The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

by Ewoma E. Okah-Avae

sunset over ocracoke island, nc © pam lazos

Ewoma is a Geographer, Environmentalist, Blogger & Podcaster on environmental awareness, issues and concerns. She has a blog on which she writes regularly about the environment. The Green Code: Invest In The Matters Of The Environment is a newsletter she writes on a monthly basis about environmental trends. Her podcast titled: Your Environment Matters By Ewoma Okah-Avae can be heard on Google, Spotify, Apple, Anchor, Breaker and a host of others. Please enjoy this blog post by Ewoma.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of marine toxic waste plastic pollution estimated to be 1.6 million square kilometers, twice the size of Texas and three times the size of France! As my writer friend put it, “it’s another continent on its own!” One wonders how there can be so much waste to constitute the size of almost a continent?  Well, what else do we expect to gain from years of accumulated plastic pollution? This is one of the consequences of inadequate solid waste management practices impacting our oceans.The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or GPGP as it is called, is situated halfway between the states of Hawaii and California in the United States. An estimated 1.15-2.41 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans every year from rivers, streams, drainage canals and beaches, resulting in about 1.8 trillion floating plastic pieces some of which have formed the GPGP. 

But before we look at the effects of plastic pollution on our oceans, we need a quick exposé on the importance of oceans: oceans are a natural carbon sink, grabbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to use in the process of photosynthesis by plants living in the sea and acting as a major storage system for carbon dioxide. A carbon sink is any reservoir, natural or otherwise, which accumulates and stores carbon compounds for indefinite periods of time. Oceans are considered to be the main natural carbon sink apart from vegetation and forest cover on land, absorbing approximately 50% of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Plankton, coral reefs, algae, fish and several other photosynthetic bacteria contribute largely to this extraction of carbon, helping to lower drastically the concentration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of oceans especially when it comes to mitigating the effects of global warming and climate change, helping to lower or even eradicate the load of carbon emissions which human activities introduce with more ferocity each year into the environment. If these natural carbon stores or sinks are damaged by plastic pollution, there’s no doubt that the natural ability of this ecological wonder to store carbon will be hampered. If the ocean could no longer store carbon, climate change would accelerate exponentially.

The extent of plastics pollution in the GPGP is enormous. The main pollutant is called the Persistent Bio-accumulative Toxic Chemical present in plastics, otherwise known as PBT. Often plastic pollutants enter the oceans through rivers and other tributaries where over time due to ocean currents, heat, and salinity, they are broken down into microplastics in the range between 0.05-0.5cm in size. Others are meso plastics between 0.5-5cm; macro plastics between 5-50cm, and mega plastics which are 50cm and above in actual size. The majority of plastics retrieved were made up of hard plastic called polyethylene (PE) or another one called polypropylene (PP).

Derelict fishing gear which includes nets and ropes, partially ranging in size from small fragments to larger objects and meter-sized fishing nets are responsible for about 46% of the total mass of plastics waste which is constantly breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Abandoned fishing nets, known as ghost nets, often strangle marine animals such as fish, dolphins, and sea turtles as as they migrate through waters where they often meet a gruesome death. Studies have revealed that about 700 species have encountered marine debris and 92% of these debris are plastic wastes. These animals often mistake small microplastics for food and ingest them, ultimately dying from their inability to digest the plastic. In addition to marine health, there are myriad other health and economic implications and challenges for humans. There is no question that the amount of plastics pollutants present in the oceans poses a constant threat to aquatic and human life and the ability of the oceans to maintain equilibrium. 

If we are to survive as a species, we need to take serious steps to reduce pollution in our water ecosystems; it’s not enough to just look on and do nothing. Some companies like The Ocean Clean Up project are working hard to ameliorate plastics in our oceans, but we also need governments, corporations and stakeholders to rise up and make their voices heard in order to ensure that plastic pollution is reduced to the barest minimum until it is eventually eradicated altogether. Strict measures to effectively dispose and manage solid wastes should be put in place, especially in coastal areas surrounded by beaches. Recycling activities should be introduced into these communities if they don’t already exist, and should be strictly adhered to in order to reduce plastic waste entering our rivers and oceans. It’s time we all do our part.

For more news about the environment you can check out Ewoma’s blog: https://enviromentalline.blogspot.com 

Follow her on LinkedIn:    Ewoma Okah-Avae; Twitter: @ewomao; Instagram:  ewomazino28; and Pinterest: eokahavae 

About Pam Lazos

writer, blogger, environmentally hopeful
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33 Responses to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

  1. How on earth is to solve this Great Pacific garbage patch?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. One of the things I love about teaching the class I do is that the students write about a way to make a difference in their communities. It’s been wonderful to see students fight for local river/lake cleanups, propose different ways to cut down on community garbage, and revision of recycling programs. One voice may not sound like much, any change starts small! xxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. hilarymb says:

    Hi Pam – this is a brilliant blog-post … we all need to be responsible for everything we do in life, but we carry on – we’ve known about the Garbage Patch for a few decades … and I wish we could do something about it, as too the garbage patch in the sky …

    Technologies are coming along … I wrote a blog-post #WATWB on three environmental/covid subjects … 28 March 2021 … somehow we need to be better communicators – that grab headlines and remind everyone that it is that needs to do something, not everyone else, but us.

    I have just read a book by Jon Gertner ‘The Ice at the End of the World’: an Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Perilous Future … very enlightening …

    Cheers – I’m so pleased you keep posting these articles for us – all the best Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great read Pam. I wonder sometimes if we will ever do better and is it too late.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Linda Schaub says:

    Ewoma has brought our worst nightmare to light. Where does it end? We, as nature lovers, cringed when the report on global warming hit the news last week. We have done immeasurable damage to Mother Earth, all which won’t be reversed just as easily as snapping your fingers. We should feel ashamed … but so many people still don’t “get” it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pam Lazos says:

      At some point the bad news just overwhelms us, Linda, and the climate report really hit home. My friend and I were joking that it was time to use the good china cause tomorrow may not be coming after all. It’s not that bad, but it sure feels like it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yes Pam and to hear that awful climate change report during a time when this pandemic rages on, though we thought we were on the right path, made it all the more horrific. Every single day, there is something new – hearing the heartbreak of the earthquake in Haiti, the devastation endured the past decade there, leaves one reeling in disbelief. Reading you and your friend’s quip about the good china makes me think of my mom. We bought a pair of Lennox “Winter Greetings” Cardinal Christmas mugs about 20+ years ago. My mom loved Cardinals and had several collectibles of them around the house. I said “let’s get them to use during the holidays.” So we did. But, my mom drank tea and decided they were too pretty to get tea stains in them. While she was always more practical than I was, this time I said it was silly to keep them up in the cupboard unused. But there they are, all these years later. I’m going to write about them one time at the holidays.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Pam Lazos says:

        And you should use them now, Linda, especially if it brings you joy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        You are right Pam – keeping things for a rainy day … the state of the world is wobbly, too wobbly for my taste. It’s like the bumper sticker “life is short, eat dessert first!”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Pam Lazos says:

        😂😂😂 true, Linda. ♥️

        Liked by 1 person

  6. da-AL says:

    great share – we all need to hear again & again &…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Susan Scott says:

    I remember hearing about the GPGP ?two years ago already? I swear, we don’t learn …

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Such important information, Pam! I will share it with my students and colleagues.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. lampmagician says:

    It seems that still there are such amazing people to do something positive! In my holidays in Greece, I gathered all plastics which I saw on the beach. Thank you, dear Pam. 🙏💖

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Beyond belief. Truly. And still we continue using and dumping plastic.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. In only a relative handful of decades, humans have caused incredible environmental damage and problems. Overall, humans are intelligent creatures, but foolish and self-destructive too. Alas.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Pam, thanks for sharing Ewoma’s blog post. And we wonder why the climate crisis has accelerated faster than predicted!

    Liked by 2 people

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