The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large collection of marine debris that can be seen floating on the surface of the ocean. It’s big, but you can’t see it from space.
Did you know that there is a huge body of plastic particles floating in the Pacific Ocean?
According to The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up the world’s oceans, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest of the world’s five offshore plastic accumulation areas. The patch is located halfway between Hawaii and California.
The patch covers an estimated surface area of over 617,762 square miles. Although the exact size of the garbage patch is difficult to measure because the boundaries are constantly changing, that surface area is about twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France, The Ocean Cleanup reported.
According to Google Trends, the top question people searching about the garbage patch was its visibility from space. All over Twitter, some have even claimed that the accumulation problem is so great, it can be seen from the International Space Station.
Can you see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from space?
No, you can’t see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from space.
what we found
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch developed due to the North Pacific Gyre, a system of circulating currents. Streams pick up large amounts of microplastic debris, or very small pieces of plastic, and some large pieces of floating waste. The flotsum then swirls together within a vortex, gradually increasing as more and more debris collects.
Nick Mallos, senior director of the Trash Free Seas Program at the Ocean Conservancy, told VERIFY that microplastics come from large objects that break.
To better understand the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it’s easy to think of it like soup, Sarah Jean-Royer with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography told VERIFY.
“I think we can look at it as a soup of microplastics … This is where you have floating debris of plastic that’s basically floating on the surface and a little bit below the surface of the water. So there’s a lot of movement, and you see microplastics moving up and down in a couple of meters of water on the surface,” Jean-Royer said.
Even though GPGP is very large, it cannot be seen from space because it is not a giant mass of garbage, nor is it a floating island, according to Oceana. Oceana is an ocean conservation group that posted a blog in 2019 dispelling three myths about the patch.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website states, “Since microplastics are smaller than a pencil eraser, they are not immediately noticeable to the naked eye.” “It’s like flakes of pepper swirling around in soup, which you can scrape off the surface.”
Malos told VERIFY that the patch can’t be seen from space for the same reason — because most of the vortex is made up of microscopic particles.
“At some places you see big ropes and fishing nets floating on the surface. You’ll see large pieces of plastic that may have fallen into the water – laundry baskets, car bumpers, anything you can imagine you can find there. But in general, what you really find are very small pieces of plastic that break down into smaller pieces, like those from the big box they used to roam the ocean for days, months, years,” Malos said.
Nancy Wallace with NOAA explained that the garbage patch is not something you can even see from a satellite because the garbage particles are so small.
But just because you can’t see a garbage patch from space doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for the environment.
Malos said the misconception that the garbage patch is a floating island has also made conservation more difficult. He said that it is not true that one can just take the net and pick up the physical waste.
“The small stuff is even more concerning, because it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible to clean up. And we know that the small stuff can be eaten by every animal and creature in the ocean. While the big stuff, it’s the marine wildlife.” There is a very small selection of plastics that can eat it. So just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s a minor problem. And in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Small plastics are doing a lot for the entire marine ecosystem. become more widespread risks,” Malos said.
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