By Catherine Moran
Happy Monday! I hope you all had a fun and safe holiday weekend. You might have been lucky enough to spend some time at the beach during the long weekend. While there, you were hopefully thinking about snoozing on the sand, listening to tunes, and swimming until your fingers pruned. You hopefully weren’t thinking about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or, if you were, you weren’t letting it bum you out too much. Why do I say that? After all, The Garbage Patch is a major bummer. But it turns out that it’s disappearing. Yay! But, hang on: Is this a good or bad thing?
We might be inclined to say it’s a good thing, because disappearing garbage means the ocean is free of this problem, but that’s not really the case. Where are the microplastics that make up the Patch disappearing to? One possibility is that some marine wildlife are attaching themselves to this trash (think barnacles on the bottom of a boat, only now they’re attaching themselves to, say, plastic bottles). This takes the plastic down to the deep fathoms below, and no one can say what changes it’s creating down there.
Two other possibilities for what’s become of the plastic: it’s making its way to our shores in smaller pieces, or it’s being broken down by bacteria into extremely small particles.
If this missing garbage wasn’t causing concern before now, brace yourself: if this plastic is broken down and becoming teeny tiny, there’s a possibility that it’s being eaten by teeny tiny fish. Teeny tiny fish are eaten by bigger fish, which are in turn eaten by bigger fish, and then, somewhere along the line, people might eat these fish. This is bad news: plastic is not on the food pyramid.
So, in conclusion, the disappearance of the plastic garbage patch might be worse than its existence in the first place. Scientists can only speculate as to what is happening to this plastic, and its unclear if they will be able to come to a definitive answer. What’s done is done, but, going forward, we can continue trying to eliminate adding to these collections of trash by reducing our plastic usage and supporting such endeavors as bans on microbeads. For more reading on the disappearance of the The Great Grabage Patch, check out this article, or this one.
Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter here, or check out her excellent book blog.