By Kassidy House and Cailyn Raper.
Happy World Oceans Day!
Today, June 8, is the day to celebrate our oceans and appreciate everything that they provide for us. The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day is “Life and Livelihoods“, to shed light on the importance of biodiversity and the wonder of the ocean.
Before you continue reading, pause for a second to think about what you love most about the ocean. Is it the beautiful scenery? Or the food? The oceans provide a lot of behind-the-scenes ecosystem services such as climate regulation and oxygen production. All for free! Our lives would not be the same without our oceans.
However, today is about more than just celebrating the ocean, it is about raising awareness of the human impact on our seas and uniting “the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world’s oceans“. Let’s discuss one of our biggest impacts on the ocean, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and what we can do about it.
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is a concentrated collection of debris in the ocean between Hawaii and California. It is estimated to be twice the size of Texas! Wow! Now that is a lot of debris.
What is it made of?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of microplastics, or small pieces of plastic around 5 millimeters long. This is about the size of an eraser on a #2 pencil. Since these microplastics are so tiny, and are in all depths of the ocean, the garbage patch is not visible from the surface. You could sail right through it and be unaware of all the debris floating beneath you! See this blog for more information on microplastics in Sarasota County.
Microplastics are formed when every day, plastic objects are discarded into the ocean. The wind, sun, ocean currents, and changes in temperature degrade the plastic material until it looks like the picture to the above.
According to the Ocean Cleanup, 46% of the total mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing nets. These nets are called “ghost nets” because they still capture and kill marine life even after they’re discarded in the ocean.
How is it formed?
The North Pacific gyre forms the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A gyre is a large, constant, and rotating ocean current. Debris gets picked up by this current and is dragged towards the calm center, where it becomes trapped. Think of it like a whirlpool, but on a much larger and slower scale.
There are 5 large gyres across the globe, each collecting their own piles of trash. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the biggest and the most well known. The Ocean Cleanup project calculated that 80,000 tons of plastic live in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is equivalent to the weight of 12,308 male African Bush Elephants, or 615,000 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnsons!
Why is this an issue?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch wreaks havoc on the health of marine life in the area. They often mistake plastic for food, causing malnutrition, which is understandable since there is 180x more plastic than food available in this garbage patch.
The Ocean Cleanup and Deloitte found that the costs of this marine plastic pollution ranges between $6-19 billion per year. These costs come from its impact on the tourism industry, the fishery and aquaculture industry, and governmental clean-ups. It does not include the cost of the damage on human health or marine life.
What can I do to help?
Keep Sarasota County Beautiful is a non-profit organization that initiates environmental cleanups and keeps our community free of litter! Their next cleanup is on July 5th, 2021 from 7 – 9am, you can register here or call 941-861-5000.
“Be the change you want to see in the world” -Ghandi
You have the power to create change and be apart of the movement towards a cleaner, more sustainable earth! To combat marine plastic pollution specifically, reduce your plastic consumption. I know that is easier said than done in today’s world, but it is possible. If you’re wondering where you should start, follow the steps below:
Step 1) Conduct a waste audit. Take note of each item that you throw away for a week.
Step 2) When the week is over, categorize your list. Do you tend to throw out a lot of clamshell plastic containers? Plastic bags? Disposable plastic utensils?
Step 3) Search for alternative solutions. If you buy fruit in plastic clamshell containers from the grocery store, try going to the farmers market for your fruit. If you use a lot of plastic bags, stick some reusable bags in your car or by the door right now to have them available whenever you need! Tailor your solutions to the findings from your personal waste audit.
An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities. View the complete policy at www.scgov.net/ADA.