April 15th, 2015
Doldrums of Debris: More From The First Ever Expedition To The Indian Ocean Garbage Patch
“Hey, there’s a turtle stuck in a ball of net” someone yelled from the top of the mast, the best place to be for a 360° view of the world for miles. From 150ft up in the air came a barrage of sightings: a shark, two turtles, random large fragments of plastic floating by and one enormous ball of tangled fishing nets and rope. We’re in the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch.
An oceanic garbage patch is an area of relatively dense accumulation of debris, not an island, but a thin soup that’s more concentrated in the 5 subtropical gyres than surrounding waters. Other than the behemoth net ball, or trails of random debris forming wind rows, you usually will see very little with the naked eye. You detect an oceanic garbage patch when you trawl.
We’ve conducted 6 trawls in the last 7 days, each one with plastic debris. Trawls 1-4 had a visible fragment or two floating about. A Trawl 5 had a dozen, and trawl 6 had twice more than all others combined.
So if you hold the idea that the solution to the plastic pollution problem is to go to any of the 5 gyres and get it, you’re wasting your time and money. The plastic out here will likely photo degrade and break apart into smaller and smaller fragments. After cycling through untold numbers of marine organisms through filter-feeding or food mimicry, the particles will likely sink to the seafloor, either as fish poop or become encrusted by colonizing critters. They will take their polymer chains and absorbed pollutants to the sequestering grave of deep sea mud.
Solutions to plastic pollution begin on land.