When I was little, every Sunday afternoon, my brother and I would watch the movie, Finding Nemo on Disney. It was our favorite movie, and no matter how many times we watched it, we never got bored. Since we live in Rajasthan, fishes and oceans have always fascinated us. As little kids, we were awed by the presence of the magnificent and enormous life underwater.
The big blue, clear oceans and the beautiful fishes. Wow! It was so lovely to see Nemo so excited about his first day at school and meet all kinds of fishes. I wish I could see all this in real life. Unfortunately, this dream will only remain a dream. Why? Let’s find out.
What is GPGP?
Today, the water-bodies contain vast amounts of plastic and other contaminants. One such chunk of plastic is present in the Pacific ocean called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). It is also known as Pacific Trash Vortex and is an enormous offshore plastic accumulation zone. Its western patch lies near Japan, and its eastern patch is halfway between California and Hawai. The GPGP covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometers, almost half of India. Furthermore, this area is increasing exponentially, and the wind and the ocean currents are continuously altering its location.
The GPGP is one of the five major marine garbage patches lying in the gyres in the Indian ocean, the Atlantis ocean, and the Pacific ocean (Gyres are the ocean currents formed due to the earth’s wind patterns and rotation). These patches do not come in the territory of one nation. Hence no country is ready to take the responsibility of cleaning them.
“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. 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, and fragments.”
-Charles Moore, an oceanographer while passing through GPGP
How much plastic is present in the GPGP?
There are 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. A wide variety of plastics resides in this region. These include hard plastics, plastics sheets, pre-production plastics, and fragments made up of foamed materials. 46% of the total mass consisted of fishing nets. These nets are dangerous for animals who swim or collide into them and cant extract themselves from the net. These nets are called ghost nets and often results in the death of marine life involved.
Why is plastic harmful to marine life?
Since plastic is lighter than water, it floats instead of sinking and settling at the bottom. This plastic at the surface in the presence of sunlight, ocean currents, and marine life splits into smaller and smaller pieces. People often think that GPGP is a mountain of plastic, but it is not so. Since the plastic breaks into very tiny pieces, it looks like fog.
These pieces become so little (0.05-0.5 cm) that they are now called Microplastics. Sadly it is even more challenging to get rid of these microparticles, and often these are as mistaken as food items by marine animals. Sometimes, sea turtles consume these wrongly thinking them to be jelly beans, which causes malnutrition.
Bioaccumulation is a process through which the chemicals in plastic enter the bodies of animals feeding on it. Microplastics have been found in all marine life levels- Phytoplanktons, zooplanktons, Crustaceans, smalls fishes, and large fishes. These chemicals keep climbing up the food chain to reach humans ultimately.
Our plastic straws travel and reach oceans. There they might block the nostrils of turtles.
Life in water is diverse and unique. If we do not take steps to protect these animals, we will lose an essential part of our eco-system. A war against plastic is the need of the hour. Proper recycling of plastic and waste management can’t be delayed further.
The ocean clean-up is working to solve the problem of marine pollution. Read more about them here—also,check-out Boyan Slat’s inspiring ted-talk.
Do read my last article on NIMBYs and their impact on our society.