As worrisome as tsunami debris is to West Coast officials and residents, the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is trapped in the gyre 1,000 miles off California poses even more of a threat, marine scientists say.
According to a study released in May by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego, the huge field of trash swirling aimlessly in the middle of the ocean has grown 100-fold over the past 40 years.
“I’m more concerned about our constant input of trash than I am about these one-time disasters,” said Miriam Goldstein, a graduate student at the Scripps Institution and a lead author of the study, to The Los Angeles Times. “We can’t prevent terrible events like the tsunami, but dumping plastic into the ocean is something we can control and don’t do very well.”
The marine-life-laden dock that washed up on an Oregon beach in early June has gotten experts thinking all over again about the threat that ocean garbage in general poses. The dock was encrusted with barnacles, starfish, urchins, anemones, mussels, snails and algae from Japan, Oregon State University researchers found, The Los Angeles Times said. As more tsunami debris washes up, this threat continues and grows.
In another vein, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is stationary and stable enough to serve as a breeding ground for sea skaters, or water striders, a marine insect that lays its eggs on floating objects, Scripps said in its press release about the garbage patch. The bug has found fertile ground in the shards of plastic that are just as good for laying eggs on as are its usual seashells, seabird feathers, tar lumps and pumice, Scripps said.
This opportunity has of course led to marked increases in the insect’s population that could affect animals all through the marine food web, Scripps said. Moreover, at least nine percent of fish that Scripps captured to study had plastic waste in their stomachs, the school said in its release. Most of the plastic floating in the ocean is broken-down bits the size of a fingernail floating across thousands of miles of open ocean. The Scripps study was published in the journal Biology Letters.
“These ecosystems are very connected. If the oceans are in trouble, we humans are in trouble,” said Gregor Hodgson, the founder and executive director of the Reef Check Foundation, to documentary maker Angela Sun, writing for The Upshot on Yahoo! News. “We don’t realize that we are threatening our own existence.”