Trashing Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Mar 31, 2015

Credit Steven Guerrisi / Flickr

As we continue our series “Trashing Paradise,” we wanted to take a look at what happens to garbage near the ocean when it doesn’t go where it’s supposed to go.

When plastic is washed or dumped into the ocean, it doesn’t completely break down…instead it adds to a dangerous plastic soup.  Currents swirling around the pacific gather up marine debris light enough to float.  The trash is pushed together by the north pacific subtropical gyre, forming what scientists call “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. Plastics are broken down by current and sunlight into smaller and smaller sizes, some almost invisible to the eye. The exact size of the patch is difficult for scientists to measure as most of the debris floats beneath the surface and cannot be seen by satellite. Charles Moore is the captain of the Algalita research vessel which tracks the Gyre. 

Moore says that the real danger comes from animals who ingest the tiny particles which can kill them or make its way back into human food sources. 

You can find our entire "Trashing Paradise" series here.