The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is home to new thriving communities

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now so huge and permanent that scientists have found thriving communities of coastal creatures, including tiny crabs and anemones, living thousands of miles from their original home on plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a 620,000 square mile swirl of trash in the ocean between California and Hawaii.

In a new study published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal on Monday, a team of researchers revealed that dozens of species of coastal invertebrate organisms have been able to survive and reproduce on plastic garbage that’s been floating in the ocean for years.

The scientists said that the findings suggest plastic pollution in the ocean might be enabling the creation of new floating ecosystems of species that are not normally able to survive in the open ocean.

Unlike organic material that decomposes and sinks within months or, at most, a few years, plastic debris can float in the oceans for a much longer time, giving creatures the opportunity to survive and reproduce in the open ocean for years.

“It was surprising to see how frequent the coastal species were. They were on 70% of the debris that we found,” Linsey Haram, a science fellow at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the study’s lead author, told CNN.

Haram and her colleagues examined 105 items of plastic fished out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between November 2018 and January 2019. They identified 484 marine invertebrate organisms on the debris, accounting for 46 different species, of which 80% were normally found in coastal habitats.

“Quite a large percentage of the diversity that we found were coastal species and not the native pelagic open ocean species that we were largely expecting to find,” Haram said.

They did still find a lot of open ocean species, Haram added. “On two thirds of the debris, we found both communities together … competing for space, but very likely interacting in other ways.”

Oceans of Plastic

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of Texas, is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.

The patch is bounded by an enormous gyre – the biggest of five huge, spinning circular currents in the world’s oceans that pull trash towards the center and trap it there, creating a garbage vortex.

It’s a mistake to think of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as an island of trash, though, Matthias Egger, the head of environmental and social affairs at The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit developing technologies to rid the oceans of plastic, told CNN.

“If you’re out there, what you see is just pristine blue ocean,” said Egger, who helped Haram’s research by collecting the samples in the patch, fishing them out with a net.

“You can think of it like the night sky. If you look up at night, you see all those white dots, that’s essentially what you see in the garbage patch. It’s not that dense, but there are a lot of them … out there, you start seeing more and more plastic the longer you look,” he said.

The Ocean Cleanup initiative estimates that it would take thousands of years to completely clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with their current technology. This means that it is crucial to prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean in the first place. As individuals, we can make a difference by reducing our use of single-use plastic products and properly disposing of waste.

One way to get involved in cleaning up the environment is through community service projects. There are many organizations that organize beach and park cleanups, such as the Ocean Conservancy and Surfrider Foundation. These events provide an opportunity for volunteers to work together to remove trash from public areas and prevent it from ending up in the ocean.

In addition to participating in cleanups, we can also make a difference by advocating for policies that reduce plastic pollution. This can include supporting legislation that bans single-use plastic bags or straws, or supporting businesses that use sustainable packaging materials. It's important to make our voices heard and demand change from our elected officials and business leaders.

Another way to reduce plastic pollution is by supporting initiatives that promote the use of biodegradable materials. For example, some companies are creating biodegradable packaging materials that break down naturally in the environment. These products are made from renewable resources and can be composted or recycled. By supporting these initiatives, we can help create a more sustainable future and reduce our impact on the planet.

Ultimately, it's up to all of us to take action to protect the environment and reduce plastic pollution. By working together, we can create a cleaner, healthier planet for ourselves and future generations. So, let's roll up our sleeves, get involved in community service projects, and advocate for change. Together, we can make a difference and create a brighter future for our planet.