Huge floating islands of rubbish from the Japanese tsunami are creating a shipping hazard and causing havoc to shipping lanes of the Pacific Ocean. The debris consists of bodies, cars, entire houses, tractors and boats.
Covering more than 2.2 million square feet, the largest “island" of rubbish stretches 60 nautical miles (69 miles) in length, according to the US Navy's 7th Fleet, which is closely monitoring the floating islands.
Specialists believe that it could take up to two years for the rubbish to arrive at the beaches of Hawaii and three years to cover the 8,800 kms to the American West Coast.
The United States navy alongside Japanese civilian construction companies are making an effort to remove some of the floating debris from the sea.
Some of the Japanese debris will stop off at the earth’s largest ocean rubbish dump, the North Pacific Gyre, a natural focal and collection area at the centre of a set of currents. Constant high pressure systems and weak currents have created the meteorological phenomenon, where there is little wind and the ocean slows down to a crawl.
In 2008, the ocean rubbish dump was estimated to be approximately a hundred million tons of toxic flotsam, covering an area twice the size of America. It was first found in 1997 by a solo sailor, although it was first talked about in 1988, in a paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Although the density and size of the rubbish dump is massive, it primarily consists of suspended particles in the upper water column, just under the surface of the ocean. It is thus not able to be viewed by satellite photography.
A leading authority on flotsam and oceanographer, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who followed the build-up of plastics in the sea for the last 15 years, compares the trash vortex to a living entity: “It moves around like a big animal without a leash. When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic".
The debris includes everything from syringes and cigarette lighters, kayaks to carrier bags, footballs and lego blocks. It is discarded off oil platforms and ships and from the land. After all the entire ocean is ‘downhill’ from everywhere and any plastic manufactured in the past 50 years, that found its way into the ocean, is still out there somewhere.