A brief history of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The continent of North America, considered the bastion of consumerism by many, lives relatively consequence-free of its lifestyle. When one landfill fills up, we dig another one, cover up the old one, and build suburbs on top of it. This model is applied on both a macro and micro level. In our own homes we often buy products and then recycle the packaging (we also often throw recyclable materials straight into the trash). This recycled matter is made into new stuff that is either again recycled, or thrown in a landfill. But as far as we’re concerned, we have done our bit. Out of sight, out of mind.
Imagine a Hawaiian sunrise coming up over a floating mound of trash, twice the size of Texas. That would ruin a vacation. Would you start to take the consequences of our excessive consumerism seriously if you saw that? Yes, you would. You don’t need to imagine that. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a reality. An island the size of an American state made up of plastic, chemical sludge and everything else we throw away.
1988: In an article published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is predicted. This article outlines concentration of neustonic plastic (this is a fancy scientific term for bits of junk that float on, or just below the surface of the ocean) in the Sea of Japan. Neustonic plastic is predicted to concentrate in a similar fashion in the North Pacific, because of the tendencies of its currents are very similar to those of the Sea of Japan. 
1997: Competitive sailor/oceanographer Charles J. Moore discovers a large patch of debris floating in the North Pacific on his way home after the Transpacific Yacht Race. In an essay for Natural History, Moore recalls “As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” It is estimated that 80% of the GPGP’s make-up is from on shore sources, while 20% comes from waste-belching cruise ships, and other ocean going vessels. 
1999: Moore publishes a study highlighting the fact that there is six times more plastic in the ocean than zooplankton, an essential organism in the ocean ecosystem. Because of the disruption of the ecosystem by the introduction of tonnes of foreign plastic, many sea birds, and turtles have died by the ingestion of plastic. Making matters worse, these plastics have been known to absorb organic pollutants such as PCBs, and DDT. These pollutants in turn have affected the hormonal cycles of ocean wildlife. If any of you are not horrified at a cute little sea turtle dying, then think about it this way: little fish eats plastic containing toxins, big fish eats little fish, and you, presumed human being, eat big fish.

2008: Charles  J. Moore’s Algita Marine Research Foundation sails across the Pacific Ocean (from Long Beach, California to Honolulu, Hawaii) on a 30-foot raft constructed from an old Cessna 310 airplane, in an attempt to raise awareness for the GPGP.

2010: The GPGP is estimated to be two times the size of Texas, although that estimation is rough, because it is difficult to see the bulk of the debris since it floats just beneath the surface of the ocean.

2020: The GPGP continues to grow, and is now the largest “man made” structure visible from space.

2025: Disney/ Pixar, and CBS become involved in a legal battle over the rights to the GPGP. Survivor host Jeff Probst cites “the barren, rugged landscape” as “the perfect backdrop for Survivor’s 50th season.” Disney and Pixar had previously scheduled the GPGP for work on filming a live action re-make of Wall-E. 
2058: The GPGP is pronounced a unincorporated territory of the United States of America. 
2077: The United states government makes plans to build a highway from San Francisco to Honolulu, as the GPGP is practically a land bridge anyway. 

// Colin May

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