongst other things, what slithy toves do in the wabe.

North Pacific Trash Gyre?

Recent events – including my own brewing exploits – have forced me to reconsider how much trash/pollution that we dump into the ocean on a daily basis. I mean, just today I drank 4 cans of soda, ate two meals out of Styrofoam containers (with three sets of plastic silverware and a stack of napkins). One you start to add things together, it’s a pretty staggering picture how much trash an average North American produces, just living a normal life. Now imagine that you actually produce something useful to society in any way, and you start to enter into a quagmire of epic proportions. I mean, I brew my own beer, which has got to be environmentally friendly in some way. However, in brewing, the cleaner your materials are the less chance you have of your beer being infected by wild yeasts. That, generally, ends up in a few teaspoons of iodine dissolved in a few gallons of water being dumped down the drain. Epic, mostly because it’s pretty clear that if and when we destroy our environment, the picnic’s over. Everything adds up.

Rant ended, I saw this article over at The Oyster’s Garter about the supposed “North Pacific Trash Gyre,” which is what it sounds like: a huge floating pile of Trash in the Pacific. Because our earth is some 75% water, it’s not a big deal that you don’t particularly notice this “trash gyre,” an effing whirpool of muck south of Cali, but it damn sure is a big deal that it’s there. And it’s the size of Texas.

The Pacific is not big enough, however, to hide all the plastic crap that comes pouring off North American and Asia. Many of the broken flipflops, lost plastic bags, abandoned waterbottles, and so forth collect in the North Pacific Gyre, which is essentially a big slow gentle whirlpool. But instead of sucking the trash down, it just collects at the center, forming a floating trash heap the size of Texas. LINK

Although the articles I quoted are old, The Oyster’s Garter, apparently run by a Miriam Goldstein, is probably the best continuing blog I’ve read on this subject in my short week of research.  Another article over there deals with the lack of images relevant to the story:

To really get a sense of how much plastic is in there, you have to do a trawl, which entails dragging a net with a bucket on the end behind your boat. Here’s a photo of a bongo trawl taken off of southern California. (Credit: Barbeau Lab, SIO) And here’s a photo of what a normal bongo trawl should produce – lots of zooplankton, a few invertebrates, and the occasional small fish.

Now, contrast this with the results of a trawl from the North Pacific Gyre. Here’s the bongo net being hauled up – see how the ocean looks normal? But the contents – plastic, plastic, and more plastic.* (Credit: Algalita Marine Research Foundation).  When all that plastic collects somewhere, you get beaches like this one in the NW Hawaiian Islands. LINK.

One dude was so struck by (what basically amounts to) the huge pile o’ shit in the ocean that he went on to found an organization dedicated to studying this situation.  Some of their pictures are used in this post.  You can find their page here: http://www.algalita.org/