charles moore
Reducing Earth’s Floating Garbage Dumps

April 29, 2012, Judd

A floating sea of plastic debris nearly twice the size of Texas constantly circulates in the North Pacific Ocean. By now, many people have heard of this so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” but few know how to fix it.

In observance of Earth Day, Paul Ecke Central Elementary School hosted a presentation Friday night by Captain Charles Moore, an oceanographer, racing boat captain and leading authority on the garbage patch, which is dubbed, in more scientific terms, “The Great Pacific Gyre.”

Moore’s lecture and presentation was a sobering affair, presenting proof that plastic trash is all too ubiquitous in the ocean.

The only hope for our oceans, according to Moore, is a shift in consciousness, resulting in a strong focus on local economies, and avoiding—as much as possible—buying products with plastic packaging.

Roughly 40 percent of the world’s ocean surface is a floating vortex of trash, with the majority of it being comprised of plastic particulates that do not biodegrade, Moore said. Moore first witnessed the garbage patch in 1997 while sailing back to California after completing a Los Angeles-to-Hawaii race.

Weak winds and relatively sparse marine life usually make sailors and fisherman avoid sub-tropical high-pressure zones like the Northern Pacific, which is where the most common garbage patch swirls its great sea of flotsam.

But the Northern Pacific trash gyre is only one of five around the world. Moore’s slide show also mapped massive floating trash heaps in the Southern Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Despite showing several slides of different species of fish and sea-faring birds with their stomachs cut open, revealing a mind-boggling amount of plastic pellets, Moore did have some good news to offer.

“Marine pollution is now a field of science embraced by college students and graduate students and Ph.D. candidates,” Moore said. “In the past, you’d come across only one published research paper every six months about plastic environmental pollution in the ocean. But now, there are two to three new papers published each week.”

Moore’s talk also demonstrated how adaptable some aquatic life is, especially the marine life teeming in garbage patches.

“We’ve now created a new floating coral reef habitat in the ocean starting 300 miles off the coast of California and extending all the way to China,” said Moore, pointing to one of several pictures of coral and reef fish latching on and hiding from larger prey in a faded liquid laundry detergent bottle.

Moore would like Encinitas residents to think twice before buying bottled water or the spinach in a plastic container from your local grocer. That also goes for the hundreds of other products you’ll see while cruising the aisles at your local food store.

If the fact that ocean currents carry trash from the U.S. West Coast to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in six years doesn’t sober you up, Moore’s photo of an anchovy with 84 pieces of plastic in it might have. If not, you’ll probably think twice about ordering them on pizza from now on.

Although recycling is a common occurrence nowadays, Moore said, “If you think recycling is the answer, check out these champion recyclers.” He was pointing to a picture of Southeast Asian fishermen filtering plastic from a floating trash-choked waterway (see photo gallery).

“There is a price that the Earth is paying because of globalization,” said Moore, referring to the booming increase in consumption in developing countries such as China and India.

Moore concluded his presentation by touting community supported agriculture as a highly effective way to reduce plastic consumption and, thus, create less trash that might end up in these massive floating garbage patches.

One Leucadia Blog reader, Kevin C., commented on the advertised lecture by Moore, offering another local solution to reducing trash in the ocean. The comment reads:

“… cutting north county’s plastic input by 90%+ would be less important that cutting just 10% from some Los Angeles rivers or the Tijuana rivershed. Those rivers are covered in plastic.”

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.