Monday, April 19, 2010

Atlantic 'garbage patch' found

Massive garbage patch discovered in Atlantic Ocean
Smartplanet: Billions of pieces of plastic trash are accumulating in a massive garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean, mirroring the Texas-sized one in the Pacific... Off the coast of North America -- between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude, or about the distance from Cuba to Virginia -- the patch poses health risks to fish, seabirds and marine animals.

Like the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, debris can circulate for years, accumulating as the result of ocean currents.

The patch was found by student researchers participating in the Sea Education Association's semester academic program, who over 22 years deployed thousands of fine-meshed plankton nets in the area to discover the makeup of the patch. They found that most of the debris is comprised of tiny pieces of trash -- each 'less than a tenth the weight of a paper clip,' according to National Geographic -- that came from consumer product litter either blown off open landfills or directly disposed of in the ocean.

Students found some areas as dense as 520,000 bits per square mile, or approximately 200,000 bits per square kilometer. In comparison, spots of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have been found to be as dense as 1.9 million bits per square mile, or approximately 750,000 bits of plastic per square kilometer (and several tens of feet below the surface).

Toronto Star: Researchers are warning of a new blight at sea: a swirl of confetti-like plastic debris stretching over a remote expanse of the Atlantic Ocean... Since there is no realistic way of cleaning the oceans, advocates say the key is to keep more plastic out by raising awareness and, wherever possible, challenging a throwaway culture that uses non-biodegradable materials for disposable products...

The most nettlesome trash is nearly invisible: countless specks of plastic, often smaller than pencil erasers, suspended near the surface... The plastic bits, which can be impossible for fish to distinguish from plankton, are dangerous in part because they sponge up potentially harmful chemicals that are also circulating in the ocean... As much as 80 percent of marine debris comes from land.
Image source here.