Islands are less dramatic in their features, but more dangerous in content, experts say
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 01/15/2013 -- Following a yacht captain stumbling across the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the 1990s, scientists began finding similar patches of plastic waste in all the oceans across the world. Scientists have now identified at least five of the islands, which are fed by currents that carry plastics like bags and bottles out to the vast vortices of seawater known a gyres.
Due to most plastic being non-biodegradable, the trash keeps swirling around for years and years, often crumbling down into smaller pieces that continue to refuse to break down. The particles linger like carbon dioxide emissions, and these garbage patches come to symbolize the effect of man-made pollution that has now essentially run amok.
A new study by Australian scientists shows that we now have a clearer view of just how far we've fallen down the rabbit hole of wastefulness. Using a GPS-equipped drifter buoys to recreate the travels of maritime trash. Researchers at the Australian Center of Excellence for Climate System Science report that a even if no plastic waste entered the oceans from today on, Earths' garbage patches would grow for another handful of centuries due to the longevity of life that plastics have.
"These patches are not going away," says lead author Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales, in a video statement about the study. "The garbage patches will stay there for at least the next thousand years."
Garbage patches are, in all actuality, low-profile and consistent mainly of small plastic bits that float upon the surface of the waters. Despite this seeming less dramatic, the nature of garbage is actually more nefarious, according to van Sebbile.
"If you sail through these areas, you will not see big lumps of plastics or rubber duckies or things like that," he says in a press release. "The sun and interaction with the ocean breaks the plastics down into very small pellets that are almost invisible to the naked eye. However, these plastics even at this small size do affect ecosystems — fish and albatross swallow these plastics, while phytoplankton can use the floating pellets to stay buoyant and float near the surface, where they grow best.”
Van Sebbile continues, saying: "Plastic is also the canary in the coal mine," he adds. "Poisonous chemicals, [which] are much more hazardous to the ecology, ride the currents in the same way and are actually absorbed by the plastic pellets."
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