The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge area of marine debris. Marine debris is garbage in the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the world's biggest area of marine debris. It is in the North Pacific Ocean. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches from the West Coast of North America to Japan. It is made up of two parts. One is the Western Garbage Patch, near Japan. The other is the Eastern Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California.

Strong ocean currents carry marine debris into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Once there, the trash builds up over time. Plastics are the biggest problem. They do not wear down completely. They only break into smaller and smaller pieces.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is mostly tiny bits of plastic. These small pieces are called microplastics. They cannot always be seen. Often, they just make the water look like a cloudy soup. Larger things, like fishing nets or shoes, are mixed into this soup.

It doesn't get any better beneath the surface of the water. The seafloor under the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an underwater garbage heap. Over time, most marine debris sinks to the bottom.

Marine Debris Litters The Ocean

A lot of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from fishing boats. Some also comes from distant cities and towns.

Plastics are the most common kind of marine debris. Most of this debris comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles and Styrofoam cups. The sun breaks these plastics into smaller and smaller pieces. Even if they can't be seen, they are still there.

Marine debris can be very harmful to marine life. For example, turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food. Albatrosses mistake plastic pellets for fish eggs. They then feed the pellets to their chicks. Often, the chicks die.

Seals are also in danger. They can get tangled in plastic fishing nets. Seals often drown in these nets.

Marine debris is affecting the entire food chain. For example, algae are underwater plants. Plankton are tiny critters that eat algae to survive. Plankton get eaten by other animals, like whales. But microplastics stop sunlight from reaching underwater algae. Without sunlight, the algae won't grow and spread. Without algae, plankton won't have enough food. And without plankton, whales won't have any food either.

Plastics also contain harmful pollutants. These dangerous chemicals are poisoning the water. They are also making fish and marine mammals, such as whales and seals, very sick.

What To Do About The Patch 

Cleaning up marine debris is not easy. Many microplastics are the same size as small sea animals. Nets that can scoop up garbage would catch these animals too. In any case, the ocean is just too big to clean. Scientists say it would take one year for 67 ships to clean up just a tiny part of the North Pacific Ocean. They say the best answer is to stop throwing away so much plastic.

 

Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a soupy collection of marine debris—mostly plastics.
abandon
Verb

to desert or leave entirely.

absorb
Verb

to soak up.

accumulate
Verb

to gather or collect.

aerial
Adjective

existing, moving, growing, or operating in the air.

algae
Plural Noun

(singular: alga) diverse group of aquatic organisms, the largest of which are seaweeds.

apex predator
Noun

species at the top of the food chain, with no predators of its own. Also called an alpha predator or top predator.

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region at Earth's extreme north, encompassed by the Arctic Circle.

assess
Verb

to evaluate or determine the amount of.

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organism that can produce its own food and nutrients from chemicals in the atmosphere, usually through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis.

available
Adjective

ready for use.

bankrupt
Verb

to cause a person or organization to lose their money or other funding and resources.

biodegradable
Adjective

able to decompose naturally.

bisphenol A (BPA)
Noun

chemical used to make some types of plastic that may be unsafe for people, especially infants.

bound
Verb

to limit or confine.

business
Noun

sale of goods and services, or a place where such sales take place.

cargo
Noun

goods carried by a ship, plane, or other vehicle.

catamaran
Noun

sailing vessel made of two large flotation devices and a frame above them.

climatologist
Noun

person who studies long-term patterns in weather.

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edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

compound
Verb

to combine or put together.

comprise
Verb

to contain or be made up of.

conjure
Verb

to imagine or bring to mind.

consume
Verb

to use up.

consumer
Noun

person who uses a good or service.

convergence zone
Noun

area where prevailing winds from different areas meet and interact.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

debris
Noun

remains of something broken or destroyed; waste, or garbage.

decompose
Verb

to decay or break down.

decrease
Verb

to lower.

dedicate
Verb

to sincerely devote time and effort to something.

dense
Adjective

having parts or molecules that are packed closely together.

discard
Verb

to throw away.

discover
Verb

to learn or understand something for the first time.

dispose
Verb

to throw away or get rid of.

drone
Noun

unmanned aircraft that can be guided remotely.

durability
Noun

ability to resist wear and decay.

ecologist
Noun

scientist who studies the relationships between organisms and their environments.

Emerging Explorer
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an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

entangle
Noun

to tangle or twist together.

environment
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conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

estimate
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to guess based on knowledge of the situation or object.

expedition
Noun

journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

expensive
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very costly.

explorer
Noun

person who studies unknown areas.

extent
Noun

degree or space to which a thing extends.

Noun

group of organisms linked in order of the food they eat, from producers to consumers, and from prey, predators, scavengers, and decomposers.

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem. Also called a food cycle.

funding
Noun

money or finances.

ghost fishing
Noun

continued trapping and killing of marine life by a discarded fishing net floating at sea

Noun

area of the North Pacific Ocean where currents have trapped huge amounts of debris, mostly plastics.

harmful
Adjective

damaging.

highway
Noun

large public road.

industrial
Adjective

having to do with factories or mechanical production.

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unit made up of governments or groups in different countries, usually for a specific purpose.

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body of land surrounded by water.

leach
Verb

to separate materials by running water or another liquid through them.

litter
Noun

trash or other scattered objects left in an open area or natural habitat.

malleability
Noun

degree to which something can be shaped or molded.

manufacture
Verb

to make or produce a good, usually for sale.

marine
Adjective

having to do with the ocean.

Noun

garbage, refuse, or other objects that enter the coastal or ocean environment.

marine mammal
Noun

an animal that lives most of its life in the ocean but breathes air and gives birth to live young, such as whales and seals.

measure
Verb

to determine the numeric value of something, often in comparison with something else, such as a determined standard value.

microplastic
Noun

piece of plastic between 0.3 and 5 millimeters in diameter.

navigate
Verb

to plan and direct the course of a journey.

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

Noun

large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

Noun

an area of ocean that slowly rotates in an enormous circle.

oceanographer
Noun

person who studies the ocean.

offshore
Adjective

having to do with facilities or resources located underwater, usually miles from the coast.

oil rig
Noun

complex series of machinery and systems used to drill for oil on land.

organ
Noun

group of tissues that perform a specialized task.

organism
Noun

living or once-living thing.

PCB
Noun

(polychlorinated biphenal) chemical substance that can occur naturally or be manufactured that may cause cancer.

pellet
Noun

small, rounded object.

phenomenon
Noun

an unusual act or occurrence.

photodegradation
Noun

process by which a substance is broken down by exposure to light.

Noun

large, spherical celestial body that regularly rotates around a star.

Plural Noun

(singular: plankton) microscopic aquatic organisms.

plastic
Noun

chemical material that can be easily shaped when heated to a high temperature.

Plastiki
Noun

(2009) sailing vessel made partly of plastic water bottles used to travel from San Francisco, California, to Sydney, Australia.

pollutant
Noun

chemical or other substance that harms a natural resource.

population
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total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

predict
Verb

to know the outcome of a situation in advance.

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Verb

to keep something from happening.

previous
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earlier, or the one before.

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resin
Noun

clear, sticky substance produced by some plants.

responsibility
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being accountable and reliable for an action or situation.

Noun

object's complete turn around its own axis.

rupture
Verb

to break or tear.

satellite imagery
Noun

photographs of a planet taken by or from a satellite.

Noun

large part of the ocean enclosed or partly enclosed by land.

seafloor
Noun

surface layer of the bottom of the ocean.

seafood
Noun

fish and shellfish consumed by humans.

shipping
Noun

transportation of goods, usually by large boat.

stable
Adjective

steady and reliable.

starvation
Noun

dying from lack of food.

threaten
Verb

to scare or be a source of danger.

toxic
Adjective

poisonous.

transition
Noun

movement from one position to another.

travel
Noun

movement from one place to another.

trawl
Verb

to fish by dragging a large net along the bottom of the body of water.

vortex
Noun

column of rotating fluid, such as air (wind) or water.

West Coast
Noun

Pacific coast of the United States, usually excluding Alaska.

Noun

movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.

yachting
Noun

sport of racing large sailing vessels.