Paradise Lost, Garbage: Found

Need physical proof we are daily polluting our most valuable and natural resources? Look no further than the Hawaiian islands.

Lapping lazily in a relatively stationary section of the North Pacific Ocean, in between San Francisco and Hawaii, accumulated waste swirls in a never-ending circle, pushed along by the North Pacific Gyre, a large-scale vortex of ocean currents. Comprised primarily of various plastics, it has been estimated that 80% of the garbage comes from land-based sources, and 20% from ships at sea.

Charles Moore was sailing in a Los Angeles-to-Hawaii sail race when he and his crew first saw the dense mass of trash, floating in what he calls “one of the most remote regions of all the oceans.” He explains:

“Throughout the race our strategy, like that of every other boat in the race, had been mainly to avoid the North Pacific subtropical gyre-the great high-pressure system in the central Pacific Ocean that, most of the time, is centered just north of the racecourse and halfway between Hawaii and the mainland. But after our success with the race we were feeling mellow and unhurried, and our vessel was equipped with auxiliary twin diesels and carried an extra supply of fuel. So on the way back to our home port in Long Beach, California, we decided to take a shortcut through the gyre, which few seafarers ever cross. Fishermen shun it because its waters lack the nutrients to support an abundant catch. Sailors dodge it because it lacks the wind to propel their sailboats.

I often struggle to find words that will communicate the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to people who have never been to sea. Day after day, Alguita was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.”

In 2007 Boing Boing reported “The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s, said Chris Parry, public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco.”

As the garbage mass breaks into smaller and smaller pieces as it swirls about the currents, it concentrates in the upper water column. When it further disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms which reside near and below the ocean’s surface, thus entering a complex and dynamic food chain, one that we as human beings ultimately become a part of.

What can you do to help?

Beyond attempting to daily curb our dependence on plastic? Many argue that education is the first and foremost step on the road to oceanic recovery.

Many people have no idea Garbage Island, also commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, even exists.

It’s true that we can do little about the trash that already exists in the ocean. What we can do is educate ourselves and our families and friends, and become proactive and vigilant about ensuring an already messy situation becomes no more so on our watch.

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation is a great place to start. As is sailor’s Charles Moore’s recounting of his own personal experience with the garbage patch, and his subsequent research on it.

An original 5 Minutes for Going Green post. Read more about Kerri Anne at

6 Responses to Paradise Lost, Garbage: Found
  1. […] Anne, over at 5 Minutes for Going Green, just posted this article on the Great Pacific Garbage patch, an island of waste that is accumulating between San Francisco and Hawaii.  To be honest, I had […]

  2. Jessica
    September 9, 2008 | 9:09 pm

    Great post Kerri Anne! I had not ever heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I shared this post with my readers since it ties in so well with my Talking Trash project. Thank you again for sharing this with us!

    My post is available at:

  3. Jennifer (The Smart Mama)
    September 9, 2008 | 11:32 pm

    Great post!

    One thing that we can all do is not contribute by trying to eliminate disposable plastic from our lives – from reusable bags for shopping to stainless steel reusable water bottles for water. To quote from Alan Weisman’s Polymers are Forever – except for the very small percentage of plastic that has been incinerated, “every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last fifty years or so still remains. It’s somewhere in the environment.”

    I’ve got a bunch more simple steps on my blog on this topic:

    But, one thing people don’t realize is that a lot of beauty products contain polyethylene (plastic) beads. We should demand that beauty manufacturers not make beauty products with plastic beads that are not treated by our sewage treatment plants and instead go to the ocean. From Crest Pro Health Fluoride Toothpaste to L’Oreal Pure Zone Pore Unclogging Scrub Cleanser.


  4. Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)
    September 10, 2008 | 12:32 pm

    Brutal! I had never even heard of that before.

  5. Angella
    September 10, 2008 | 1:02 pm

    Great post, Kerri! I had no idea that it existed either. Wow.

  6. […] He thinks single serve containers are much more convenient – and their contribution to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t really in his […]