Adding to an ocean of garbage

Just in time for Earth Day on Apr. 22 came graphic pictures last week of huge floating islands of debris washed into the ocean after the March 11 tsunami in Japan.

Cars, tractors, boats and entire houses have been seen floating towards Canada and the U.S., fuelling speculation on when it will arrive on our beaches.

I’m betting that scavenging enterpreneurs will be flocking to them looking for items of value while they’re still floating in the middle of the Pacific. Perhaps we should hope for that, since an actual Pitch In cleanup of the area seems beyond our means.

The largest “island” of debris is 69 miles long and covers more than 2.2-million sq ft, according to the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is monitoring the floating rubbish.

They say that it’s a hazard to ships, but no one is talking about the hazard to marine life, yet, or the hazard to the planet as a whole.

We already know how one single plastic six-pack ring can cause hell on Earth for birds, seals and other aquatic life.

Experts say it could take up to two years for the debris to reach Hawaii and another year to hit North America’s west coast.

After that, it has a very good chance of meeting up with the North Pacific garbage patch.

You’ve heard of it. Google if if you haven’t: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean.

Estimated to contain 3.5 million tons of junk – and that was in 2008, 80 per cent of which is plastic, 20 per cent is sludge from passing ships. The size is somewhere between twice the size of Texas to the size of Africa.

For those who think that we can throw whatever we want into the ocean because it will filter out and magically eliminate the garbage, think again.

Plastics and fuel break down into smaller particles, but they don’t go away: they just change the nature of nature.

Wendy Coomber is editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal

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