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If there were something larger than Texas, floating in the Pacific Ocean, do you think you would have heard about it?  Have you ever heard about pelagic debris?  How about chemical sludge?

Now: have you heard about the thing that is larger than Texas, that floats in the ocean, and that is made of pelagic debris and chemical sludge?

I was embarrassed I didn’t know about it.  Now that I do, let me fill you in.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the ultimate ocean dumpster.  It is a gargantuan mass of pelagic or marine debris (pelagic means “in the open sea” as opposed to close to the shore) in the central North Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Hawaii and California.

Its size is somewhat controversial, in part because scientists can’t agree on where the debris stops.  At some point, along the edges of the Garbage Patch, the concentration of debris becomes “normal.”  But most seem to agree that the Patch is larger than Texas.  Some even claim that it is as large as the continental US!

Where does all that junk come from?  Mostly from storm drains, which convey plastic bags, containers and objects into our oceans.  There, marine currents and wind tend to concentrate the debris in specific areas.

We shouldn’t feel special however, as there are similar patches in other oceans.  There are 5 main garbage patches: North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Indian Ocean.  So nobody is spared.

But who cares?  This is all happening hundreds of miles away, right?

Well, as the plastic trash slowly degrades (via photo-, chemical and mechanical degradation) in the ocean, it produces smaller and smaller particles.  They release chemicals, which dissolve in water.  At some point, these chemicals probably will end up inside our bodies through our water supply and/or in our favorite smoked salmon, sushi and shrimp cocktails.

Sure enough, countless animals are affected by the pollution.  Albatross chicks were found to have plastic in their proventriculi and gizzards.  They were significantly lighter, with lower fat indices, than injured but otherwise healthy chicks. Consuming plastic was deemed to cause “physiological stress as a result of satiation and mechanical blockages.”

Leatherback turtles, who feed primarily on jellyfish, may eat floating plastic garbage by accident, since it could be mistaken for a jellyfish. Necropsies suggest that plastic can cause intestinal blockages.

Fish and seals also were found with plastic in their systems.

Overall, the Garbage Patch is extremely poor in Fauna.

If you would like to learn more, and see for yourself, just type “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is your search engine or on www.YouTube.com.

So what can we do to make a difference?  Here are 10 simple suggestions:

  1. Become aware of the problem
  2. Avoid using plastic bottles and containers
  3. Buy larger plastic bottles or containers if you must
  4. Try to use glass and stainless steel whenever possible
  5. Bring your own, reusable bottle or cup to work
  6. Catch offenders in the act, and help them change
  7. Prefer reusable, cloth grocery bags
  8. Buy in bulk when possible
  9. Be an active “recycler” at work, e.g. in your clinic
  10. Be an avid “recycler” at home

In two words: “Go green.”

It’s not a political statement.  It’s common sense.

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