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  • So in today's consumer society, the production of plastics has sky-rocketed

  • and although most of it gets into landfills or it gets recycled,

  • still a lot of it gets into the ocean accidentally, flowing from beaches or rivers or ships,

  • and that plastic will stay in the ocean for quite a long time.  

  • It's hard to measure in really weight how much plastics there is.

  • What we do know is that in some regions of the north pacific, there's more weight in

  • plastic than what there is in life.   There's more if you go out fishing, you find

  • more plastics in your nets than  you do fish or even plankton.

  • We've been trying to investigate how long the plastic will be in the ocean and how it

  • gets from the coast actually into what we call, "The Great Ocean Garbage Patches".

  • So what we used is surface drifter buoys.

  •  Surface drifter buoys are in the ocean and

  • they behave just like plastic, they float around.  

  • But unlike the plastics, they have a GPS sensor so we know at all times where they are

  • and we use the paths of these surface drifter buoys to get a statistical feeling

  • for how garbage moves around in the ocean.

  • Using these statistics, we could project the paths of all the plastics in all of the ocean

  • for the next thousand years.   The garbage  starts, it goes around the ocean

  • and where the people live and within a few months the currents move

  • them into the open ocean and there they form the great garbage patches

  • which are kind of like vaccuum cleaners of the ocean.  

  • There are six of them.   There's five in each of the subtropical oceans

  • between the continents, and then there's a sixth all the way up in the Arctic in the Bering Sea.

  • There are patches that go away a little bit

  • with time due to the seasonal shifts of the winds

  • but in general, these patches stay there for a very long time.  

  • Within garbage patches, it's not beach balls or rubber duckies or big things floating around there.

  • Some of it is, but most of it is actually

  • really small, millimetre-sized plastic pellets.

  • The sun degrades the plastics over time and the plastic just disintegrates into smaller and smaller pellets

  • that just float in the upper ocean and makes this kind of soup structure.

  • Plankton grow on the pellets, birds eat them,

  • fish eat them, and because these pellets and the plastic

  • can contain quite a lot of toxins, that becomes part of the food chain.  

  • What exact effect the plastic has on the ecosystem we don't really know yet.  

  • Even if we prevent and stop tomorrow, these plastic patches are not going away.  

  • The garbage patches will stay there for at least the next thousand years.  

  • There's really no solution for getting the plastics out of the ocean.  

  • It's too small, it's too diverse, it's too thin, the soup, to get out there with a ship and pick it up.

  • Of course, the way to go then would be to make plastics that do break down,

  • plastics that even if they get into the ocean,

  • don't really have the time to accumulate in these garbage patches

  • because they will just disintegrate and will be gone from the food chain.  

  • What we found is that the patches are really an international problem.  

  • It's not that plastic from one country ends up in one particular patch, quite the contrary,

  • all of the patchall of the plastics ends up in all of the patches and the patches are

  • inter-connected in a way that we didn't know before.  

  • All of the rubbish in one patch can actually move on timescales of ten years or so into the other patches

  • so if we want to prevent, reduce or clean up the patches,

  • we really need to have an international collaboration on that.

So in today's consumer society, the production of plastics has sky-rocketed

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B1 ocean garbage patch plankton food chain surface

Charting the garbage patches of the sea

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    Theresa Lee posted on 2015/05/31
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