Skip to main content

world wide wednesdays :: the old trash and the sea

is there life after death? there is for your garbage. in fact, there's even kind of a garbage heaven, or haven, in our oceans oceans. the pacific is best known, but the atlantic and indian oceans have also staked their claim and despite the fact that we've known about them for years, there hasn't been much of anything done to address the problem. as a result, they're now taking on an eerie permanence and although we haven't yet colonised them for human settlement, it might not be that far behind. so today, here are some fun facts about the awesome islands of garbage that are sailing the open seas like pirates, picking up our discarded booty.

the first thing that warrants clarification is that these garbage islands aren't islands. and no, i don't mean they're actually peninsulas. but they're generally more like swamps, with an incredible concentration of plastic, much of it in pieces so small as to be invisible to the human eye. you could probably swim through sections of it and, assuming you didn't freeze to death, get swept away and drown in the rough seas, or get eaten by something large and scary, you might not even realise that you were in the midst of a huge dump. of course, you'd probably feel pretty sick afterward, because you'd doubtless swallow lots of plastic shrapnel. whether that would cause you any long term damage is unclear, but assume that it wouldn't be good for you. i have a feeling you're not going to be doing it anyway.

but in case you're feeling disappointed that there aren't massive islands of old diapers spinning around in the oceans, perhaps this will cheer you: there are islands within the garbage patches. the "great pacific garbage patch" now has a spiffy fifteen metre [fifty foot] island that boasts its own reefs, coastlines and marine life [largely mollusks and seaweed]. this was likely caused by the 2011 tsunami that hit japan and dragged much larger pieces of trash into the ocean. although it's taken time, eventually it all ends up in the garbage patch.

so how does the garbage know to find its way to the nearest hangout? well, it doesn't. we're not creating sentient garbage [yet]. the movement of currents in the world's oceans creates five major gyres, areas where the all converge and kind of spin around together, and when garbage ends up in the ocean [either because people put it there, or because it blows there from landfills or places where it's simply been dropped], the currents naturally spin it towards the gyres and leave it there. the oceans are much better at making sure all the trash ends up in the same place than we are, as it turns out.

one of the biggest problems cited by garbage patch scientists [they exist] is the effect of all this garbage on marine wildlife. bird carcasses are often found packed with the stuff, which they seem to eat and which fills them up, thus disguising the fact that they're starving to death from lack of nutrients. however, there may be a little more to it than that. because the animals that are examined are the dead ones, we don't know if it's possible that some animals eat the plastic and live [we know fish can, but it's not clear if they can in a trash-packed environment like the garbage patches]. while it's nice to think that our garbage isn't killing entire species, there's nothing reassuring about this idea, because it means either the animals don't absorb the plastics, which means they go straight out the back door and back into the ocean, or they do absorb them and all their chemicals, which means that those chemicals get spread through the entire food chain, where they could possibly case genetic mutations that could last forever. [side note :: the garbage also provides an easier method for some species, particularly insects, to move around, allowing them to travel long distances and see parts of the world where they've never been. and conquer them. invasive species have a way of upsetting ecosystems that are not used to dealing with them.]

a few years ago, scientists were somewhat relieved to find that the garbage patches seemed to be shrinking as the sun finally succeeded in breaking down the plastic bits through photo-degradation. [a term that sounds kind of naughty, but just means the changing of things through exposure to light.] i'm not exactly sure why they were so jazzed that the plastics were disappearing, since their chemical components would still be floating around, but any shrinkage has to be a good sign, right? [stop giggling, this is serious.]

well, it turns out that we don't have to debate how good or bad it is, because they were wrong. their results were based on trawling the oceans and seeing what turned up and, lo and behold, there were fewer pieces. and now i'd like to remind you of my earlier comment about many of the pieces being too small for the human eye to register. when subject to more accurate methods of testing, like analysing the density of the water from the air and testing its composition, it turns out there's way more garbage than was previously thought. although the tests were conducted on the "big boy patch" in the pacific, it's not unreasonable to assume that the same doesn't apply to its little brothers.

there's also the issue that the garbage goes much deeper than we originally thought: the relative strength of the currents in the gyre, as well as their density and temperature, means that some are forced beneath others and they seem to take their garbage right along with them. so the garbage builds up well beneath the surface as well as floating on top of it and it collects to form sold or semi-solid structures there as well.

the great gondwanalands of garbage will likely never wash up upon our shores, although they may send emissaries that break away from their orbit. in a way, that makes the problem worse, because most of us are never going to see the oceanic gyres [and we wouldn't be able to see the extent of the trashery even if we did] and this keeps us from thinking of what we should be doing to contain and control these mutants of our modern world. these aren't just things we can rush in and clean up with the world's toughest shop vac. but we need to find a way of removing them that's a lot less harmful than it was putting them there in the first place.

p.s. :: all of the images used are from the unesco-backed art project the garbage patch state, which was started to call attention to the problem of the patches. you can find out more about it here.

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

long division

after the united states election last year, there were the usual calls for the country to unite behind the new president. that never happens anymore, because, since george w. bush scored a victory in 2004, having launched the country into a war in iraq for no reason, the people on the losing side of a presidential election have been pretty bloody angry about it. democrats hated bush 43. republicans really hated obama. democrats really hate trump.

it didn't help that trump didn't make the typical conciliatory gestures like including a couple of members of the opposite party in his cabinet, or encouraging his party to proceed slowly with contentious legislation. barack obama arguably wasted at least two and as many as six years of his tenure as president trying to play peacemaker before he felt sufficiently safe to just say "screw you guys" and start governing around the ridiculous congress he was forced to deal with. not-giving-a-shit obama was the best president in …

making faces :: i could maybe not buy this one thing

i've been into makeup on some level for a long time- much longer than i've been writing about it, for certain. even as a young woman, i loved the feeling of i got from applying a deep-hued lipstick and some mascara. it took years for me to figure out eyeshadow, and even longer for me to appreciate blush. but at this point, i think we can agree that i'm pretty much into the whole gamut. [except liquid and super-matte lipsticks, and most very sparkly eyeshadows. but that's because they're painful for me to wear.]

the thing about spending a long time collecting and holding onto just about everything is that you accumulate quite a stash. lately, i'm trying to force myself to think about what i already have before laying down money for something new. most recently, i found myself drawn to the modern renaissance palette from anastasia. me and a lot of people. by the time i started thinking about it, it was already sold out in my local sephora and online. i signed up…

...and my cup size is none of your damn business

this story, about a man who got a female coworker to trade email accounts with him for two weeks to see if he could see a difference in customer reactions, has been making the rounds on social media and beyond in the last week or so. earlier today, i posted it on my personal facebook page about it, and realised that i had a lot more that i wanted to share than made sense for a facebook post. so i've come here to rant.

a couple of things to start:

1. i've had some really good job experiences in my life. i'm both lucky and unlucky that the best of them came early on, but even in more recent years, i worked at a couple of places that treated workers, all workers, with respect. that respect can be expressed in different ways, but believe me, you know it when it's there. so i want to make it clear that #notallworkplaces fit the pattern i'm about to describe.

2. i am really, really, really grateful to martin r. schneider, who thought up and did this experiment, not just …