In 1997, Charles Moore, a former furniture restorer and retired sea captain, was sailing from Hawaii back to Long Beach CA after a yacht race. Taking a shortcut home, he came across a terrifying sight: a cemetery for every plastic thing imaginable; baby toys, bottles, motor oil containers and giant entanglements of netting; an endless vista of plastic particles. More than a decade after Moore discovered it, this vortex of synthetic waste swirls tirelessly, but now has an official name: the Eastern Garbage Patch. Most of the Eastern Garbage Patch plastic has decomposed, even down to between one and five millimeters in size. But because of its structure, plastic will never fully biodegrade. Researchers, still in the infancy of scientific understanding, don't know to what extent marine debris affects marine ecosystems and, in turn, humans. The problem may prove as complex and long-lasting as climate change. If so, its effect on cities could be catastrophic.
40 these photographs of plastic bottles found along the east anglian shore in the united Kingdom are part of Nick sinclair’s project, A Drop in the Ocean. the image on page 42 is part of Next American City’s limited edition program and for sale at americancity.org/store. americancity.org 41 The Largest Environmental Problem You’ve Never Heard Of By Hamida Kinge Photography by Nick sinclair I n 1997, Charles Moore, a former furniture “It’s OK, you can drop in there, it’s ok, it’s ok!” restorer and retired sea captain, was Moore yells over high winds to a truck driver who sailing from Hawaii back to Long Beach, is making a delivery of green waste mulch at a Calif. after a yacht race. Taking a shortcut loading dock in Hilo, Hawaii. On a Friday morning home, he came across a terrifying sight: a this past October, Moore spoke with me by cell cemetery for every plastic thing imaginable; phone between deliveries. baby toys, bottles, motor oil containers and Placing mulch on land remediates the soil of giant entanglements of netting; an endless bacteria and toxicants such as weed killers, Moore vista of plastic particles. The debris covered explains. Fewer toxins end up in the ocean as an area so large it took him an entire week a result. “Wherever I go on land, I try to mulch to sail through it. it,” Moore says. The program is just one of the More than a decade after Moore discov- initiatives that Moore works on, connecting ered it, this vortex of synthetic waste swirls human practices on land with their consequences tirelessly, but now has an official name: the in the water. Eastern Garbage Patch. Estimates of its size An intense 61-year old who looks a decade range between 435,000 and 932,000 square younger and talks like an encyclopedia of marine miles, but most scientists refer to it as twice debris facts, Moore founded the Algalita Marine the size of Texas. Though it is largely a Research Foundation in 1994; a major component byproduct of urban centers and a potential of Algalita’s work is monitoring and documenting threat to the health of humans and marine the Eastern Garbage Patch and its plastic debris. life, average citizens don’t know it exists. But Part of a larger mass of circular currents if the current attention Moore is getting is called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, an area estimated at 10 million square miles, the garbage any indication, consumers will soon think patch is the debris epicenter of that whirlpool. twice when they buy bottled water from a Oceanographers such as Curtis Ebbesmeyer, deli or bite into a piece of mahi-mahi. issue 22 neXt aMeriCan City 42 a leading authority on marine debris, have been studying the the fastest growing segment in the U.S. municipal waste phenomenon for years, but because of its vastness, there are stream. Betwee
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