Written by Chloe Chalekian, ESLLC 2016-2017
Plastic is hailed as the perfect material: it’s strong, durable, lightweight, and cheap. Ironically, its virtues are also its downfalls. Because of its durability, plastic takes a minimum of 500 years to start to biodegrade. This means that all of the plastic ever produced hasn’t broken down and still remains somewhere on the earth. Sometimes it is eaten by marine animals which is bad because they can’t digest it and it is toxic to them. Around 270,000 metric tons of plastic are currently in the world oceans. The plastic in the ocean gets picked up by currents and congregates in the ocean’s gyre, which is a system of ocean currents.
The North pacific subtropical gyre is an excellent example of the accumulation of plastic in the ocean. This gyre draws in plastic and other marine debris to create the great pacific garbage patch which can be further broken down into the eastern and western garbage patches. The eastern garbage patch is located off the coast of Japan while the western garbage patch is located between California and Hawaii.
Due to their location in the middle of the north pacific gyre, the Hawaiian Islands act as a filter by serving as a dumping ground for currents allowing plastic particles, including microplastic, and other marine debris to wash up on beaches. Not only do currents help with the filtering process, but the trade winds that blow from northeast to southwest across the islands further expedite the filtering process. They push the plastic particle laden currents on to windward beaches because they are facing the wind as opposed to leeward beaches which are sheltered from the wind by the Ko’olau mountain range.