An island of floating plastic garbage twice the size of Texas is trapped within the current gyre in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. The trash originated from countries that ring the Pacific and is continuing to grow in size. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been studying the phenomenon for over a decade. Charles Moore of Algalita calls it the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and describes it as a “swirling plastic cesspool”.
The plastic garbage poses a great danger to marine wildlife, ranging from turtles to whales. Confused turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and die of intestinal blockage after consumption. Seabirds mistake bright bits of plastic trash for fish and squid and succumb to the same death. They also carry the deadly bits back to their nests to feed their young. Endangered monk seals and other marine mammals such as whales frequently get entangled and drown.
Wayne Sentman is a former Sea Quest kayak tour guide and naturalist educator who left us to study the problem from Midway Island, a wildlife refuge northwest of Hawai’i. Midway is home to three million breeding seabirds including two-thirds of the world’s Laysan Albatross. Wayne describes the beaches of the remote island as a “garbage dump” as trade winds continually blow huge mounds of plastic debris on shore.
As Wayne said, “Between birds dying due to plastic or regurgitating it to their chicks, some five tons of the stuff is deposited on Midway each year.” He’s routinely found dead birds whose stomachs were filled with bulbs, flashlights, toys and syringes with needles. “I never use a plastic lighter now, because I found one bird had ingested six,” says Sentman. “It’s mind-boggling. You’re in the middle of the Pacific and you expect pristine beauty. But plastic is all over.”
Futurists and speculative fiction writers like Neal Stephenson have suggested that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will eventually grow dense enough to be colonized by human immigrants and be declared a sovereign nation – a real life “Water World”!