The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
May 25, 2010 Rosanna C. Rogacion
Plastic Bags - Rosanna
The plastic items we discard are ending up in the oceans, killing thousands of marine animals.
David de Rothschild is 31 and is heir to the British Rothschild banking fortune. This "eco-toff"
(British slang for 'rich boy') is dealing with billions - but neither in dollars nor pounds. This
"billionaire eco-warrior" deals with billions of plastic bottles and other trash. "There were 25
billion styrofoam cups used last year," de Rothschild told the LA Times. He also explained that
"Eighty-odd percent of what's purchased by Americans is thrown out within six months." Now
that's something to ponder.
David de Rothschild's 'Plastiki'
David de Rothschild has built his catamaran out of soda bottles and is bent on sailing to the
enormous collection of floating garbage in the Pacific Ocean which is known as the Great Pacific
Garbage Patch. de Rothschild calls himself an educator and "environmental storyteller" and his
voyage on board his plastic-bottle-made catamaran is meant to educate the public on the dangers
of throwing garbage into the sea.
The catamaran is called “Plastiki” and it is made of thousands of plastic bottles glued together by
a substance made from sugar and cashew hulls. This glue, says de Rothschild, could replace
“epoxies - horrible, noxious stuff."
His destination is an ever-growing sea of garbage covering an area bigger than the 268,581
square miles surface land mass of Texas and twice the size of France. This area, which was once
known as the doldrums, is invisible to satellites because it is not a solid mass but a kind of
“marine soup whose main ingredient is floating plastic debris,” says Richard Grant, a writer who
has explored this subject.
Charles Moore Discovers Garbage in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre
The marine garbage soup was discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore - a California sailor and
volunteer environmentalist. Moore sailed across the edge of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre -
a region often avoided by seafarers. This gyre is a perennial high pressure zone “an immense
slowly spiraling vortex of warm equatorial air that pulls in winds and turns them gently until they
expire,” Grant explains. This gyre is also the converging zone of several major sea currents
which bring with them much flotsam from the Pacific coasts of Southeast Asia, North America,
Canada and Mexico. Grant says that fifty years ago nearly all the flotsam that converged in the
gyre was biodegradable. “These days, it is 90 percent plastic,” he lamented.
When Moore sailed to this area in 1997, it took him a week to get across and he said “there was
always some plastic thing bobbing by. Bottle caps, toothbrushes, Styrofoam cups, detergent
bottles, pieces of polystyrene packaging and plastic bags. Half of it was just little chips that we
More Plastic Than Plankton
Moore sailed back to the gyre two years after armed with a fine-meshed net. What he saw was
mind-boggling -- “We found more plastic than plankton, and this was just colossal,” he declared.
Moore eventually organized the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. He enlisted scientists and
launched research projects and campaigns to educate the public about this growing garbage soup
in the Pacific Ocean.
Sources of Marine Garbage
Moore has since confirmed that the world’s navies and commercial shipping fleets throw some
639,000 plastic containers overboard every single day, together with other garbage. But the
greater concern comes from data gathered by Moore through sampling of ocean water in the gyre
and near the mouth of Los Angeles streams, which, when compared with data from scientists in
Japan and Britain confirmed that 80 percent of marine plastic was initially discarded on land.
The United Nations Environmental Programme agrees with Moore’s conclusions.
How Plastic Bottles End Up in the Ocean
How do plastic bottles thrown on land end up in the ocean? When the wind blows, plastic
rubbish is hurled into the streams, rivers and storm drains. They ride the tides of current and sail
out to the sea. Another major source of plastic rubbish in the oceans is litter from the beaches.
We all know that plastic is not biodegradable, and to date, there is no known microbe that can
feed on it. But plastic is photodegradable -- that is, when it is exposed to sunlight for a long time,
the polymer chains break down to smaller and smaller pieces. This is why Moore found tons of
plastic flecks and fragments in the gyre.
Effect of Marine Garbage on Marine Animals
British Filmmaker Rebecca Hosking has found that on Midway Island, 2, 800 miles west of
California, thousands of Laysan albatross chicks die every year from eating plastic particles. The
United Nations Environmental Programme says that plastic is killing a million seabirds and
100,000 marine mammals and turtles every year. Entanglement, choking and clogged up
digestive tracts are the main causes of these deaths.
Moore says we cannot clean up the ocean and remove the plastic. “…most of the plastic is in tiny
pieces and it’s everywhere. All we can do is stop putting more of it in, and that means
redesigning our relationship with plastic.”
David de Rothschild agrees, “The message of this project is that plastic’s not the enemy…It’s
about rethinking waste as a resource. It’s about doing smart things with plastic and showcasing