Aerial photo of a ghost net, Great Pacific Garbage Patch


© Alex Bellini

They called it the “Pacific Trash Vortex” or “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (GPGP) and it is the greatest accumulation of floating marine debris in the world: a patch that spreads from 135° W to 155° W and 35° N to 42° N in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It's more of a continent than an island. The numbers are mind-blowing: a mass of debris weighing 80,000 tons (100,000 if you consider the outer area with a lower density) made up of 1.8 trillion (billion billions) plastic objects of various sizes, from abandoned fishing nets, or ghost nets, to microplastics.
These debris patches (at the moment there are five known major ones globally) accumulate because ocean currents, masses of moving water, act like conveyor belts and transport tens of thousands of tons of rubbish to the centre of ocean vortices. The rubbish does not simply sit on the surface, but also travels vertically right down to the ocean bed. Italy also has its own "plastic island" in the Tyrrhenian sea. Between the islands of Elba, Corsica and Capraia, in the heart of the so-called cetacean sanctuary, is a "soup" of every kind of waste (containers, bags, polystyrene, plastic cups, etc.), mixed up with organic matter.
The plastic of the GPGP outstrips marine fauna 180 times over. According to a report published by the United Nations in 2016, marine debris is threatening the survival of more than 800 animal species, including sea birds, who regularly mistake plastic waste for food, turtles who become entangled in abandoned nets or ghost fishing equipment, and even larger mammals. And the boomerang effect is lurking just around the corner for us humans. Microplastics have even penetrated our food chain over time. It's estimated that every one of us ingests 5 g per week, causing long-term damage to our health and immune systems.
Our single-use plastic will be the torment of the ocean and future generations for centuries.

Andra Meneganzin