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Our oceans are in a sorry state, and they just can't seem to catch a break.  Floating pieces of plastic, some of them large, others just specks or chunks the size of an eraser, have been accumulating in ocean currents referred to as gyres for many years.  Because plastic takes so long to photodegrade, it stays in the environment for long periods of time.  The plastic is often eaten by birds or fed to chicks at breeding grounds, and the results are devastating.

The problem of floating plastic garbage first became known in the Pacific Ocean, and the "Pacific garbage patch" has gained notoriety in recent years.  Unfortunately, researchers have now discovered an "Atlantic garbage patch."

From AP:

Researchers are warning of a new blight on the ocean: a swirl of confetti-like plastic debris stretching over thousands of square miles (kilometers) in a remote expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

The floating garbage — hard to spot from the surface and spun together by a vortex of currents — was documented by two groups of scientists who trawled the sea between scenic Bermuda and Portugal's mid-Atlantic Azores islands.

The studies describe a soup of micro-particles similar to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a phenomenon discovered a decade ago between Hawaii and California that researchers say is likely to exist in other places around the globe.

The discovery of the Atlantic garbage patch is one more warning about how far our society has to go before sustainability moves from being an abstract concept to becoming a tangible reality in the developed world.

There is no dichotomy between "humans" and "the environment."  We all share the same chunk of rock in space, and the way we treat the planet says a lot about ourselves as a species.  Never before has a species seemed so eager to engineer its own demise.  Never before has a single species seemed so intent on triggering the mass extinction of millions of others.

It is not a sexy topic and it will not garner headlines on CNN, but these are serious times.  Human society needs to reevaluate how it thinks about and interacts with nature, and we need to do it fast.  The clock is ticking.

UPDATE:

From the comments:

The latest update on the Pacific garbage patch is that there are now two of them.  One in the circulation "gyre" north of the Hawaiian Islands, and one in the gyre south of the Hawaiian Islands.  Dreadful pictures are coming back from the bird sanctuaries on the far northwest Hawaiian chain out toward and around Midway Island of Albatross chicks dead from ingesting so much plastic.

h/t Rolfyboy6

Originally posted to geodemographics on Fri Apr 16, 2010 at 07:37 PM PDT.

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