Port Vila, Vanuatu (PressExposure) July 17, 2009 -- Held just below the surface of the ocean by swirling ocean currents lies the world's largest rubbish dump. Undetected by satellites the translucent plastic covers an area of the northern Pacific Ocean, double the size of North America.
100 million tones of plastic are estimated to be trapped in the rubbish soup. This equals around 2.5% of all plastic items ever manufactured since 1950. It is thought that much of the rubbish originates from ocean going craft, the remainder from countries along the Pacific Rim.
Although its boundaries are ever changing, the 'Plastic Soup', 'Pacific Trash Vortex', or 'Great Pacific Rubbish Dump', stretches over 500 nautical miles. Lying off the coast of California, it reaches to near the coast of Japan, with Hawaii right in the centre.
Director of Research of the United States based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, formed by Charles Moore, Dr. Marcus Eriksen, says "The patch is two massive, linked areas of circulating rubbish".
The dump was first predicted by An Alaskan based research team in 1985. It was actually discovered by Charles Moore, in 1997, during a short cut home after a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race. "Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by. How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week"? Mr Moore, heir to a family fortune from the oil industry, sold his business interests and became an environmental activist.
Articles up to 50 years old have been found in the North Pacific Gyre, as more and more items are manufactured from non-biodegradeable plastic. Instead of disintegrating, the plastic slowly breaks apart into smaller and smaller brittle pieces, from the process called photodegrading. This makes the dump a serious danger to marine wild life, as the tiny pieces of plastic are mistaken for food. Large amounts of plastic have been recovered from inside dead marine birds. It is estimated that up to a million ocean going birds and 100,000 marine mammals die annually from eating plastic.
Attracting man-made chemicals, the pollutants act as sponges, which eventually work their way into the ocean. Dr Eriksen said "What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It is that simple".
A town in Australia has taken the gigantic step of banning the use of water sold in plastic drinking bottles. Without any shift to the consumer habits of the world, the dump is estimated to double in size over the next ten years.
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