The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’

Have you ever heard of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’?! No, neither had I until my local coffee retailer BaristaBike told me about it as I was getting a refill for my KeepCup. Following a bit of background reading I was enlightened to discover that the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ itself is a bit of a myth but the problem with pollution in our oceans from non-degrading plastic waste is entirely real and growing!

There is no plastic island covering an area double the size of Texas that floats around the North Pacific – the fact is that the problem is more prolific and often less visible. There are many ‘plastic soups’ where plastic-micro fibres and materials have accumulated due to the effects of strong currents whipping up this plastic pollution. These natural gathering points are called gyres and they appear where rotating currents, winds, and other ocean features converge to accumulate marine debris, as well as plankton, seaweed, and other sea life. These occur in many places within the North Pacific, as well as in other oceans around the world.


All of this waste is having adverse implications for marine life, including fish, birds and marine mammals. Some of the ill effects are more obvious such as the deterioration of natural marine habitats and the rate at which marine life in our oceans is declining. However, some of the effects of pollution are less obvious and others are yet unknown. As plastic breaks up in the ocean it becomes porous and can absorb chemicals which are free floating in the ocean. Fish are then ingesting these micro plastics and thus hazardous toxins are intermixing in the food chain. See Mathew Coles paper on this topic.



If you haven’t yet seen the documentary A Plastic Ocean you can see all the heartbreaking and shocking damage the human race has inflicted on Marine life and the oceans. The oceans and seas cover over 70% of this Earth and the future of this planet will be tested by the quality of our waters.

Gannets on Heligoland with Plastic WasteBasstoelpel auf Helgoland mit Plastikmuell

Gannets (northern gannet Morus bassanus) on the “Lummenfelsen” on Heligoland. The birds use plastic waste and parts of fishery nets (Dolly ropes) to build their nests on the rock. Many birds die in the ropes by strangulating themself. Seevoegel/Basstoelpel (Morus bassanus) mit Plastikmuell auf dem “Lummenfelsen” auf Helgoland. Die Voegel nutzen Plastikmuell und Teile von Fischernetzen (Dolly Ropes) um ihre Nester zu bauen. Viele Voegel erhaengen sich an den Plastikleinen.

Stomach Contents of Dead Albatross

The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific in September 2009 include plastic marine debris fed the chick by its parents.

Turtle and Plastic in the Ocean

The jellyfish is a main source of food for a sea turtle. Floating plastic bags are often mistaken by marine mammals for jellyfish.

Dr. Sylvia Earl put it very simply- “The single non-negotiable thing life requires is water.”

So try to ask yourself why do we need to use so much plastic? One scary statistic states that “there are around 1,500 plastic water bottles put into landfill and dropped in our oceans every second of every day” – when you see the plastic waste that is dumped in your local harbours, rivers and streams you can well believe this!



All photographic Images are courtesy of Greenpeace

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