What is so Alarming about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
While the Pacific garbage patch counts as just one among the many which exist currently in the (unfortunate) marine ecosystem, just its sheer vastness sends chills down our spines at even the first glance. All of this, and for what? Our indiscriminate (over)use of just about anything and everything, including food and daily needs. Only if we bought according to our absolute needs, and minded where the waste went, organizations and governments would have been entirely managing direr fields like education, research and healthcare, rather than having to mind about the global climate crisis, that too, when our mother earth has self-healing capacities until the breaking point.
Now for the unaware,
what is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
Basically, it is a region in the North Pacific where the global litter ends up accumulating. This kind of litter which ends up in the major water bodies of our planet is called marine litter. Many such garbage patches exist across the globe, of which, the Pacific patch is the largest. It comprises of two distinct patches – the east and the west, and is made up of mostly microplastics, which comprise around 80% of the total global marine litter. And as we all know, plastic is non-biodegradable; the plastic garbage continues to drain into the high seas, get caught up in the major water currents, and end up in the middle of ocean vortexes, which are stable oceanic areas with relatively calm waters.
Unlike regular convention, these plastic garbage piles do not create heaping islands; if they did so, it would have been way easier to clean the whole thing up in a finite time period. We know that plastic is non-biodegradable, but what most of us are not aware of, is a process called photodegradation, where objects and materials break into smaller bits and constituents under the effect of solar radiation. Plastic is one of the pioneers of this category. All types of plastic undergo photodegradation and break up into tinier bits and pieces, which are themselves non-biodegradable. What happens, as a result, is, tiniest bits of plastic, called microplastics, lay strewn around across an area, estimated to be anywhere between the area of Texas and Russia (yes! It is that huge), high in the seas where there is minimal direct human interference, and wildlife live free. Have we arrived at a hint now, as to what could be the direct impact of this patch upon mother nature?
Yes, you got that right. This non-biodegradable litter enters our food chain, via fishes, turtles, and birds that mistake them as food. Let alone the fact that these animal babies die of starvation and organ rupture due to ingestion of plastic, but besides this, if they do not die somehow, they are eaten by predators and undergo bioaccumulation while climbing up the food chain. And ultimately, they reach the human system.
Not only that, plastics leach out as well as absorb harmful chemicals, like bisphenol A, which they leach out, and PCB, which they absorb, and this PCB containing plastics as well as chemicals like Bisphenol A ultimately end up in the food chain. The disposed fishing nets trap unsuspecting fishes and other marine animals, perishing them to death.
80% of this litter can be traced back to land waste, from fishing nets and shoes to that polystyrene Starbucks coffee cup that we drink coffee from, to that Styrofoam plate we use to distribute prasad in our neighborhood. Well, that is not the end yet. Wait for more.
We can all move into a global food crisis because of these marine garbage patches. Tiny microplastics are such that they cannot be collected by the smallest nets, and the area in which they lay strewn would take an impossible amount of manpower and resources for a legible clean-up. For example, the NOAA’s (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) Marine Debris Program had estimated that it would take 67 ships one full year to clean up less than just 1% of the North Pacific Ocean. So, what happens is, the litter floats at the surface level of the water, blocking sunlight for the primary producers - the phytoplankton, rendering them unable to produce food. And they form the base of our food web. It definitely seems scary to think what will happen some 50 years from now.
The yacht captain Charles Moore, who accidentally discovered the patch in one of his races, freaked out to an extent that changed his entire course of life. He continues to be an advocate of zero-waste and ocean clean-up, and undertakes various awareness and ocean clean-up programs via his foundation that he established dedicated entirely to this cause – the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. It scares us to think what world our future generations would be residing in – a world degraded and polluted by their very ancestors. We would leave an existential burden on them without any fault of theirs.
‘The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations’ – Pope John Paul II
So, is there still a way out?
The only way out is to limit or better, eliminate the use of disposable plastics and increase usage of biodegradable resources. Explorers and scientists alike, agree on this fact. Just like incineration of plastic releases toxic fumes into the air, dumping them would eventually end up in the oceans and choke the seas. Our mother nature has her own healing capacities, but only up to a limit. If we go against her and overburden her, our end is inevitable. Only if we work synergistically with her, will both our interests be compounded, and we as a species would continue to survive on this beautiful planet.
Minding our waste is the key. Using less, recycling and reusing things, consciously thinking of how to dispose of the garbage that we create (like composting), are things that should become a part of our lifestyle, not just remain in texts as preaching. Using eco-friendly, biodegradable products definitely adds up to these, so we give back only love and zero toxicity to our mother who sustains us. India is the oldest surviving civilization today, and over millennia, it has shown the way how to live minimalistic yet fulfilling and glorious lives. If our ancestors could do it, why not us?
‘The earth is what we all have in common.’ - Wendell Berry
What are you doing to save our planet? Drop in the comments below. Let us walk hand in hand to create a better world for our children!