The garbage that we see on the beach is only part of the problem. There is a lot more garbage floating at sea that we normally never see.
Scientists are getting worried about how much garbage is in the oceans. The clearest example of the problem can be seen at certain places in the ocean where the waters swirl into natural, slow-moving whirlpools. These places are called gyres. The garbage collects in the middle of these gyres.
The world's biggest garbage patch is called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It floats in a gyre in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
- It contains approximately 100 million tonnes of waste plastic.
- It is estimated to be three times the size of Quebec (that's more than 4.5 million square kilometres of garbage)!
- Experts estimate that 80% of the garbage in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based sources, while 20% is from ships at sea.
- According to researchers, ocean currents can carry garbage to the centre of the gyre from places as far away as Japan in about five years. Debris from places as close as British Columbia makes it to the Pacific garbage patch in a year or less.
- Some parts of the patch have an estimated 970 000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre.
- A lot of the surface junk comes in bigger pieces, but most of the plastic in the patch has disintegrated into tiny pieces after years of being thrown around the ocean. The pieces are generally about the width of a pea. It takes special nets to gather them.
To find out more about what is happening with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, check out this web site: http://www.greatgarbagepatch.org.
An Expert's Thoughts
"The Pacific patch is huge. It's horrific. It is a plastic soup!
There's not been a way established to clean it up yet, but we're monitoring it and we can try to curb its growth.
People need to move away from disposable goods and think twice before they litter."
Director of Conservation and Environmental Affairs
Plastic: A Burden for Hundreds of Years
- Plastics are non-biodegradable. In other words, they do not decompose (break down). They can photodegrade, which means that sunlight breaks the plastic down into smaller pieces over time. But, there is still nothing that can feed on these smaller pieces, so they remain floating in the ocean.
- The plastic waste that is in our oceans now will still be bobbing around when your grandchildren play on the beach.
- Plastic waste is often consumed by sea birds or sea animals that don't see it, or mistake it for food. The plastic cannot be digested. It remains in their belly, often causing injury or death.
- Sometimes, when plastic is broken into tiny pieces it can sink to the bottom of the ocean. This too has its problems, because it can smother the smaller creatures that live on the seabed.