It has been well documented that there is a massive amount of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. Much of this garbage has collected in a particular area due to ocean currents and has been deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A majority of the garbage found there is plastic products, including bottles and grocery bags.
There are other major islands of trash in the world’s oceans, but the Pacific Ocean’s may be the best known. Plastic waste is becoming more widely known for its impact on the environment, leading to many locations in the United States and abroad to enact some type of plastic bag ban. But plastic bags are not the only issue. In fact, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography determined that overall plastic waste levels in the Pacific Ocean is 100 times greater than it was in the 1970s.
The majority of waste has been documented through studies to come from land, not from ships. This is largely the case when it comes to the influx of tsunami debris joining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. After the large earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan last year, an unimaginable amount of water inundated the shorelines of the nation. When the water receded it took with it an untold amount of debris, ranging from entire docks to vehicles to pieces of houses.
This wide-ranging debris has been making its way across the Pacific Ocean since the disaster and has been making land mainly on the shores of Washington and Oregon. While these shorelines continue to find new debris, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is likely getting greater at the same time. Experts estimate that 1.5 million tons of debris have been caused to enter the Pacific Ocean due to the disaster.
It is unknown how much of this will sink, how much will reach the shores of the U.S. and how much will come to join the garbage patch. However, it is likely a good portion will join the garbage simply due to currents alone. The debris issue has raised questions regarding whether the Great Pacific Garbage Patch should finally be attempted to be cleaned up. If so, it would be a massive and expensive undertaking, however, likely beneficial to the marine life calling the Pacific home.
Thousands of animals die yearly due to ingestion and entanglement in plastic debris. The chemicals from the plastics breaking down are also accumulating in the seas and subsequently impacting marine species through bioaccumulation in many cases. Some species, such as seabirds, also ingest plastics which lead to their death. Statistics from the Monterey Bay Aquarium indicate that approximately one million seabirds may perish due to plastic ingestion worldwide. An additional 100,000 mammals are thought to have the same fate from ingesting plastics yearly.