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About 8 million tonnes of plastic is estimated to enter the Ocean each year, and if business continues as usual we face a future with more plastic in the Ocean than fish by 2050. Our plastic addiction and waste mismanagement is condemning countless marine birds and animals to death by entanglement or poisoning, and even leading to chemical contamination of the fish we eat. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, no corner of the Ocean is untouched by this global scourge. The vast swirls of plastic rubbish visible on the sea surface – horrifying as they are – represent just the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath are the masses of microbeads and broken-down particles of plastic that are easily ingested by sea creatures, and impossible to remove. The urgently needed solution calls for a combination of enhanced awareness, reduced plastic use, and massively improved waste management.
A gyre is a large-scale system of wind-driven surface currents in the ocean. The five main subtropical gyres — located in the North and South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean — which are massive, circular current systems. The accumulation zones of plastic that form in the five subtropical gyres are a result of the diminished winds and currents occurring at latitudes synonymous with continental deserts. Basically, plastic is trapped within these currents, taking at least 10 years to cycle back out — if it doesn’t first get eaten by marine life or sink to the bottom.
A 2017 study from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found that 95% of plastic in the ocean comes from land: Plastic flows in rivers from land to sea, in the runoff from highly populated coastal cities, and from maritime activities such as fishing and shipping. Even if you live in a landlocked area, your plastic consumption is likely a contributor to the problem.
In 1972, Ed Carpenter was the first to report plastic pollution in the North Atlantic. Explorations in the South Atlantic near Cape Town, South Africa, in 1980 discovered pre-production plastic pellets and balls of tar known as "plasto-tarballs," reportedly from the flushing of oil tankers into the sea. In 2001, Charles Moore published the first record of what later became known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which the media reported as “the size of Texas.” 5 Gyres group began studying the problem in 2008, and in 2009 completed our first Expedition — a 2,600-mile, 88-day journey from California to Hawaii through the North Pacific Gyre on the Junk Raft, a vessel build from 15,000 plastic water bottles. Since then, we’ve completed 17 Expeditions to study plastic pollution in the ocean.
No, the plastic island in the North Pacific Gyre doesn’t actually exist. We’ve now been there five times! This myth actually perpetuates the plastic pollution problem, positioning it as something that we can sweep up and “away,” while continuing to use plastic without consequence. There are concentrations of plastic in the gyres, but the material is constantly in the process of breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, which permeate all waters. In the ocean, plastic is less like an island, and more like smog.
From 5Gyres https://www.5gyres.org/faq
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