What Is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? 

Many of you may or may not know of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This patch is located in the Pacific Ocean around 32N and 145W, which is between California and Hawaii. The 1.6 square kilometer patch is made entirely up of plastic dumped from rivers and gutters. While a good portion of the plastics are larger objects, researchers have stated the majority of the patch is made up of microplastics. To be exact, there are an estimated 1.7 trillion pieces of microplastic, which are pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm in size. Therefore, they’re very difficult to identify and clean up. These plastics are ruining marine life, and affecting humans in the process. That’s why it is imperative to get rid of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch so that marine life and humans can thrive. 

Effects On Marine Animals And Humans 

Imagine poor sea turtles struggling to detangle themselves from lost fish nets. Now think of fishes dying because they are confusing plastic for food. These images aren’t so hard to believe once you realize that 8 million metric tons of plastic goes into the ocean every year! It’s undeniable that plastic is hurting our marine life in ways you probably haven’t thought of. For example, plastic debris with loops and hooks get stuck on wildlife or entangle them. Debris from the ocean can also destroy native species by accidentally introducing invasive species. The non-native species can latch onto marine debris floating into other habitats, ruining them.  

Believe it or not, marine life aren’t the only organisms affected by this crisis. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has made a huge impact on humans too. If plastic enters the food web, humans’ supply of food will be contaminated as well. Bioaccumulation of plastic chemicals occurs when they enter the system of the animal and then move up the food chain- ultimately ending up back to us. If plastic finds its way into humans, we’ll be housing those chemicals in our bodies. 

While marine debris can affect us physically, it also affects our economy. According to the United Nations, plastics in the ocean have caused environmental damage costs of up to 13 billion USD! All of that money is from beach cleanups and financial loss from fisheries.  

Programs Leading The Change 

Luckily, many programs are leading the change in cleaning the ocean. A Dutch organization called The Ocean Cleanup is hosting research expeditions to and from the garbage patch in order to better understand what other garbage may lie in the ocean and what it can mean for the animals that live there.  

Ocean Conservancy is also trying to get rid of plastic in the oceans by hosting annual International Coastal Cleanups. The conservancy has brought together more than 12 million people from 153 countries to clean up their beaches around the world. Their idea is that as long as plastic production increases, it’s best that plastic stays out of the ocean in the first place. They believe that starting at the root of the problem comes first.   

What Can I do? 

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut way in getting rid of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and all the other plastic floating around in the oceans. But if everyone took the initiative and actively exercised good environmentally-friendly habits such as recycling or reducing use of plastic containers and bags, we would be able to stop the spread of 100 million metric tons of coastal plastic waste. 

By spreading the word to friends and family about current pollution issues, you can recruit more people to be a part of the solution. Supporting bans on plastic bags, bottles, and several other single-use products also contributes to the cause. 

However, it’s important to make sure that you not only verbally endorse these procedures, but also do them. Instead of picking up plastic bags from the store, bring your own reusable bags. Store water in reusable bottles, or use metal straws instead of single-use plastic ones. Even something as simple as recycling properly can be a huge help. All of these seemingly trivial actions, matter. 

Another product to avoid is the use of microbeads, which are starting to rise as a source of plastic pollution. They can be found in lots of cosmetic products such as face washes, scrubs, and toothpastes. Although tiny, these tiny balls of plastic find their way into sewers which eventually empty out into other water-ways. 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi once said. Help the world get rid of these plastics so that the environment and ourselves stay clean and happy. 


This OpEd is written by U4SC Student Intern, Ashlyn.

[Image Attribute: Fabio Achilli]