Even though most informed people are by now familiar with the term “garbage patch”, some may still not have a full grasp on the actual meaning behind this term, or at least a distortion when picturing this garbage patch. The only widely accepted fact about the garbage patch is that it is a problem that we must face sooner rather than later. Therefore, it seems to be about time to clean up around some of the most prevalent of these myths.
To lay the groundwork, it might seem advantageous to elaborate on what exactly the garbage patch is. The garbage patch or any oceanic garbage patch for that matter is an area of increased concentration of marine debris. These patches are shaped through ocean currents that are commonly referred to as “gyres” pulling the debris into their center and thus creating areas with elevated concentrations of marine debris. Although, the most famous garbage patch is undoubtedly the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there are unfortunately several more in existence.
Firstly, let’s address one of the biggest misconceptions: Is the garbage patch really an island of trash that one can actually walk on? The picture that comes to mind when thinking of the garbage patch is most likely quite close to this but in reality, this could not be further from the truth. Considering that these areas denoted as garbage patches have an increased concentration of marine debris, they are still far away from being solid floating “islands” on which one could actually set foot.
As mentioned, the plastic is mixed and mushed through the currents creating a sort of partial slush with an inconsistent viscosity. Furthermore, the plastic pieces can for the most part be classified as micro-plastics as these pieces are barely detectable with ones bear eyes. Additionally, there are already micro-plastics that enter the oceans without any forces such as wind, water and light breaking them down. Those pieces can be found in facewash or synthetic clothing.
What people picture the Great Pacific Garbage Patch looks like.
Secondly, another prevalent myth about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that it is visible from space, as it is roughly twice the size of Texas. The latter part concerning the size is indeed fairly accurate but when considering the above-mentioned facts, that the garbage patch is mainly consisting of micro-plastics, it becomes rather obvious that you cannot see it from space. The Great Wall of China is not even visible from space without the use of telescopes. Aside, even if the pieces of plastic were larger, one could still hardly see the Garbage Patch as it is less of a unified mass but rather an ever-moving scatter of debris, moving in function of the currents.
What the Great Pacific Garbage Patch actually looks like; yes you can sail through it without noticing!
Thirdly, there is the believe in existence, that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is of no concern to us, as it is literally in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the most unfortunate misconceptions. It is true that the distance between inhabited landmasses and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is quite far but it does have an immediate effect on our lives. As many of our food-sources are based on the oceans, we are inevitably poisoning ourselves as plastics can already be found, not only in fish, but also other animal as well as plant produce which we consume on a regular basis.
To conclude, it is important to touch upon the last of the myths, a question which is raised often times: Why don’t we just clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? This is truly easier said than done as we know that it doesn’t consists of things like plastic bottles or trash bags that one could simply clean up. However, this is not impossible as there have been projects launched like “The Ocean Clean-up” to attempt to tackle this pollution problem. This mentioned project is only in its beginning stages and the actual results and effectiveness on open sea have yet to be revealed. Nevertheless, we are truly optimistic that this will lead to being able to solve the problem once and for all.