Enter the Gyre

Science fiction writers are likely watching this development carefully. If not they should be. I’m not much of an SF fan, but stories and visions of horrors are buzzing in my imagination.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography just launched SEAPLEX a full fledged research study of the North Pacific Gyre, affectionately known as the great floating garbage patch.

This is exciting news to those of us who’ve been worrying about this for years and who regularly hear our concerns about plastic garbage brushed aside.

There’s no doubt that plastic has its place. It’s allowed huge breakthroughs in medicine, flight, food storage! Just this morning I tried to eat cereal that had been stored in cardboard instead of a zipable plastic bag, bleh! But that place is not out the window, in the ditch, floating in the ocean.

We need to learn to be careful with the stuff, use it like it’s precious, or like it’s harmful. Maybe it should have an MSDS label or be highly taxed (ooh that’ll be popular) so that people think twice before tossing it aside. Most of all stop making stupid stuff like single use brownie mix shakers. (Is stirring really that hard?)

A scientist from Scripps pointed out on a radio show today, that the gyre has always been there and that trash has always floated in the ocean, so the basic phenomena is nothing new. What is new is that since the end of WWII we have been creating plastic and replacing all the old kinds of trash that used to break down, with this new kind that doesn’t.

Every piece of plastic that was ever manufactured is still in existence (unless it was incinerated in which case it’s something else.) Because plastic doesn’t break down chemically, it only breaks down physically to smaller and smaller particles of plastic. Then those particles are taken up by birds, fish, animals that mistake them for food. Albatross chicks in a rookery near the gyre are already dying of malnutrition with stomachs full of plastic.

Anyway, it’s heartening to see that a major institution is taking a serious look at the problem of plastic in the gyre. And they’re doing it with swashbuckling style. One of the ships taking part is the Kaisei a square rigged brigantine.

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