Plastic islands, also known as ocean garbage patches, have become a critical issue that requires immediate attention on a global level. These massive collections of floating plastic waste have formed in our oceans due to currents and wind patterns. Marine pollution caused by plastic waste is one of the most significant environmental problems we face today, and its devastating impact on the environment and human health is undeniable. Every year, around 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans, and it’s estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. This alarming trend has led to the formation of numerous plastic islands around the world, some of which are the size of entire countries.
Examples of ocean garbage patches:
• The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California, is of the most well-known plastic islands in the world. It covers an area of over 1.6 million square kilometers, which is three times the size of France. The patch is composed of millions of tons of plastic waste, including plastic bottles, bags, and microplastics.
• Indian Ocean Garbage Patch
Another infamous plastic island is the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch, located off the coast of Africa. It’s estimated to be twice the size of Texas and contains an estimated 1.3 million tons of plastic waste.
• The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre
The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a plastic island located between Japan and Hawaii. It’s estimated to be the size of Texas and contains an estimated 80,000 tons of plastic waste.
Plastic islands severely impact marine life, as fish and other sea creatures often mistake plastic for food. As a result, plastic enters the food chain and poses a severe threat to the survival of numerous marine species. Ingesting plastic can cause blockages in the digestive system, which can lead to starvation or suffocation. Plastic pollution also has a negative impact on the health of our marine ecosystems, as it can alter the water chemistry and damage the habitats of marine creatures. Moreover, plastic waste releases toxic chemicals into the water, which can have harmful effects on both marine life and human health. These chemicals and microplastics can accumulate in the tissues of marine organisms and eventually end up on our dinner plates.
To combat marine pollution, governments, businesses, and individuals must work together to reduce plastic waste. This can be achieved by:
- Producing and consuming less plastic, particularly single-use plastics like straws, bags, and bottles.
- Improving recycling methods, as it can help reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans.
- Developing sustainable options for disposable plastics to combat plastic pollution. Biodegradable plastics, for example, can break down naturally and reduce the amount of plastic waste in our oceans.
Luckily, over the last few years, several scientists and innovators have started working to develop methods to clean up the oceans from as much plastic as possible and to find a solution to the enormous problem of marine pollution and ocean garbage patches. You can find a list of some inspiring projects here.
Among the many companies working to find solutions to reduce the impact of this enormous environmental issue, it is worth mentioning The National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST is working to develop and optimize measurement techniques for plastic pollution. They are doing this through a cooperative agreement with Hawaii Pacific University establishing the Center for Marine Debris Research (CMDR). While this is excellent news, the phenomenon of plastic islands is rapidly worsening, and we can’t wait any longer to take action to try to contain the issue at the source, and not only once it has already created damage. The time is now, and we should start thinking about it more in terms of a collective effort!
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