Photographer's Note

A boy runs bare-footed through the surf on Mumbai’s Back Bay beach.

As today is Earth Day in the northern hemisphere, I thought this post might help illustrate how well we are looking after our planet.

I’ve put this in the ‘People’ genre under the ‘Nature’ category, because this is what people have done to nature.

Did you know that there is a vast area of plastic debris and other flotsam drifting in the northern Pacific Ocean that is larger than the area of the United States? I didn’t - until I read this story on (precised):

”It has been described as the world's largest rubbish dump, or the Pacific plastic soup, and it is starting to alarm scientists.

Discovered in 1997 by American sailor Charles Moore, what is also called the great Pacific garbage patch is now alarming some with its ever-growing size and possible impact on human health.

The ‘patch’ is in fact two massive, linked areas of circulating rubbish, says Dr Marcus Eriksen, research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, founded by Moore.

"It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States," he says.

The concentration of floating plastic debris just beneath the ocean's surface is the product of underwater currents, which conspire to bring together all the junk that accumulates in the Pacific Ocean.

Moore, an oceanographer who has made the study of the patch his full-time occupation, believes there is about 100 million tonnes of plastic circulating in the northern Pacific - or about 2.5 per cent of all plastic items made since 1950.

About 20 per cent of the junk is thought to come from marine craft, while the rest originates from countries around the Pacific like Mexico and China.

The waste forms in what are called tropical gyres - areas where the oceans slowly circulate due to extreme high pressure systems and where there is little wind. The garbage in the patch circulates around the North Pacific Gyre - the world's largest.

A lack of big fish and light winds mean it's an area of the Pacific less traveled by fishing boats and yachts. Moore says he discovered the floating mass of rubbish by chance, after steering his catamaran into the gyre while returning home from a yacht race.

Historically, flotsam in the gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics do not break down like other oceanic debris, meaning objects half a century old have been found in the North Pacific Gyre.

Instead the plastic slowly photodegrades, becoming brittle and disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces which enter the food chain and end up in the stomachs of birds and other animals.

Dr Eriksen said the small plastic particles acted like a sponge to trap many dangerous man-made chemicals that found their way into the ocean, like hydrocarbons and DDT.

"What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It is that simple," Dr Eriksen said.”

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1231 W: 108 N: 2568] (7797)
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