Jellyfish are threatened by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is considered by some scientists to be a misnomer for the roughly Texas-sized floating pile of garbage that can be found between Oregon and the Hawaiian Islands, as it suggests that the epic amount of garbage can be manageable. Whatever its name, litter represents an environmental disaster for the world’s oceans and is often used to illustrate the need for conservation policies that take the ocean into account. When it was sampled in 2001, it yielded 6 pounds (2.7 kg) of plastic for 1 pound (0.45 kg) of plankton in the water.
Ocean currents led to the formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The garbage patch formed and continues to exist because of ocean currents. The patch is not really static in its position, sometimes drifting into landmasses that have begun to look like landfills. It moves with the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a zone of high air pressure that forces ocean surface currents to move slowly clockwise, creating a whirlpool that sucks garbage from other parts of the ocean into the gyre. The high pressure zone is extremely stable as it is caused by the cooling of warm air from the equator as it moves north. There are several such gyres around the world, and they are traditionally avoided by sailors and fishermen because they are devoid of wind and marine organisms.
The fact that it avoided the subtropical gyre of the North Pacific meant that the garbage that was slowly accumulating there had accumulated an immense volume by the time it began to be recognized. Most of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made of plastic, which is not biodegradable. Organic material and debris from other sources will eventually decompose, but plastics will not, although they will break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Greenpeace has estimated that approximately 10% of the plastics manufactured each year end up in this part of the ocean.
The environmental risks posed by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are manifold. For starters, the area supports minimal marine life, because the rubbish patch restricts the limited area of water in which photosynthetic organisms can live. Other marine life, including birds, mammals, fish, and jellyfish, also suffer because they mistake litter for food. Garbage also carries a hidden payload: oily toxins that have built up in the plastic floating on the surface of the water. These toxins appear to be absorbed and concentrated by the plastics, which in turn are eaten by unconscious animals.
Public awareness of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch increased in 2006 when a series of news articles on the subject were published. Some scientists fear that increasing knowledge of the problem may come too late, as cleanup may be impossible. The issue highlights the growing problem of litter in the world’s oceans and it is hoped that awareness will drive consumers to reduce the amount of litter they generate, as well as spur international cooperation to address the issue.