Few environmental news stories in the last few years have been more unsettling than those about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast gyre of plastic-choked ocean waters said to be twice the size of Texas. That's a whole lot of trash, but now researchers are saying these size estimates are rubbish. According to new analysis from Oregon State University, the size of the Garbage Patch has been greatly overstated and is actually 200 times smaller than initially believed. In addition, there's no evidence that the problem has been increasing tenfold every decade for the last 60 years or that the amount of plastic in the sea now outweighs the amount of plankton. That's a huge relief if only because a floating pile of refuse half a million square miles big and 10 times the size of merry old England is all kinds of wrong. It's one of the more twisted symbols of atrocious waste and wanton disregard for our planet's life support systems that I've ever encountered, and I've encountered quite a few. But researchers say that in fact you usually can't even see the Great Garbage Patch from a passing boat and that it may even have a few benefits. (Some plastics can absorb toxins from seawater, and there's evidence that it's creating new habitats for the microbial sea life at the base of the marine food chain.) Despite all this, the Great Garbage Patch is hardly a happy thing. It's newly reduced volume notwithstanding, there's still plenty of trash drifting around out there, and it's a clear hazard to fish and seabirds not to mention any vision we might have of a clean and sustainable civilization. We obviously need to remain vigilant and watch both our consumption and waste production in order to keep our oceans from being trashed. (Check out this list of ways to cut your plastic consumption.) And there's hope that we can and clues that we are. Research done at Woods Hole, for example, has found that the levels of sea-borne plastic in the Atlantic haven't grown since the mid-1980s even though we make and use ever greater amounts of the stuff each year. Clearly, the plastic we consume doesn't have to end up in the ocean. That ugly result is hardly a predestined outcome. Instead, increased awareness and a little care can create the kind of sea change that will stop drowning the ocean in junk. photo: Ingrid Taylar
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!