The North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest ecosystem and ocean garage site in the world. The floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life by a measure of 6 to 1. The sources of debris that amount to this transient landfill come both from junk and plastic thrown off of ships (20%) and garbage that has made it's way here from land-based sources (80%). Marine debris pollutes the ocean’s ecosystems, from mid-ocean deep waters to coral reefs to beaches and inter-tidal zones. Ghost nets can entangle and strangle marine life and damage and smother coral reefs. Fish, seabirds and marine mammals consume plastic debris which bio-accumulates in the food web. Ingestion of plastics leads to increased concentrations of toxins in sea creatures and in many instances death by starvation. As humans, we ingest contaminated fish and mammals -- toxins directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune problems, and childhood development issues.
Planeterra is working with research scientists through The Ocean Voyages Institute to raise funds to support an annual expedition that cleans, removes, and restores ocean habitats by physically removing debris from the Great Ocean Garbage Patch. The program is two-fold, the removal of marine debris serves both to ameliorate the problem of ocean pollution and, through documentation and outreach, this program educates the public on the extent and severity of this problem. Planeterra is assisting this program through funding of commercial maritime equipment -- work vessels, tugs, and barges.
Marine debris is ubiquitous in all of the world’s oceans. This proliferation of trash in the global ocean is linked to the increased use of disposable plastics, the appalling low rate of plastic recycling, and the illegal dumping of plastics and other materials in the ocean and within coastal watersheds. Identifying and implementing solutions to this problem requires expanded education about the magnitude and spatial extent of marine debris as well as a global initiative to act.