B1 Intermediate 618 Folder Collection
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JULIA PARRISH: The ocean is a really big place. Particularly
the Pacific Ocean is a really big place. So even big docks
that are floating around after the Japanese tsunami are tiny,
tiny little fragments in the entire North Pacific Ocean. And
one of the things that happens is the North Pacific—any ocean
is not just a bathtub, right? It's something where the water
is moving around, and the water tends to move around the edges
much faster. Those are the coastal currents, and in the
center it moves slower and slower. So like a Cuisinart,
like a Tastee Freeze machine—all of that stuff right in the
middle is going to circle around very, very slowly. And that
action acts to trap a lot of the debris. So we end up with
something that we call the garbage patch, which is that
center. Debris may hang out in that garbage patch not just for
months but for years. And seasonally as the wind patterns
change, big aliquots of that water, hundreds of kilometers
wide, will break off from that garbage patch and slam into the
coastline and may cover a range that's Oregon and northern
California. So we tend to see lots of debris come in
predominantly in the fall and winter when we have patterns of
surface water movement into the coast. Then we tend to see less
in the summer and early fall when the water is going in the
opposite direction. So we are hoping to see all sorts of
really interesting things, just like the birds, there's a
seasonal pattern to debris. We want to know what it is. We want
to be able to document that. We want to know whether pieces of
debris that are coming from particular areas in the ocean
but originally from the land, grace our shores at different
times of year. So everybody thinks that everything they find
is part of the Japanese tsunami, but in fact, lots and lots and
lots of debris before and after and during the tsunami are
from different places.
Falls off of boats, gets swept out of rivers,
comes from the land. The thing about it is not where it comes
from so much but how long does it last? That's the amazing
thing. There are narrow pieces of debris that have been in the
water for years to decades. We're still finding Japanese
glass fishing floats that haven't been used actively in
fisheries for decades.
One of the things that COASST is doing
right now is we're starting a whole new data collection module
in marine debris so lots of people out on the beaches
collecting information about what's there. Quite honestly,
cleaning up the oceans is not something that one citizen
science program can do. What we can do is we can create a
baseline but also—and this is the coolest thing to me about
debris—rather than understanding or writing down what the
identity of the debris is—that's a lighter, that's a water
bottle—what we're writing down is what are the characteristics
of that debris? Is it plastic? Is it metal? Is it a fragment?
Is it sharp? Does it have a loop in it that a marine mammal might
be able to stick their head through? Is it small enough and
in the color range that an albatross might mistake it for
flying fish eggs and eat it? So all of those characteristics of
the debris tell us something about harm to wildlife. Once we
have that, we can literally map the entire coastline and
understand which sections of the coastline and at what time of
year are harmful for what kinds of organisms. And that is
something that can actually direct very broad
scale resource management.
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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch explained

618 Folder Collection
Theresa Lee published on May 31, 2015
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