Blue skies. Beautiful beaches. Clear water. Tides of plastic waste?

The first few of those probably sound like what you’d expect in the Caribbean, with its breathtaking scenery. But would you think of a floating trash island as well? According to recent reports out of Roatan, a tiny island off the coast of Honduras in the Caribbean, its scenic coastline has been inundated with plastic trash—everything from bags and bottles to plastic utensils.

Unfortunately, this garbage island is not the first of its kind to be discovered. Captain Charles Moore was the first person to discover the infamous North Pacific garbage patch in 1997. In the last 20 years,

researchers have found a number of other garbage patches throughout the Pacific Ocean and in other parts of the world.

Since the initial discovery, researchers have been trying to learn more about how the trash gets where it does and what happens to it when it gets to the water. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains that these garbage patches appear where rotating currents, winds and other ocean features lead to the plastic trash accumulating with plankton, seaweed and other sea life (see sea lion story on page 5).

While these garbage patches include large items like packing materials and bags, much of the waste is actually teeny-tiny bits of plastic. These range in size from confetti-sized pieces to tiny particles that may not be visible floating on the surface. Sadly, it is nearly impossible to clean up!

One of the major concerns about all of this plastic waste is what happens when it hits the oceans. Scientists estimate that 90 percent of seabirds have consumed plastic waste. Fish and other ocean creatures also eat these plastic particles, either by accident or because they mistake the plastic for food. This is harmful for the sea life and also means that humans are consuming these micro plastics in the fish we eat.

Fact Box:
• First trash island wasdiscovered in 1997.

• Plastic production hasquadrupled since the 1980s.

• More than 90 percent of plastic is not recycled.

• Eight million pounds of plastic waste make it to the ocean each year.

 

Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
December 2017