What About That Huge Pile of Plastic in the Ocean? It’s Not As Big As They Say

by on September 23, 2011

in bruce's thoughts

Brusimm.com - news, entertainment, sports and other opinions.Did you know that there’s a huge collection of plastic that’s floating in the Pacific Ocean? From what I can tell, it’s not specifically a mountain of trash floating on the ocean like many media outlets have been reporting, but rather, it’s the accumulated swirl of our own trash being pulled in by ocean currents.

Looking over an article at Science Daily, they talked about an expedition conducted by a part of the Scripps Institute, called SEAPLEX or Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition.

They headed out into the North Pacific in late 2009 with the plan to check out the North Pacific Ocen Gyre, which is basically, for lack of a well defined explanation, is one of many spots where the currents collect from various forces and end up swirling about.

What they found in the region of the gyre was a high concentration of plastic floating in the ocean. They were able to retrieve plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets easily. They called the amount of plastic they spotted floating in the ocean, “shocking.”

But the website also contests that the claims about the size of the patch of floating plastic are a bit over-stated. Scientists say they don’t need that kind of hyperbole.

In fact they noted that if you were to measure the cohesive plastic mound that is floating in the ocean today, the mass of that pile is smaller than 1% the size of Texas and not larger than the state of Texas, as many media .

In my mind, folks that were off playing town crier meant well, they may have been referring to the size of the gyre that is responsible for pulling in the debris.

For comparison, they said that if you were to filter the ocean surface for plastic, and looked at a piece of water the size of a football field, the trash would not extend beyond the 1-inch depth.

But to be honest, the fact that had to specific that it didn’t pass the 1-inch depth, but is thick enough to warrant that statement, and not have a conciliatory statement saying it doesn’t even measure up is still a bothersome point to me.

What they did point out is that

  • The amount of plastic in the ocean hasn’t increased since the mid-80’s.
  • Plastic either floats or sinks.
  • There’s no plastic mound as deep as the Golden Gate Bridge is tall.
  • Photosynthetic microbes have adapted to start thriving on plastic.
  • Plastic can be toxic, because it has the ability to absorb stuff such as PCB.


In other words, despite what appears to be an increase in plastic use has not proportionately increased the plastic trash in the ocean. To me that means that recycling does seem to be working to some degree.

Recycling is working or our use of 34 billion water bottles/containers used each year would make more of a mess than it already has.

That when we read headlines about plastic mounts the size of Texas, or as the Daily Mail Online reported, of floating rubbish dumps twice the size of the U.S., have to be digested very carefully. Yes, ocean gyres are big, but they’re not in and of themselves, dumps.

Though estimates on the order of 100k sea-based living animals die from plastics each year, no matter how far off or close they may be, are sad to see.

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