Talking Trash: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Ransom Riggs

It's like something you'd expect to see in a now-classic post-apocalyptic novel by J.G. Ballard or Richard Matheson: The Synthetic Sea, a swirling vortex of plastic garbage the size of Texas; an island of plastic riding atop the cold North Pacific, leaching poisonous chemicals into the ecosystem and being swallowed by fish and birds who mistake the smaller bits for food. Except it's real. Also known as the North Pacific Gyre (recalling Yeats; I like it), it contains something like 100 million tons of debris caught up by ocean currents in an endless loop between Hawaii and Japan. The reason fish and birds swallow the stuff and die is because small pieces of plastic already outnumber plankton in the gyre/vortex/patch by 6 to one, an imbalance which may increase tenfold in the coming years.

Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, who first discovered the Patch, has artfully dubbed it a kind of "plastic soup," a concept which this graphic demonstrates rather well. Or, here's another way of looking at it -- this is Captain Moore holding a pint or so of randomly-scooped water from the Patch:

(Photo courtesy of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation )

Captain Moore put it all together during a recent TED talk. Check out this clip: