Mission to break up island of trash in the Pacific Ocean
There is an island of trash floating in the North Pacific Ocean that is made up entirely of six million tonnes discarded plastic. It can't break down and it's twice the size of Texas.
There is a mission set to leave from San Francisco next month to help break up this massive island, and recycle as much of it as they can.
This island was discovered by Charles Moore, an oceanographer, in 1997, and he came across this mass when he was exploring the area. Due to the exposure to sunlight and the movement of waves, the plastic had broken down into smaller pieces, and remain suspended under the surface, so that they are invisible to ships and satellites taking pictures of the area, but Moore discovered that in a ratio with plankton, they outnumbered them 6 to 1.
This amount of plastic can cause strangulaion in sea creatures, entrapment, and they absorb metals and pollutants and are then eaten by smaller fish. The bigger the pieces, the more the toxins and the bigger the animal that eats them.
“You can buy certified organic farm produce, but no fishmonger on earth can sell you a certified organic wild-caught fish. This is our legacy,” said Mr Moore.
Moore says that the problem cannot really be solved in the sea because the pieces are just too small.
However, the ship Kaisei will set sail on June 15th and will try to attempt to clean up some of the mess by using special fishing nets.
The trick is collecting the plastic while minimising the catch of sea life. We can’t catch the tiny pieces. But the net benefit of getting the rest out is very likely to be better than leaving it in,” says Doug Woodring, the leader of the project.
30 people have been hired to be on board the ship, and they are sponsored by Scirpps Institution of Oceanography and Brita, and will use robotic aircrafts and surface explorers to map the plastic mass and also collect 40 tonnes of it to recycle.
“We have a few technologies that can turn thin plastics into diesel fuel. Other technologies are much more hardcore, to deal with the hard plastics,” says Mr Woodring, who hopes to run his vessels on the recycled fuel.
Most of the plastic comes from bags, food wrappers and containers, and the United Nations says that about 18,000 pieces of plastic are in every square kilometre of the ocean; that's over 100 million tonnes. The biggest concentraion of plastic is in the North Pacific gyre, but it has also been found in the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.
The best solution though is to avoid plastics ending up in the oceans in the first place, and recycle them better on land.