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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Plastic in the oceans: the garbage gyres

Ark for the Arts is a project about art, climate change and emergency preparedness. We feel that it is not possible to talk about climate change without addressing issues of plastic, waste, and how our consumption and habits affect our environment. As such, we want to take some time to offer facts about pollution, and whenever possible, offer solutions that you can implement in your daily lives.

It is well known these days, that the oceans have become a repository for garbage, so our first topic addresses plastic in the ocean: most folks do not realize that water from storm drains is not treated or filtered. Whatever goes down those drains ends up in our waters. That means that when you see a plastic bag, a cup, or a straw in the gutter or on the sidewalk, chances are, it will end up in our oceans eventually.

The first garbage patch (or gyre) was discovered in 1972 in the North Atlantic by E.J. Carpenter, and K.L. Smith Jr. The different streams in the oceans come together in a vortex: once garbage enters the vortex, it gets trapped and stays there as trash. The plastic patches are more like a "plastic soup": the plastic particles have broken down to tiny pieces, practically invisible to the naked eye. Fish, however, do ingest those tiny plastic particles, and we eventually eat the fish!

Altogether, there are 5 major gyres on earth's oceans: the Indian Ocean Gyre, the North Atlantic Gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre, and the South Pacific Gyre. Here are some scary facts about the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, according to the website
  •     It contains 7 million tons of waste
  •     It is twice the size of Texas, and is up to 9 feet deep
  •     There is 6 times more plastic than plankton, which is the main food for many ocean animals
  •     By estimation 80% of the plastic originates from land; floating in rivers to the ocean or blown by the wind
  •     The remaining 20% of the plastic originates from oil platforms and ships
  •     According to scientists, it is the largest plastic dump on earth; larger than waste dumps on land
What can you do?

It is very difficult to avoid using plastic. But we can try! Next time you are in a restaurant or buying a drink at a deli, ask for your drink without a straw: chances are you do not need the straw, and any single use items should be avoided.

If you would like to read more about ocean gyres, here are some great resources:

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