The Atlantic Garbage Patch

June 13, 2010

Last summer, I posted a couple of notes about Project Kaisei, an expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge collection of plastic bottles and miscellaneous rubbish, concentrated by prevailing winds and currents into an area of the North Pacific ocean about the size of Texas.   There has been some speculation that similar “garbage patches” might exist in other oceans, as well.

According to a report at the site, just such a floating rubbish heap was encountered in the Sargasso Sea by a French ocean survey.  As in the Pacific, much of the detritus was plastic containers of various kinds, which tend to become entangled in the Sargassum seaweed for which the area is named.  The expedition’s findings confirm an earlier report, which found a pervasive “soup” of plastic fragments in the North Atlantic.

Long trails of seaweed, mixed with bottles, crates and other flotsam, drift in the still waters of the area, known as the North Atlantic Subtropical Convergence Zone. Cummins’ team even netted a Trigger fish trapped alive inside a plastic bucket.

But the most nettlesome trash is nearly invisible: countless specks of plastic, often smaller than pencil erasers, suspended near the surface of the deep blue Atlantic.

No one has come up with a practical way of removing all of this stuff from the ocean, so the only remedy is to try to prevent its getting there in the first place.  It is sad to think that the most lasting artifact of our civilization might be an island of crap.

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