The Great Pacific’s Vortex of Trash is at its worst
The Great Pacific’s Vortex of Trash is the worst it has ever been
A New Zealand ocean activist’s recent trip to the ever-growing Great Pacific Garbage Patch has come with a stark warning: Act now, or we will be forced to adapt to a plastic-filled ocean. ā
Raquelle de Vine of Algalita South Pacific, a newly established branch of the Algalita Marine Research and Education organisation, accompanied founder Captain Charles Moore to the North Pacific Sub-Tropical Gyre (NPG) between July 14 and August 4, 2019.
Moore was the first person to discover the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in 1997, and he has led the eleven expeditions since.
De Vine says a greater sense of urgency to address the plastic problem is required, and better leadership needed.
“We don’t have the decade it took to remove unnecessary single use plastic bags from the system. We need our leadership to take a more proactive approach, rather than waiting until it is too late to react.” The Fox River Landfill disaster is a clear example of this.
“If we fail to act now, we will be forced to adapt to a different ocean.”
The purpose of this eleventh voyage was to revisit monitoring sites to capture comparative data. The comparison shows plastic pollution is getting worse, and its worse than ever seen before.
Algalita worked with oceanographers from the International Pacific Research Programme at the University of Hawai’i to receive up to date data on where the highest plastic accumulation areas were in comparison to the monitoring sites.
According to the data, the sampling stations were located within the highest accumulation area this year. Moore said: “For hundreds of miles in the central accumulation zone, there was no relief.”
De Vine said: “It was five days without the concentrations letting up. Typically, the plastic comes in waves and gives you a sense that the ocean eco-system has some relief from the plague, however this time you could not watch the ocean and not have visible pieces of plastic floating past the boat for five full days.”
During the voyage, both of the boat’s propellers were obstructed despite having specific cages to protect from entanglement. There was simply too much plastic.
There was a need to divert course several times from large buoys, Fish Aggregation Devices, and nets. De Vine said, it was hard to imagine the cost this obstruction is posing to commercial fishing and shipping operations.
Plastics choke the ocean despite the global efforts being made. It was in 1999 when Moore first raised the alarm about the plague of plastic pollution threatening the world’s oceans. The initial results from this voyage showed an alarming ratio of 6 to 1 plastic to plankton by weight.
Subjective observations during this recent voyage identified a greater ratio of plastic to plankton than before. “You can’t even see any life on the surface of the samples because they are so choked with plastic,” de Vine said. She fears what the next two decades will hold for us.
Of importance to New Zealand is the spread of the plastic pollution problem through the South Pacific.
“When we visited the South Pacific, in some of the higher plastic concentration areas, Captain Moore commented that those concentrations looked like the North Pacific six-years earlier. At the current rate of production and disposal of plastic it is only a matter of time before the South Pacific is choking just as bad as the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch.”
This plastic plague poses not only environmental costs, but also economic, social, and cultural. Plastic pollutes from the beginning of its life to its never-end. It only breaks up into micro- and nano-particles, it is not reabsorbed into the nutrient cycle, and it infiltrates the entire biosphere. It causes obstructions when ingested by marine life, it transfers toxins, and scientists are continuing to find ways it is detrimentally changing the natural world.
Aotearoa needs to acknowledge its role in this, as caretakers of the fifth largest marine territory in the world and as an island nation which places great value on the ocean. Now is the opportunity for the country to step up and lead the way to a strategic shift away from waste.
• Raquelle de Vine is Algalita South Pacific’s director. With over 18,000 nautical miles studying plastic pollution in the North & South Pacific Oceans
Algalita South Pacific is a newly established branch of the Algalita Marine Research and Education organisation, originally formed in California in 1994 by Captain Charles Moore. Captain Moore was the discoverer of “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in 1997 and has to date worked to raise global awareness of the perils of plastic pollution.
Algalita’s South Pacific Expedition took place from November 2016 to May 2017
Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5mm in size. They are accumulating in the marine environment and, due to their prevalence, pose a significant threat to marine species.
A large % of the debris observed and collected is commercial fishing debris (buoys, traps, lines, nets, ropes & FADS) both in the North and South. On Algalita’s South Pacific voyage, it made up over 80% of the macro (>25mm) debris found. Including a representation of Aotearoa New Zealand’s fishing companies.
On July 22nd we Rendezvoused at sea with Icebreaker NZ’s, Vortex Swim Team, who are out with Ben Lecomte the man who is swimming across the Pacific to raise awareness of Plastic Pollution.