Everyone has heard of garbage island, the enormous hunk of plastic and other human garbage that’s floating out in the Pacific Ocean. The truth of the matter is, there isn’t really one giant heap of trash in the ocean, but lots of little garbage patches.
Now, researchers have discovered two new garbage patches, this time in the Arctic Ocean, which is especially depressing when you consider how pristine and beautiful the arctic once was. Their analysis of the available data revealed that there are about 300 billion pieces of plastic floating in the Arctic ocean.
The plastic found in the arctic is being churned up by a process called thermohaline circulation, which is a global current that is controlled by the temperature differentials and the salinity of the ocean. This current delivers warm water to the arctic from further south. It also delivers plastic debris, picked up in the North Atlantic.
The plastic is not distributed throughout the arctic, though. It can be found primarily in two central locations. Both of these zones sit off the eastern coast of Greenland north of Norway. And because arctic ice is rapidly melting, a result of climate change, natural barriers that would have contained this pollution no longer exist.
“The growing level of human activity in an increasingly warm and ice-free Arctic, with wider open areas available for the spread of microplastics, suggests that high loads of marine plastic pollution may become prevalent in the Arctic in the future,” the research team wrote in their study. “The uniqueness of the Arctic ecosystem makes the potential ecological implications of exposure to plastic debris of special concern.”
What can you do?
When we cover subjects like this, it can be hard to communicate how it is that we each fit into this. The truth is, as an individual, there may not be much you can do about existing garbage patches. Massive undertakings will be necessary to rid our oceans of this trash. But there are things you can do in your homes and communities.
Litter discarded on the ground often ends up in local waterways, many of which will inevitably flow into the ocean. By picking up litter on your streets, you make sure that it can’t find its way into the seas.
Another way to help is by simply refusing plastic whenever and wherever you can. Bring your own reusable bags, shop in bulk, and if you do use plastic, be sure it’s recycled properly. Everyone doing these little things can make a big impact!