Garbage Patch: Sore of the Earth
By admin February 16, 2018

In 2010, according to a research conducted by Dr. Jenna R. Jambeck and her team, an estimated 275 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries bordering the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that waste has made its way into the world’s oceans. Humans have been discharging plastic waste into the ocean for decades and while plastic can enter oceans from land-locked countries via rivers, those countries were excluded in the survey, meaning the results are likely only a conservative estimate of the amount of plastic in the oceans.

As shown in the above figure, due to oceanic currents, much of the trash in the sea is carried to the areas where the currents meet. The collections of trash in these locations have recently been referred to as marine garbage patches. Five garbage patches have been found distributed in the east and west coast of the United States, the west coast of Brazil, the west coast of South Africa and in the Indian Ocean, respectively. The warmer the colors in the figure denote a higher number of trash present. The patches located near the west coast of the US and Brazil are the largest of the five marine garbage patches, followed by the patch located near the west coast of Africa.

Contrary to the general understanding, marine garbage patches are widely distributed and loose in structure. In fact, the patches’ densities range from a few thousand pieces of plastic to more than 40,000 pieces per square kilometer in the water. Most debris consists of small plastic particles suspended on or just below the surface, making it difficult to accurately detect by aircraft or satellite. But statistical data can offer a better understanding of the size of this problem.

Here is what we do know about the marine garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean.

  1. Estimates of size range from 270,000 square miles (about the size of Texas) to more than 5,791,532 square miles (0.4% to 8% of the size of the Pacific Ocean).
  2. The total weight of the garbage is estimated to be about 7 million metric tons.
  3. The depth can be 9 inches at most.
  4. There is 6 times more plastic waste than plankton.


In these garbage islands, 80 percent of the debris comes from land, and the remaining 20 percent is contributed by offshore drilling platforms, fisheries, fishing vessels and other ships. Most of the plastic wastes is not bio-degradable, for instance, plastic water bottles take 450 years to decompose and fishing lines and nets can take up to 600 years to decompose, even in salty ocean water.


The consequences of the garbage patches are negatively affects marine animals in three different ways.

  1. Animals mistake the garbage for food

As mentioned above, the amount of garbage in the patches is six times greater than the amount of plankton in the area covered by the garbage. According to the survey, scientists found plastic garbage in nine percent of the fish living near the patch. Plastic debris cannot provide nutrition, but instead clogs the intestines and causes serious trauma and even death to the marine animals. At the same time, if those marine organisms living on jellyfish mistake plastic bags for food, the consequences are life threatening. According to the World Animal Protection organization (WAP), 136 thousand sea lions, seals and whales die every year because of consuming the waste in oceans. The small plastic particles are one millimeter in size (also called micro-plastic) floating in the sea are also very easy to be mistaken by seabirds. In summary, the emerging and submerging plastic debris in the patches are likely to be a fatal dinner for the marine life.

  1. The plastic can cause serious injury

The floating waste contains many plastic fishing nets and reticulation, which are catastrophic for larger marine animals. Each year, a great portion of marine animals, such as sea turtles and seals, are caught and killed by such nets. This phenomenon is now described as “ghost finishing.”

  1. Poisoning

After a long period of sunshine exposure, plastic waste ends up suspended as particles, and the chemical substance in plastic products may be dissolved and leached into the seawater, resulting in increased toxicity of seawater which then effects the local marine life.


The study found that most of the plastic waste was large. But, that results in the waste becoming a ticking time bomb because the large pieces will crumble down to micro plastics over the next few decades if the problem is not addressed. Because plastic is “quite persistent,” it will be necessary to remove it from the oceans, as well as work to prevent so much entering the oceans in the first place. Better product design, better recycling, better environmental awareness and stringent legislation will be critical to addressing the plastic waste problem.


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