Project Kasai: Just How Much Garbage is in the Ocean?

The entire ocean is about 361 million kilometers squared and serves as a medium of transportation for ships as well as a home to millions of known and unknown sea creatures. Along the ocean resides several beach resorts, villages, and countries with humans who use this body of water as an easy way to dispose of their trash. The trash that is being directly deposited into the ocean is composed of many harmful toxins, and if consumed, it has the potential to leave harmful health effects on both animals (aquatic and terrestrial) and humans.

The ocean has what is called "ocean gyres," and these are located in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, and Indian Oceans. A gyre is a current that rotates around in a circle within the ocean. The North Pacific Ocean has the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a heaping amount of trash that has been disintegrated by the sun or decomposed by the bacteria and algae in the ocean.  Some rumors have it that some scientists are investigating garbage patches in the Sargasso Sea and off the coast of Japan.

These garbage patches are composed of items such as Popsicle sticks, toothbrushes, tires, spoons, knives, forks, and most importantly, plastic. Plastic poses as a great concern, for it is composed of toxins such as PBCs and DDTs. It has the tendency to act as a sponge, so before it enters into the ocean, it has already absorbed toxins from other outside sources. It takes nearly 1,000 years before it fully decomposes making it a severe threat to marine life and eventually, humans.

Through their formation and the way they swivel and squirm in the ocean, planktivorous and other omnivorous species may mistake bits of the trash for food.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), trash in the ocean has the potential to cause ingestion, entanglement, and alterations in the ecosystem. As previously described, ingestion is where predators mistaken floating items of trash as prey, causing them to have body alterations and malnutrition from having the feeling of being "full" from eating items of trash, leaving no room for organisms it commonly eats. Entanglement has the potential to lead to starvation and suffocation. It also constricts animal movement, preventing them from searching for food. The ecosystem located at the bottom on the ocean floor could be altered from direct impact of marine debris, causing coral reefs and other marine plants to die. These impacts can lead to mild to severe health disorders, and even death of the species. The toxins that are now in the species will work their way up through the food chain through the process of bio-accumulation and soon enough, humans will be consuming the toxins that were left behind in the ocean. Through studies, scientists have discovered that such pollution has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

As some experts believe cleaning up the garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean is preposterous or impossible, a group from the Ocean Voyages Institute has came up with the plan. This plan calls for catching the plastic with nets then hauling them over to recycling companies. Here, they will heat up the plastic through a process called pyrolysis and use the remaining components for oil. Experts find that this plan could harm the marine life if they are caught in the nets along with the plastic, so they suggest that humans recycle their plastic or use less of it.