May 25, 2009

Conservationists Seek Underwater Vortex Of Garbage

Conservationists are preparing to set out in search of an underwater collection of garbage in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the mainland US.

For the past 60 years, the so-called "Plastic Vortex," or "Eastern Garbage Patch" has been collecting just under the ocean's surface as people from Asia and the US throw garbage into the water.

According to AFP, the ocean tides have trapped most of the unwanted items in a spiral, and the suns rays have slowly broken the items into small particles. The particles become so fine that they pose a risk to marine life and birds.

"It will take many years to understand and fix the problem," said Jim Dufour, a senior engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.

Dufour is heading up a trip to the vortex to understand the extent of the problem.

The United Nations Environment Program has estimated that some 13,000 pieces of garbage exist in every square kilometer of the ocean, but the issue becomes magnified in these ocean vortexes.

Leaders of the trip said the particles have composed a toxic gumbo that threatens the wellbeing of fish in the region.

"That means the little piece of plastic the fish eats is actually a little toxic bomb," said Doug Woodring, an entrepreneur and conservationist who lives in Hong Kong and will lead the expedition.

"There is no jurisdiction, no government who is entirely responsible, so there has been no push to clean it up. The world doesn't know it is out there."

"It is like going to outer space."

Some of the toxins could be making their way into the US' food chain, conservationists told AFP.

They will be setting sail on a 150-foot-tall ship named the "Kaiser" along with a fishing trawler that will work to capture pieces of the waste.

"You have to have netting that is small enough to catch a lot but big enough to let plankton go through it," said Woodring.

Their plan is still short of its $2 million funding goal, but it has been supported by the United Nations Environment Program and from water company Brita.


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