The processes of human civilization are changing the planet into something quite inhospitable. Evidence of the transformation can be seen everywhere, but there's one prominent example in the North Pacific Ocean. It stretches across 270,000 square miles (exceeding the size of Texas) and is calculated to weigh in at 100,000,000 tons. If the work of numerous devoted oceanographers and engineers is unsuccessful, then it promises to become of the first continent of a new world we unknowingly built. It's a loosely organized island of garbage, undulating in the waves. They call it the Pacific Trash Vortex.
Like so many environmental problems, the Trash Vortex didn't arrive without warning. In 1988, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration examined the convergence of several ocean currents and predicted that plastic debris from America, Canada, and Japan (along with discarded fishing nets and the nautical liter produced by international shipping) would begin to accumulate in specific areas. Nothing was done and the bigger-than-Texas problem is the result. First observed in 1997, the Trash Vortex is only one of several, with others floating in the North Atlantic and Indian Ocean.
The masses of plastic are weathered by the surf and sun, but do not biograde. Some of the innermost garbage has been there for decades. Marine life and sea-birds become entangled in the Vortex and often die trapped or suffocated. Some are even poisoned after swallowing bottle-caps and bits of ballpoint pens. Still worse, toxins produced by the garbage patch (like those old classic PCBs and DDT) seep down into the ocean to harm those creatures beneath the waves.
Currently a handful of nonprofits groups and research organizations periodically head into the Trash Vortex to perform tests and raise awareness. But its has yet to be contained. As of now, the Vortex grows ever larger.
For god's sake, recycle, okay?
Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from the New York Times
-Read this article from Greenpeace