The Great Pacific Garbage Patch — Who Knew?

Scientists study huge patches of plastic garbage in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans

Pacific garbage patch

Pacific garbage patch

Mario Aguilera/Scripps Institution of Oceanography

An intriguing thought process began for me last week after I viewed the video (below) shared by a Facebook friend. The filmmaking team's Midway Project website explained its efforts to publicize the plight of the Pacific island's albatrosses, which was due to something called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."

I'm not sure why I hadn't heard of the Patch, but I was amazed to read several very recent articles about it at the Public Radio International, MSNBC World News and BBC News websites. The Patch is an enormous deposit of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that has accumulated because of the various currents and gyres.

A few clicks later, I discovered — on the National Geographic website — that the Atlantic has a trash patch too. The articles say the Pacific's patch is roughly the size of Texas and potentially 65 feet deep or greater. The Atlantic's patch covers a north-south region offshore from about Virginia to Cuba. Its east-west dimension is unknown. The trash generally suspends through the water column, so it's not like a giant floating island.

The articles say the trash comes from consumer products blown out of open landfills or tossed out by litterbugs, but I’m assuming the sources are many and varied. Reading about the patches was illuminating, frightening and convicting.

While recreational anglers probably contribute only a small fraction of that garbage when we're on the water — I choose to believe that most of us are not litterbugs — we also contribute during our everyday lives. Reading about the patches gives me an eerie sense of déjà vu: Flash back to the 1970s, when pollution made headlines in a big way and dire predictions about the future stirred the liberal conscience.

Have our population numbers and habits caught up with our planet’s ability to support us? Heavy thoughts to consider next time you’re on the water and a plastic bottle flies out of your boat.