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What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Great Pacific Garbage Patch Facts

Last Updated August 01, 2019

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gigantic collection of marine debris and waste found in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. The main constituents of this garbage are plastic debris that the ocean currents collect.

The patch comprises two patches. One is the Western Garbage Patch near Japan, and the other is the Eastern Garbage Patch situated between Hawaii and California.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Facts

1) When was the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Discovered?

The garbage patch was discovered by Charles Moore in 1997. He is a yachtsman and sailed into an island of marine debris made of plastic and other trash. The name though was given by Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer.

2) Formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The swirling of the ocean currents in the North Pacific Ocean is the primary reason behind the creation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The accumulation of waste is mainly facilitated by the subtropical gyre that is present in the waters of the North Pacific Ocean.

A gyre is a vast system of rotating ocean currents formed by wind patterns and Earth’s rotation. In this case, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is formed by the interaction of the California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro, and North Pacific currents moving in a clockwise direction.

The gyre currents move in a clockwise direction thereby carrying the garbage along their path of movement towards the center of the North Pacific Ocean. The constant disposal and collection of trash from the East and West part of the Pacific Ocean have made the North Pacific Ocean a convergence point of garbage patch.

The garbage is pulled in to the center of the gyre where it gets trapped. Fishermen and ships are forced to avoid the pathway that has been created from the accumulation of the massive amounts of garbage floating in this region.

3) How Big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers approximately 1.6 million sq kilometers which when put into perspective is thrice the size of France. The total mass of plastic floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is somewhere around 80,000 tonnes. The density is however not uniform and is higher at the center and gradually decreases towards the boundaries. It is interesting to know that while making the previous calculation only the denser areas were taken into consideration otherwise the number would shoot up to 100,000 tonnes easily as it accounts for a total of 1.8 trillion plastic pieces.

As mentioned previously, the concentration of the waste plastics is higher at the center reaching 100s of kg/km2 at its highest, and gradually decreases towards the outermost regions coming down to 10 kg/km2.

4) What is Great Pacific Garbage Patch comprised of?

Mostly Plastic!

The garbage patch comprises of all sorts of things, but the primary constituent is the Plastic.  According to an estimate, 80% of the garbage is from the land-based activities while the rest is from sea-based operations.

Since plastic is so ubiquitous that the composition of the garbage is not a surprise. Plastics are not bio-degradable. To worsen the scenario, a process called photodegradation (Sun breaking down plastics into small pieces) coupled with waves and temperature changes result in vast swathes of microplastics which pose a grave hazard to all the ecosystems of the Earth.

Once this process happens, plastics are no longer confined to the surface of the water. They go as deep as the ocean floor. This is when they become almost impossible to remove. What is more alarming is the fact that they get mistaken as food by the marine animals.

5) How Microplastics Affects Marine Life and Humans?

As pointed out earlier a significant problem with plastic debris is that their color makes animals and birds think that they are food components and this leads to large-scale malnutrition. Underwater animals have also been seen to get entangled in plastic thereby causing danger to their lives.

Their behavior, health, and existence are negatively impacted as studies show that 92% of the animals’ interactions with debris is that with plastic. 17% of these species that are affected by plastic are on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.

Marine debris can entangle and harm marine organisms. For air-breathing organisms, such as the green sea turtle, entanglement in debris can prevent animals from being able to swim to the surface, causing them to drown.

Marine debris can entangle and harm marine organisms. For air-breathing organisms, such as the green sea turtle, entanglement in debris can prevent animals from being able to swim to the surface, causing them to drown.

You will be amazed to know that there is 180 times more plastic floating on the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch than marine life. Turtles that get caught by the fisheries operating in this region have been reported to have 74% (by dry weight) of their diets comprising plastic accumulated on the surface of the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. For Laysan albatross chicks from Kure Atoll and Oahu Island, the number is around 45%.

84% of these plastics contain PBT (Persistent Bio-accumulative Toxic) of one sort or the other. Now when this plastic debris is getting consumed by the marine animals, these toxic chemicals are entering their system and causing health issues.

Entanglement is another issue that the marine animals face in the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. 46% of the plastic in this region is from fishing nets. Animals, swim and collide into them and are unable to entangle themselves from these often resulting in their death.

Plastic once ingested by the marine animals, especially the fish makes their way to human food through the food chain. Following the prey-predator relationship, the harmful chemicals of plastics ultimately find their way to the human body.

Also read: Meaning Of Flotsam And Jetsam In Shipping

6) How can the Great Pacific Garbage Patch be cleaned?

Studies have estimated that it would bankrupt entire nations to clean up that mess. However, that does not mean things need to be as bad. There might be a few things that we can do to prevent the situation from getting worse.

The first step would be to minimize the use of plastic and use as much biodegradable items instead of as possible. This way we can stop adding to the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

Simultaneously we would also need to spread the awareness regarding the harm that plastic is causing to marine life and consequently to humans. The gruesome fact that marine animals and birds get attracted to the flashy colors of the plastic and thinking them to be food choke on them could be brought in front of more people.

We should start using alternatives to plastic products like paper bags instead of plastic bags while shopping for grocery and other purposes.

7) Great Pacific Garbage Video


A complete cleanup process might be extremely financially taxing and practically impossible. But we can surely prevent the situation from worsening. The change needs to come from us, and we need to change our lifestyle to a much more healthier one.

Being nature-friendly will only benefit us in the long run and hurting it would cause our ruin. If we keep using plastic, it will permeate into the food chain at a level so deep that it would be impossible to carry out extraction and everything we eat and breath will be permanently contaminated.

Thus it is important that we realize the urgency of the situation and make the ones around us aware of it too.

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