Scientists Return From Floating Garbage Patch 1 1/2 Times Size of U.S.

by on August 25, 2009 · 6 comments

in Environment, San Diego

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel New Horizon explores the North Pacific Ocean Gyre. Photo Courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

by Rebecca Tolin / Voice of San Diego / August 24, 2009

Miriam Goldstein was floating on an inflatable raft in one of the planet’s oldest biological communities, curiously watching gelatinous creatures few humans have ever seen, when she noticed tiny polka dots of plastic bobbing on the ocean surface.

Goldstein was shocked to see firsthand how big pieces of synthetic debris are breaking down and littering the North Pacific Gyre with “micro-plastics” — almost undetectable, confetti-like bits that could end up fouling the entire food chain, from zooplankton to humans.

“So there are all these cool organisms, and they’re underneath this sort of layer of plastics just floating there,” said Goldstein, the chief scientist on a Scripps Institution of Oceanography mission to study the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch that has collected in the gyre, which is about 1,000 miles off the California coast.

“I really didn’t expect it would be that easy to see plastic, in this random bit of ocean somewhere between California and Hawaii.”

Goldstein and her fellow Scripps doctoral students said they experienced one surprise after another during the just completed 20-day cruise to the gyre. They have brought back more than 100 samples that, along with their observations, will lead to a greater understanding of how tons and tons of plastic affect the gyre’s ecosystem, and by extension, the world community.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dave Gilbert August 25, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Great article, I have no idea how we’re going to clean up that mess either. Maybe start shipping our trash to another planet I guess.

I do have a question about the Voice of San Diego though. How can they call themselves an “independent nonprofit” and yet still advertise the Del Mar Race Track? Not only does that not sound “non-profit” but it would also seem to preclude “the Voice” from any kind of balanced reporting on all of the Race Horses that have been destroyed there this season.

Hey, I’m just askin’….


avatar jon August 25, 2009 at 10:10 pm

This sort of stuff scares me way more than getting affordable healthcare for every American citizen. Why can’t we get the same furor over the mess we’re creating in our ocean???

By the way, the paddle for clean water is right around the corner….


avatar Jay August 26, 2009 at 10:12 am

We currently have recycling pickup programs, but I’ve noticed they don’t include recylcing plastic bags. You have to drop plastic bags off at grocery stores instead of placing them in comingled-materials recycling bins because the recycling companies won’t accept them. That should change – all types of plastics and other petroleum byproducts (like styrofoam cups and plates for example) should be included as comingled recyclable materials.

In addition to the above, a greater effor should be made to eliminate the use of plastic in products where it really isn’t needed. For example,
retail stores should stop providing plastic bags for packing and carrying merchandise and groceries at the checkout counter. Only reusable bags should be used, and many stores sell these reusable bags at cheap prices. I keep a bunch of resusable bags in the trunk of my car and place any items I buy into the retail cart at the checkout counter (I ask the clerk not to bag my purchased items). I then bag up the items at my car using my reusable bags (I don’t need “paper or plastic”).

I think the big problem with these plastic particles out at sea is that those particles are “out of sight” to most people, therefore they are “out of mind”. Most people can change their daily habits to help reduce the use of plastic bags (as well as styrfoam products) with the retail and restaurant sector doing the same.


avatar jon August 26, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I don’t even leave my bags in the car. I bring them right in the store and bag ’em up myself. Most stores even have raffles you can enter for using your own bag. Usually the prize is a gift certificate for free groceries. Score! On a related subject, coffee shops are starting to give small discounts for using your own cup. Having your own personalized bags and water bottles is finally starting to become cool. But these small nudges aren’t enough to make much of a difference. Until we wake up and completely ban single use plastics like Mexico recently did, and San Fransisco has done, people will continue to use them and not care what the consequences are because they can’t immediately feel them, and because American’s are lazy. “Give me convenience or give me death!” -DK


avatar Let's go, World! August 26, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Let’s get this party started!


avatar Let's go, World! August 26, 2009 at 3:29 pm

….or stop generating trash.


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