Algalita – Shrinking The World's Largest Garbage Patch

While racing towards Los Angeles from Hawaii on his yacht, Charles Moore decided to stray from the typical route and take what he thought would be an easy shortcut through the North Pacific gyre. Expecting to see nothing by calm, shimmering water in one of the most secluded regions of the ocean, Moore was shocked to find himself surrounded by mounds of garbage instead. For almost a week, Moore would walk on deck just to stare at sun-bleached toys, ropes, cups, and eerie shadows of plastic bags floating underneath the waves.

The North Pacific Gyre, noted for calm stable waters, and circular undersea currents, is calculated to contain over 100 million tons of trash. After its discovery in 1997, the area was dubbed the Eastern Garbage Patch by oceanographer, Curtis Ebbesmeyer.

During the late 1980′s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had speculated that huge quantities of debris were trapped by ocean currents. They explained that these masses of garbage would continue to accumulate where currents flowed around in circles, creating an effect similar to a vortex by trapping the garbage inside. The North Pacific gyre had been mentioned by NOAA, but didn’t receive much attention until Moore sailed through the area during the 1997 Transpac competition.
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The gyres of the world’s oceans.
(Photo: Algalita Marine Research Foundation)

It was no surprise that Moore, having grown up by the ocean and raised by an avid sailor, founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in 1994. This organization, based in Long Beach, California, started out studying the ocean’s chemical and bacterial properties, but their focus changed after Moore discovered the seemingly endless plastic soup during his unforgettable race.

Algalita quotes Moore on the subject: “there were shampoo caps and soap bottles and plastic bags and fishing floats as far as I could see. Here I was in the middle of the ocean, and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic.”

Scientists estimate the swirling mass of plastics and debris is two times the size of Texas. In fact, the Pacific gyre has now separated into two ever increasing patches known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches (combined, they are called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). This oceanic dumping ground is now a major spot for studying the effects of plastics on marine life.

Eighty percent of the trash floating in the patch is plastic. These plastics are slowly broken down into little pieces by the streaming sunlight and corrosive saltwater. Over time, these plastic chips will degrade to the size of dust particles which can easily become ingested by zooplankton. The effects of this on the entire marine food chain could be catastrophic. Even now, part of the ‘sand’ we find on the popular shorelines is composed of eroded plastic pieces mixed in with the natural crumbled coral and volcanic rock.

Algalita is one of many foundations dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. One can hope that the growth of these giant garbage patches may be slowed down with the foundations’ restoration projects and outreach programs. If not, at least, their constant research on the effects of plastics and contaminants on marine environments will be better understood. This is the first step for finding a solution.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where almost everything is disposable, and it will take some time for that to change.

One Response to “Algalita – Shrinking The World's Largest Garbage Patch”
  1. Sammie says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Mr. Danson’s excellent article. I have been spending some time reading different sites that discuss the various problems the oceans of the world now face.

    Sorry to admit, in the past I actually roamed the ocean front (just a mile from where I am writing this post) casually collected different plastic objects as I strolled. What was my objective? Well, by then I had collected enough shells and as we are a tourist town, I thought it would be civic of me to do a little something for our local beaches. What do you think of that? Let me answer that for you…‘yes’, there actually are people out there that are that dumb, numb and impossibility unaware as to levity of what the earth is up against and what it is realistically going to take to produce the results that will keep the oceans from dying.

    Obviously I have become a little more astute and now I am looking for logic in any form to reassure me that something will ‘actually’ be done. The over fishing of the world’s oceans, it’s ‘climate change’ as to acidity and CO2 absorption coupled with plastic inundation is being discussed on many sites. But it’s the comments from the other visitor to these sites that I’d like to draw your attention to. For instance, concerning a plastic swirl the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean this is what I am finding as general, across the board, site response: Half of the comments concerning the existence of the plastic swirl are angry thoughts about how this is simple conjecture designed to spread panic and generate funding for greedy researchers. The other half of the comments ranged from collecting the plastic and shooting it into space to preposterous notions about manipulation of solar energy to evaporate the plastic. (Yes, Star Trek is alive, well and apparently has gone bright green)

    Let me tell you what I found on another site. Again addressed to plastic side of the equation, but the tenor of the statements speaks nicely to the general mind set of literally hundreds of millions…this site hosted a dialog. The conversation opened with one person commenting that a student of the Bible had come to their door and quoted a verse, “God will bring to ruin those ruining the earth”…it was then asked what the other person thought about that as being the outcome from all the assaults the earth was now under. The respondent said that that comment was very pessimistic and that they chose to do their part by saving the planet, ‘one plastic bag at a time’.

    Personally I think attempting to wax poetic on such a dire subject drives home my point about the level of commitment most of the world is expecting to have to serve up. Even those who present themselves as savvy can be proven to be still in the dark as to how calamitous the situation has gotten. Does that comment sound out of line? If it does let me tell you that the respondent to the question posed above was the one hosting the ‘green’ website!

    Now I read your articles sighting its myriad of problems. Each could alter forever the earth as we know it, and in some of the cases literally cause the death of the oceans. If I couple the findings I previously sighted with a statement in your body article which says, “There is an inconvenient truth about our planet’s oceans, and it is way past time that we faced it”…then on the other hand consider the statement from Mr. Danson’s article that says, “Fish species will recover, and the marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds that rely on them for sustenance have a fighting chance.”

    Well, according to other science I’ve come across I’m sorry to say I find the former more plausable then the latter. Seems if you stopped all the polution… meaning every level of polution across the earth coming to a screeching halt tomorrow…the earth would completely recover in around a hundred years. So for Mr. Danson’s program to work we would need someone to put a start date on the hundred year plan. Rather, you would need something or someone to ‘be able to inforce’ a start date on the hundred year plan. Still, good to know that the science backs up the fact that that plan would, without question, save the earth!

    So which will it be? Will mankind rally by the hundred of millions as they did in the second world war and defeat the common blight? Or shall I have a second look at that notion the ‘one plastic bag at a time’ respondent called pessimistic; God will have enough of watching his beautiful creation drown in sewage and decide to, give the earth that century long flush? I am willing to happily back which ever gets the nod.

    Thank you,


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