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You would expect to find plastic products at home, work and just about everywhere there are people. You wouldn't, however, expect to find plastic inside the stomachs of fish and birds.
Scientists say our wasteful habits are to blame for the changing ecology of the ocean, but there is something we can all do about it.
From toothbrushes to toilet seats, whatever plastic products you use on land can also be plucked from the world's largest dump--the ocean.
Scientists say our plastic goods are creating a watery grave.
Bonnie Monteleone is a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and she studies the impact of trash on our oceans.
"It gets caught up in the wind and currents, and then ends up in these isolated areas in the ocean known as gyres," said Monteleone.
There are five ocean gyres swirling up our wayward waste, primarily plastics, into patches of trash encompassing millions of square miles.
Researchers have found massive globs of our junk in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but it's the tiny pieces of plastic in some places, 1.9 million bits per square mile to be exact, that's causing so much concern.
"These become little toxic pills that the fish are eating," Monteleone said.
She and a research team traveled to what's commonly called the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch.
Their journey spanned the same distance of the United States and there was plastic in every water sample.
Commonly used items like plastic bins won't fully degrade. Instead, they break down into fragmented microplastics and become sponges soaking up ocean pollutants and toxic chemicals before they are consumed by marine life.
"So, what you have is this migration from the very base of the food chain coming up to the surface to feed and what's there--these bits of plastic," Monteleone said.
Scientists suspect these pollutants may seep into animal tissues making their way from plastic eating fish to the people who eat the fish.
We can't clean these garbage patches up because it would be nearly impossible to skim the surface of the entire ocean.
We can keep plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place. From utensils to bags and bottles, most of our plastics are single-use items.
Reduce, reuse and recycle your plastic, or better yet, use something else.
Scientists say that small action can make a big difference in preventing the big, deep blue from becoming an even bigger deep dump.
If pollution and contamination aren't reason enough to rethink our plastic problem, consider the source. Plastic is made of petroleum oil.
If you wince every time you fill up at the gas pump, think of how many millions of barrels of oil we're letting drift off into the sea as garbage.
Because there has been little scientific research conducted on these areas, the exact size and content of these areas are difficult to accurately predict.
"Patch" can be a misnomer, there is no blanket or island of trash nor can it be seen by satellite or aerial photos, likely because much of the debris is in small bits.
The Eastern patch is in an area midway between Hawaii and California known as the North Pacific Subtropical High or "eastern garbage patch." It moves, rotates and changes. The Western patch is off the coast of Japan.
Patches are made from floatable marine debris which is concentrated thanks to ocean and atmospheric conditions (water rotation, current
Can it be cleaned up?
It is not cost-effective to skim the surface of the entire ocean.
It would be hard to remove patches since they move and change throughout the year.
Large areas have uneven distribution of debris which would make it hrd to collect and remove.
Removing the trash would also skim up microscopic-size ocean life.
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