What Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?


Quick Answer

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a dense area of floating trash in the center of the North Pacific Gyre, the circular current that spans the ocean from the United States to Japan. Despite the name, it does not represent a solid mass of garbage; instead, it represents an area of the ocean where plastic and other floating trash occurs much more frequently than other areas in the open ocean.

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Full Answer

The trash that makes up the garbage patch comes from a variety of sources. While some is undoubtedly dumped from passing ships, the circular current that flows around the northern Pacific can pick up trashed dumped off the shores of North America as well as Asia. Over time, the currents carry the floating debris around and around until it drifts to the center of the vortex and joins the mass of trash.

Much of the trash floating in the garbage patch is tiny confetti-like pieces of plastic that degrade over time in the sun. Many of the sea creatures and birds that frequent this region of the ocean ingest these plastic bits while feeding, causing them to choke or preventing them from absorbing nutrients in their digestive tracts. In addition, the chemicals released by this plastic waste can disrupt the hormonal and endocrine systems of vulnerable animals.

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