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Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch Worries Researchers

Soulskill posted about 5 years ago | from the we're-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat dept.

Biotech 296

NeverVotedBush writes with an update to a story we discussed early this month about an enormous accumulation of garbage and plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles off the coast of California. The team of scientists has now returned from their expedition to examine the area and say they "found much more debris than they expected." The team will start running tests on the samples they retrieved, and they are preparing to visit another section of ocean they suspect will be full of trash. "The Scripps team hopes the samples they gathered during the trip nail down answers to questions of the trash's environmental impact. Does eating plastic poison plankton? Is the ecosystem in trouble when new sea creatures hitchhike on the side of a water bottle? Plastics have entangled birds and turned up in the bellies of fish, and one paper cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates 100,000 marine mammals die trash-related deaths each year. The scientists hope their data gives clues as to the density and extent of marine debris, especially since the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may have company in the Southern Hemisphere, where scientists say the gyre is four times bigger. 'We're afraid at what we're going to find in the South Gyre, but we've got to go there,' said Tony Haymet, director of the Scripps Institution."

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Is it full of (2, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 5 years ago | (#29244513)

Is it full of garbage patch dolls?

Re:Is it full of (1, Funny)

commodore64_love (1445365) | about 5 years ago | (#29244723)

Some people probably don't realize but Garbage Pail Kids actually exist. It's an old 80s phenomenon that we used to trade:

LINK - http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=Garbage+Pail+kids [lmgtfy.com]

Re:Is it full of (1)

DeadChobi (740395) | about 5 years ago | (#29245621)

Is it really neccessary to patronize people with a "google it noob" link in response to a joking question with no link request?

HIRE CHINESE + INDIAN-PAKISTANIS TO CLEAN IT UP !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245017)

It's mostly theirs anyway !!

Overreaction (-1, Troll)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29244519)

'We're afraid at what we're going to find in the South Gyre, but we've got to go there,'

I say that every time I have to clean out the fridge. It hasn't resulted in the apocalypse yet. Look, this is a small patch of ocean with a thin layer of plastic scum floating on it (small relative to something as huge as an ocean). Now if they go there and Godzilla wakes up and starts his long walk towards the shore, then I'll be worried. Otherwise, it's just some scientists riding the greenie cash cow and saying "Look! evil sinners! Repent and accept our carbon-taxed ways! Act now and save an additional 20% off your guilt."

Re:Overreaction (5, Insightful)

stagg (1606187) | about 5 years ago | (#29244587)

The mass production of plastics didn't take off until about the 1950s. What we're looking at is approximately 60 years worth of garbage. The pile they have looked at is approximately twice the size of Texas. If that doesn't seem large now, then it certainly will in another fifty years if we continue to discard plastics at our current rates. I suspect that you'd find that our use of plastic has curved upward sine the 50s, rather than remaining at a constant rate... so I think that hoping for an island only four times the size of texas by 2050 would be optimistic.

Re:Overreaction (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244725)

The "pile" isn't. Most of the plastic is microscopic bits of plastic [wikipedia.org] floating under the surface. That's why they're wondering about plankton and trying to convert it into diesel fuel. Those few pieces of plastic they found on the surface is all that found to photograph that day. If you sail down there bring a microscope.

Re:Overreaction (1)

buswolley (591500) | about 5 years ago | (#29244785)

My wife..(yes my wife, and yes she's real flesh and blood) asked for an image of this Texas sized floating isle of junk. I can't seem to find one. The link shows a patch of junk about a squared meter in size. Any good images that I can point her to?

Re:Overreaction (1)

buswolley (591500) | about 5 years ago | (#29244813)

I should say a really large view from the air. It is easy to fine up close views.

Re:Overreaction (0, Redundant)

Rip Dick (1207150) | about 5 years ago | (#29245597)

Or is it an elaborate scientific hoax... pic or stfu/gtfo!!!!!!!!!!!!111

Re:Overreaction (0)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29244793)

so I think that hoping for an island only four times the size of texas by 2050 would be optimistic.

Well, let's be pessimistic and make it SIXTEEN times the size of Texas. In 2050, we'd still only have covered 3% of the world's ocean surface with a strange plastic mix. It floats on the surface and it isn't going anywhere... If for some reason scientists study and fully understand it, and determine its a problem, it will not be hard to clean up.

Re:Overreaction (1)

stagg (1606187) | about 5 years ago | (#29244937)

I think that cleaning up a mess sixteen times the size of texas would actually be quite an enormous undertaking, especially if you're trying to do it without causing further damage to the ecosystem its in.

Re:Overreaction (5, Interesting)

geekprime (969454) | about 5 years ago | (#29245337)

You mean worse than oh say, FISHING?

Seriously, filtering the top 6 inches of water, even going so far as to remove anything bigger than .5 micron shouldn't be such an impossible task, I'm envisioning a boat with a wide modified bow that collects the bow wave for filtering.. perhaps a group of them in an arrow formation filtering thier way back and forth across the gyre. Heck done right they could burn the plastic as fuel, capture the co2 in the sea water to help the phytoplankton recover.

As to to the depletion of the microorganisms in that layer, if the plastic is THAT deleterious we are likely doing the species(s) a favor by removing the badly damaged members, freeing up the space for healthier members to reproduce.

Re:Overreaction (1)

jcnnghm (538570) | about 5 years ago | (#29244925)

It's twice the size of Texas, but you can't actually see it to take a picture of it.

Re:Overreaction (1)

Afforess (1310263) | about 5 years ago | (#29245155)

If it is so huge, why don't we just make an island out of the garbage, put a few meters of soil overtop, and sell it as prime real estate? That's what they did when they built the twin towers.

Re:Overreaction (2, Funny)

ben0207 (845105) | about 5 years ago | (#29245203)

Yeah and they really stood the test of time.

re: Overreaction -- above poster is a moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245291)

Yeah and they really stood the test of time.

You're a moron. The twin towers collapse had nothing to do with what they were built on.

Re:Overreaction (5, Insightful)

maeka (518272) | about 5 years ago | (#29244591)

Look, this is a small patch of ocean with a thin layer of plastic scum floating on it (small relative to something as huge as an ocean).

Considering that the bottom of the food chain resides in said "thin layer" (and much of the top of the food chain feeds there) the potential impact is magnified well beyond its volumetric measure.

Re:Overreaction (4, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29244663)

Considering that the bottom of the food chain resides in said "thin layer" (and much of the top of the food chain feeds there) the potential impact is magnified well beyond its volumetric measure.

They say it's approximately twice the size of Texas. Texas is 691,030 square kilometers. So twice the size of Texas is 1.4 million square kilometers. The world's oceans cover approximately 361 million square kilometers. So an area TWICE THE SIZE OF TEXAS (oh noes! Panic!) is 1/3rd of a percentage point of the surface area of all the world's oceans.

Re:Overreaction (1)

White Shade (57215) | about 5 years ago | (#29244689)

Maybe it's a small percentage point, but twice the size of texas is still pretty damn big!

Re:Overreaction (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244761)

Don't mess with plastic Texas!

Re:Overreaction (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | about 5 years ago | (#29244745)

That's 0.3% for those of us who are like Rodney McKay, and understand numbers better than words.

Re:Overreaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244869)

That's 0.3% for those of us who are like Rodney McKay, and understand numbers better than words.

Well, that certainly explains the majority of your Slashdot posts.

Re:Overreaction (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244773)

The gyres (e.g., the Sargasso Sea) are where most of the nutrient transition from plankton to the rest of the food chain happens. It is a big deal, and you obviously don't know the first thing about oceanic life.

Re:Overreaction (1, Flamebait)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29244965)

The gyres (e.g., the Sargasso Sea) are where most of the nutrient transition from plankton to the rest of the food chain happens. It is a big deal,

citation needed.

Re:Overreaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245407)

No citation needed for basic, well-known, knowledge.

Re:Overreaction (1)

Rip Dick (1207150) | about 5 years ago | (#29245629)

It's common knowledge that your mother sews socks that smell.

Re:Overreaction (3, Informative)

Judinous (1093945) | about 5 years ago | (#29245079)

The "twice the size of Texas" figure is the lower-bound, conservative estimate. According to Wikipedia, the patch is estimated to be between 0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean. Also, the reason that this patch exists in the first place is because the North Pacific Gyre acts to collect debris (both biological and man-made) from around the entire Ocean. While still a relatively small area in size, it is incredibly important to the overall food chain due to the abundance of organisms sustained by the biomass collected by these currents.

Re:Overreaction (0, Offtopic)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29245327)

According to Wikipedia...

You lost me there.

Re:Overreaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245487)

We won't miss you, we'll just continue on without you.

Re:Overreaction (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 5 years ago | (#29245277)

Well, there's also the south one, and the one near China, and....

Re:Overreaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245377)

They say it's approximately twice the size of Texas. Texas is 691,030 square kilometers. So twice the size of Texas is 1.4 million square kilometers. The world's oceans cover approximately 361 million square kilometers. So an area TWICE THE SIZE OF TEXAS (oh noes! Panic!) is 1/3rd of a percentage point of the surface area of all the world's oceans.

Sure, since it's only twice the area of texas, we can leave it there.
After all, no problem as ever gotten worse when left alone, and we have plenty of experience with an area twice the size of texas covered with plastic.
makes sense.

Re:Overreaction (1)

NikLinna (1232172) | about 5 years ago | (#29245429)

Considering that the chemicals plastics break down to can have dramatic effects in concentrations measured in parts per billion or less, this is a pretty considerable area.

Recycle! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244529)

If you look under the bottom of each plastic, you'll see a triangle-cycle. It means it can be recycled! :)
I'd guestimate, (after years of consumerage) that 95% of what we consume can be recycled. Just seperate
and curb it! :)

Earth Plus Plastic. (5, Funny)

Vellmont (569020) | about 5 years ago | (#29244551)

This story remind me of the George Carlin bit on the environment:

The planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn't share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn't know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, "Why are we here?" Plastic...asshole.

So, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that's begun

Re:Earth Plus Plastic. (1)

stagg (1606187) | about 5 years ago | (#29244603)

That's how I feel about environmentalism. It isn't that we have some moral responsibility to the planet, it's that we're in the process of making the world into an extremely uncomfortable place for ourselves to live in.

Re:Earth Plus Plastic. (0, Offtopic)

joocemann (1273720) | about 5 years ago | (#29244615)

When I read your sig, I point you toward the library.

Re:Earth Plus Plastic. (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29245047)

You need to be more clear. Do you mean so that he can learn something? Or, do you mean to remind them that the activist Benjamin Franklin is acknowledged to have founded the public library as an institution? Help them out, they're clearly being narrow minded.

Re:Earth Plus Plastic. (0, Troll)

joocemann (1273720) | about 5 years ago | (#29245511)

..... to learn something.

He is quoting a comedian for basis/guidance on serious issues. That cannot be good.

Re:Earth Plus Plastic. (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29245157)

The plastic is only part of it... Nature also needed us to refine silicon and manufacture the first IC's. We're just Nature's first quick and dirty way to compute with meat. (Bart Kosko prof. USC)

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn (5, Funny)

Dachannien (617929) | about 5 years ago | (#29244561)

We're afraid at what we're going to find in the South Gyre, but we've got to go there,' said Tony Haymet, director of the Scripps Institution.

Famous last words before being eaten by Cthulhu.

Re:Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fht (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244753)

And promptly spit back out. Hey, even unspeakable horrors have standards. He's not gonna eat something that tastes like garbage.

Watch conservatives spin it... (-1, Troll)

joocemann (1273720) | about 5 years ago | (#29244581)

It's not ocean trashing... its .. uhh... "Marine Reinforcement". ... lol... climate change...

Re:Watch conservatives spin it... (5, Insightful)

Dutch Gun (899105) | about 5 years ago | (#29244961)

Ok, I guess I'll speak up for conservatives here...

Yeah, I'm extremely skeptical that global warming trends we've seen are the result of our fossil fuel usage. If you follow the money, there are a lot of people in the environmental movement pushing "carbon credits", and are poised to make a boatload of money by exploiting others' guilt, while doing nothing to actually solve real problems. But no one wants dirty air or water. There are plenty of good reasons why we should be reducing our oil and gas dependency (just inhale deeply on a bad smog day if you live in LA). And one would be an idiot to argue that a bunch of plastic in the ocean (or other obviously man-made debris or pollutants) are anything but a problem caused by humans, and needs to be solved by humans.

Believe it or not, I consider myself an environmentalist. When I was a bit younger, I did a lot of hiking in the mountain ranges near my home. I think nature is something that needs to be carefully protected, because it's far to easy to trample it under the foot of progress and industry. I support our national park system, and conversation efforts everywhere. I'm switching my light bulbs to more efficient halogens as they need replacing (not by force of law, though!). I'll be replacing my gas-burning car with an electric when they come out with a practical, affordable model, and I'm looking forward to doing so.

However, I also believe that we can strike a balance between responsible stewardship, individual liberty, and capitalist enterprise. I just happen to believe that you need to be extremely judicious in applying the force of law to every problem you need to solve. Growing the power of government nearly always comes at the expense of individual liberty, so I prefer that not be our first solution, but the last.

Re:Watch conservatives spin it... (1)

trapnest (1608791) | about 5 years ago | (#29245067)

If you follow the money, there are a lot of people in the environmental movement pushing "carbon credits", and are poised to make a boatload of money by exploiting others' guilt, while doing nothing to actually solve real problems.

How come when I say that people call me "closed minded"
Oh yeah, thinking for your self = closed minded.
Nevermind.

Re:Watch conservatives spin it... (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#29245095)

It should be noted, for the record, that there are strong libertarian grounds for action on pollution(for that matter, much stronger action on pollution than we presently have). If a compound or compounds that you emit during the course of your activities damages my health or my property, it is subtler, but not ethically different, than any other means of you harming me or my property without my consent.

Re:Watch conservatives spin it... (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | about 5 years ago | (#29245295)

Yep, a very good point. That's why I don't outright reject the notion of government coercion when other measures fail. Pollution is certainly an infringement on our ability to enjoy a clean, pollution-free environment. Like I stated, I think there can be an appropriate balance struck in these issues. But when abuse occurs, the only one with the authority to ultimately correct that abuse is the government, and it's foolish to think that *everyone* can be reasoned with.

Re:Watch conservatives spin it... (0, Flamebait)

lambent (234167) | about 5 years ago | (#29245221)

feel free to believe whatever you want.

for instance, i believe you're an ignorant, simplistically idealistic, buffoon with your head buried in the sand.

Re:Watch conservatives spin it... (1)

joocemann (1273720) | about 5 years ago | (#29245499)

I think the place you get your 'information' from that you seem to trust (though I doubt it is sufficiently backed by facts) probably stands to lose a LOT more money by being held accountable for environmental impacts...

but.. then again... who knows, right? we can pretend that 2+2 = 5 all day when you inject doubt and amplify small probabilities to seem significant.

Re:Watch conservatives spin it... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245651)

I think the place you get your 'information' from that you seem to trust (though I doubt it is sufficiently backed by facts) probably stands to lose a LOT more money by being held accountable for environmental impacts...

but.. then again... who knows, right?

Right, it's a good thing you've sufficiently backed your assertions with facts...

Oh wait, you're one of those screeching idiots who says stupid shit like "I think" and then hammers SOMEONE ELSE for using information you "doubt it is sufficiently backed by facts", but provides exactly nothing in the way of facts to support your "I think" statement.

Why do you stupid motherfuckers make such obvious and moronic mistakes like that?

This is not complicated. (4, Insightful)

bistromath007 (1253428) | about 5 years ago | (#29244669)

Problem: Overfishing
Problem: Garbage in the water
Solution: Pay fisherman to catch garbage

Re:This is not complicated. (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about 5 years ago | (#29244775)

Plastics have value. Net it and recycle it or turn it into fuel.

Re:This is not complicated. (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29244823)

Solution: Pay fisherman to catch garbage

Better solution:

1. Create plastic eating microbes. [therecord.com]
2. Deposit in plastic-rich oceanic environment.
3. Let nature do the rest. -_-

Re:This is not complicated. (2, Insightful)

Kagura (843695) | about 5 years ago | (#29245037)

Then we can grow kudzu in the ocean

Re:This is not complicated. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245111)

Your answer requires science, and it is science that got us into this problem in the first place.

I propose a solution based wholly on non-science; specifically, arm mobs with pitchforks and torches and have them burn down plastic factories. Given that plastic is exothermic, it should be relatively easy.

Re:This is not complicated. (4, Interesting)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29245215)

4. Plastic eating microbes find something else they like that taste's better...

Re:This is not complicated. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245309)

There are microbes which eat plastic and hydrocarbons. And if you'll read a description of the plastic in the gyre you'll find that the plastic is actually microscopic. You can be sure there already are plastic-eating microbes there, but this bunch of tourists won't look for them because it's inconvenient to their story and it's hard work to study microbes when you don't already know how to keep them alive in the lab.

Re:This is not complicated. (2, Interesting)

gmuslera (3436) | about 5 years ago | (#29245565)

Nature did a good work with rabbits in Australia. Whats the worst that could happens in the ocean?

Where do you put it? (4, Insightful)

tentimestwenty (693290) | about 5 years ago | (#29244899)

And where do you put it? It was dumped in the Ocean for a reason, because it was not convenient or possible to dump it anywhere else. Did you read the size of the garbage patch? Would you want that in your back yard? The point is that we are making too much garbage! Any 5 year old can tell you that's the real issue.

Re:Where do you put it? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245195)

The Atlantic.

Re:Where do you put it? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29245261)

you put the long chain hydrocarbons, post processing, into a diesel fuel tank. Then you put the ash into concrete as filler.

Re:This is not complicated. (1)

TheQuantumShift (175338) | about 5 years ago | (#29245467)

Which leads to:

Problem: Freshly caught non-recyclable garbage piling up on shore. Solution: Put it on display and charge admission? (You'll need tickets, concessions, and useless trinkets to sell of course. And when these all reach the ocean two months later, pay them to catch it again, add it to the existing ball-o-crap and raise ticket prices.)

I am assuming this stuff is all not reusable, which is why it's out there in the first place. Of course if all else fails, launch it into Jupiter. (assuming the lines to launch trash into the sun will be too long by then)

Wrong. It's difficult because there is no "patch" (5, Informative)

Chink Admin (1249608) | about 5 years ago | (#29245481)

There are two things that make this difficult. The amount of garbage is the size of Texas and a lot of the plastics have dissolved.

A crew went to the gyre and recorded a documentary (a free documentary by VBS.TV Garbage Island [www.vbs.tv] ), hoping to see giant island of garbage. While they did not see the island, what they saw was far worse. The plastics have dissolved and estimated that the amount of dissolved plastics is higher than the microscopic sea life and natural oceanic nutrients in the water. The gyre is now very, very gross. The garbage is either so scattered or very well dissolved that there is no way that it can be cleansed that easily.

Re:This is not complicated. (1)

shadowofwind (1209890) | about 5 years ago | (#29245583)

Better not pay them by the haul, or that's a good strategy for inducing fishermen to dump massive amounts of garbage in the water on their days off. And if you just pay them for time spent at sea, you're paying them to cruise and do nothing.

Here's a thought... (4, Insightful)

Goffee71 (628501) | about 5 years ago | (#29244673)

Why not pay some of those Japanese whaling factory ships with their big front loading dock doors and all those impoverished fishing crews to go and net this crud out of the water... keeps an industry running, saves some whales, helps a bit of fish restocking and cleans up the planet a bit... I'm sure they can find some bailout budget left to help out Can't hurt to try.

Re:Here's a thought... (3, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#29244819)

My impression is that the vast majority of the garbage is actually quite small particles and fragments, not whole plastic bottles and the like that could be scooped up with nets. Would need some sort of high-volume filtration system.

Re:Here's a thought... (3, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29244903)

Why not pay some of those Japanese whaling factory ships with their big front loading dock doors

Okay, two things -- first, assuming you come up with an efficient method of collecting the plastic (which is broken down to the molecular level and is essentially a fine film) -- because just opening the doors and scooping it up is a bad plan. But let's say you solve that. Here's your several hundred cubic feet of plastic. Now what? You gotta turn around, drag it all the way back home, and bury it somewhere. A whaling vessel is only designed to carry a few tonnes, or perhaps a few dozen tonnes -- not a few hundred thousand tonnes.

This is a problem of scale. We need supertankers, not whaling boats.

Gigantic Building Projects (2, Insightful)

Cookie3 (82257) | about 5 years ago | (#29244679)

Researchers (and sci-fi writers) always talk about things like gigantic space elevators and star-encompassing spheres; works that would take an entire world's focus (and several generations of dedicated work) to accomplish. I always figured that those were unaccomplishable dreams...

But then I read this story and got to thinking... Why not make a gigantic net and scoop up all that garbage?

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244859)

Obviously you'd make robots that would do the work for you and considerably more efficiently. Sheesh, kids these days.

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (3, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29244861)

Why not make a gigantic net and scoop up all that garbage?

Well, because it's been broken down to the molecular level. It'd float right through a net. What's needed is a troller that can suck up the first several inches of water, remove the plastic particles, and then discard the water. Unfortunately, even something with the capacity of a supertanker would take decades of 24/7 operation to make much progress -- Because once you collect it, you gotta transport it somewhere else.

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (1)

Eevee (535658) | about 5 years ago | (#29245093)

Because once you collect it, you gotta transport it somewhere else.

Like to a recycling center to turn it in to more plastic instead of drilling for even more oil?

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (1)

uncqual (836337) | about 5 years ago | (#29245171)

Likely the "sucker(s)" would not be the same vessel(s) as the "transporter(s)". The "suckers" would likely be much smaller and have a bunch of specialized equipment on them and would offload the plastic bits to the "transporters". Probably the "transporters" could be quite a variety of ships - perhaps ones that are obsolete for their originally intended use (any single wall oil tankers left that weren't salvaged for their steel during the boom times?).

Oh just fucking burn it (3, Interesting)

ArchieBunker (132337) | about 5 years ago | (#29245345)

If you burn the plastic and debris at a high temperature the emissions are relatively small. Burn it and put the exhaust through another filter to catch whats left. Hell you could probably power the ship from the incinerators.

Too bad plastic is cheaper to make than it is to reclaim. Otherwise someone would have scooped it all up and made it into milk jugs by now.

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (3, Interesting)

stagg (1606187) | about 5 years ago | (#29244923)

I think that marine biologists are concerned about the amount of sea life they'd destroy in the process. They're concerned that there's a lot of marine life living amidst the garbage, so any kind of heavy handed solution would cause further environmental damage.

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244949)

We'll call it the Burns-Omni-net. It sweeps the sea clean.

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245019)

Why not make a gigantic net and scoop up all that garbage?

That may work, but that will not satisfy many of those who are raising this issue. Because, to them, the garbage patch isn't the real problem, the real problem is the morality of our way of life.

I heard a radio show (http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/maritimenoon_20090811_18990.mp3 q@23:45 a@25:40) recently where a proposal to solve litter by having more garbage bins on public streets was dismissed in favour of the more sustainable solution of encouraging people not to eat chocolate bars in the first place.

See how Charles Moore bookends his talk [ted.com] about the garbage patch with criticism of the consumer culture to see how thinking on this issue runs along the same lines.

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (1)

Daxx22 (1610473) | about 5 years ago | (#29245081)

Well, a Dyson sphere would technically take the resources of several star systems to create. We are after all talking about a sphere, likely with a shell of a minimum of a hundred miles thick (likely much more), the size of the Earths orbit around Sol. That's BIG.

Re:Gigantic Building Projects (1)

gravos (912628) | about 5 years ago | (#29245193)

But then I read this story and got to thinking... Why not make a gigantic net and scoop up all that garbage?

And put it where? Texas?

Gyre (1)

scapermoya (769847) | about 5 years ago | (#29244715)

Gyre never made it as far as chortle or galumph, but if it had crossed into proper english it would most certainly be a verb.

Re:Gyre (1)

SEWilco (27983) | about 5 years ago | (#29245405)

Gyre never made it as far as chortle or galumph, but if it had crossed into proper english it would most certainly be a verb.

Actually, I hear that not only did it gyre, but it also did gimble. At least it did while in the wabe.

Any good pictures for scale? (1)

Rich Klein (699591) | about 5 years ago | (#29244763)

I've seen a handful of pictures from this Pacific Gyre, but they tend to be closely cropped pictures of nets full of garbage. Are there any pictures that give you a sense of scale for the Gyre? Maybe an aerial photo or something?

Re:Any good pictures for scale? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244855)

I've seen a handful of pictures from this Pacific Gyre, but they tend to be closely cropped pictures of nets full of garbage. Are there any pictures that give you a sense of scale for the Gyre? Maybe an aerial photo or something?

Got a map? Take a look mat Texas and picture it as one large garbage dump.

Re:Any good pictures for scale? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245191)

Are there any pictures that give you a sense of scale for the Gyre? Maybe an aerial photo or something?

No, because it is less a 'patch' than an area of the ocean with higher than normal concentrations of suspended plastic solids near the surface. The plastic photodegrades down to small molecule-sized bits, and it is these particles, near the microscopic scale, that are the 'garbage patch'. Of course, there are some larger bits, too, but these seem to be rare as, as you note, the only photos are of clumps of trash on the meter-square scale.

Ep!?! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29244791)

This is not regular trash floating in the ocean (4, Informative)

Judinous (1093945) | about 5 years ago | (#29244801)

The vast, vast majority of the trash contained in this "garbage patch" is composed of particulates far too small for the eye to see, suspended below the surface. Cleaning it up would require a large number of autonomous floating machines with, essentially, portable water treatment plants on board. All of these suggestions about fishing boats running around and scooping up plastic bottles out of the ocean is complete nonsense.

Imagine trying to filter the dirt out of a muddy lake. Extrapolate that to an area of the ocean a few times larger than the state of Texas, and you can begin to envision the magnitude of the solution required.

Anecdotal evidence (2, Informative)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | about 5 years ago | (#29244993)

I would bet you are right, but there are big masses out there as well. I have personal experience with this. My wife and I were sitting on the beach of the big island of Hawaii and this mass [flickr.com] drifted in. I was told it wasn't the first time. Some guys had to cut the thing in half and then use a tractor to drag it away in pieces. I also noticed that it was something of a mini-ecosystem with crabs and flies and such crawling all over it.

Re:Anecdotal evidence (1)

jeffstar (134407) | about 5 years ago | (#29245127)

those looked like fishing nets to me.

If you were to come across that in the deep ocean there would be loads of fish following it around feasting the mini-eco system that you describe.

If a fisherman comes across a 'floater' like that it is great luck!

Re:Anecdotal evidence (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | about 5 years ago | (#29245473)

I wish that I had gotten a close up of the garbage. It was mostly, as you say, fishing net, but in that netting was lots and lots of other debris, from plastic bottles to styrofoam chunks. I am guessing that if a fisherman comes across something like this and it gets tangled up in the props it is something less than good luck.

Re:This is not regular trash floating in the ocean (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245135)

Correct. Most plastic garbage doesn't decompose into simpler materials, it just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces (all the way down to the nanometer scale). If we were just talking about whole plastic bottles and the like it would be a fairly simple problem to solve. Instead we're talking about a suspension of fine plastic particles that's impacting the entire area's ecosystem in various novel ways.

Resource Storage (4, Interesting)

that this is not und (1026860) | about 5 years ago | (#29244811)

The 'plastic' waste modern man produced could be seen as a resource storage.

We're burning up a lot of the petroleum resources. Which means it goes away. Gone, not available in the future.

The portion of the petroleum that we're turning into plastic is being preserved in that form. A century from now people might be saying 'thank goodness they saved SOME of the petroleum in the form of all that plastic in the landfills and floating in that big mass on the ocean.' And then they may go on to curse the 'environmentalists' who forced industry to stop using plastic bags and containers. All the 'biodegradable' packaging just crumbled away.

Not saying this is a completely thought out notion, but it makes some sense.

Tear into it if it conflicts with your religion.

Re:Resource Storage (4, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 5 years ago | (#29245103)

We're burning up a lot of the petroleum resources. Which means it goes away. Gone, not available in the future.

The portion of the petroleum that we're turning into plastic is being preserved in that form.

The portion of the petroleum that we're turning into plastic is no more "available" or "preserved" as petroleum than is the portion we are turning into carbon dioxide and water by burning it; conversely, the latter is no more "gone" than the former.

A century from now people might be saying 'thank goodness they saved SOME of the petroleum in the form of all that plastic in the landfills and floating in that big mass on the ocean.'

Insofar as that "petroleum" remains usable at all (e.g., as potentially recyclable plastic), it would be much better preserved simply by recycling it as plastic, rather than mixing it with garbage and putting it in landfills or dumping it into the ocean.

Not saying this is a completely thought out notion

Good.

Tear into it if it conflicts with your religion.

You know, it kinds of sends mixed messages when you first admit that you haven't thought through the issue very much, and then go on and preemptively characterize any criticism as being based on your critics' "religion".

Earth is like a big house (1, Insightful)

imaginaryelf (862886) | about 5 years ago | (#29244837)

This is what happens when people forget that our little planet is like a big house. When you "dump" your garbage, it's just getting moved from one room to another, unless you recycle it.

Civilization (3, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 5 years ago | (#29244845)

Somebody has not taken his lessons from playing Civilization...

Plastic Mine (2, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 5 years ago | (#29244867)

It seems to me that Pacific island nations with very low labor costs, high unemployment and a long tradition of seafaring should be able to find an economical way to round up that trash and recycle it for money.

Do your part for the mother earth (5, Funny)

oldhack (1037484) | about 5 years ago | (#29244921)

This is why I only buy family-size cheetos, unlike those selfish bastards that buy lunch-size packets.

How come there are no aerial photos of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245051)

I'd really like to see an aerial survay of these big garbage patches.

All they're showing is a single clump of garbage in the water and holding some trash. Of course its worse than they imagine! They'll need more funds to go back and do more research.

On a side note,

Who knows maybe fish or other sea creatures are using these garbage patches as breeding grounds and actually increasing the population of sea creatures in the area.

Sponge Bob and Mr. Krab (3, Funny)

chefshoemaker (1485151) | about 5 years ago | (#29245267)

"Does eating plastic poison plankton?" Of course it does. That is how Sponge Bob and Mr. Krab planned it. They released plasic waste into the oceans to eliminate their competition, Plankton, owner of the Chum Bucket.

co34 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29245369)

Di8. Du+e to the

Are you going to believe your eyes, or our story? (3, Informative)

bartwol (117819) | about 5 years ago | (#29245465)

So garbage is not randomly distributed throughout the oceans, but not surprisingly, it collects in areas of significantly increased density due to prevailing currents. How dense? Not dense enough to be visible to the casual onlooker. Only dense enough to be identified through careful study. So is that the story here?

No. The truth isn't good enough for a story. The truth isn't good enough to drive political action. So "scientists" lend their names to "authoritative" agencies like NOAA to come up with the story of a 1,700 mile "patch" of garbage. Alternatively (and dramatically), it has been called a "flotilla".

Yes, there's "a lot" of garbage in the ocean. And, it's a "big" ocean. Look carefully and you'll see that these stories don't do much to help you gauge what this "patch" really is.

"It's pretty shocking," said Miriam Goldstein.

"We're afraid at what we're going to find in the South Gyre, but we've got to go there," said Tony Haymet.

Thank you, researchers Goldstein and Hayment, for your contributions.

Look carefully through the photographs surrounding this story. Look for the 1,700 mile flotilla of garbage. By my understanding, this thing is a whole lot less dense than the stories would have you believe.

Here's a good one that I tried to track down:

"...one paper cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates 100,000 marine mammals die trash-related deaths each year."

This little "factoid" apparently comes from a non-peer-reviewed paper (page 270 here [noaa.gov] ) published in 1985 that cites another un-reviewed paper in 1984 (can't find this one...Fowler) that estimated that 50,000 seals had died that year due to "entanglement" primarily in nets, as best I can tell. There's no more on methodology for determining that number, nor how it should be related to overall mammal population and more general "ocean debris."

Judge the quality of the "science" here for yourself. If you're a critical thinker, it should be apparent that this isn't science at all...it's just another story of human waste.

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