Monday, September 3, 2012

Tsunami Debris Highlights Ocean Garbage Problems

James Keller, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 6:43PM PDT

Last Updated Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 6:48PM PDT 
A paying passenger (bottom) on an ocean garbage patch research cruise.
Photograph courtesy Stiv Wilson,
RICHMOND, B.C. -- A U.S.-based environmental group is using the ongoing focus about what to do with the floating wreckage from last year's Japanese tsunami to highlight the much larger issue of debris in the world's oceans.

The Ocean Voyages Institute recently completed a trip off the North American coast as it sailed from San Francisco to British Columbia, where it is scheduled to attend a maritime festival in Richmond, south of Vancouver, this weekend.

The group's ship, a 46-metre, twin-masted sailing vessel named the Kaisei, encountered debris from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami roughly 500 kilometres off the coast of Oregon and Washington state, said Mary Crowley, who founded the Ocean Voyages Institute.

Crowley, who wasn't on the ship for the most recent voyage, said the Kaisei found part of a dock and other smaller debris that experts on board believed were swept into the ocean by the tsunami.

She said the tsunami debris poses a significant risk to the Pacific Ocean and the animals that inhabit it, but she noted it pales in comparison to the vast amount of debris -- much of it floating plastic garbage -- already in the world's oceans.

"The tsunami debris adds this whole other element of knowing where it all went into the ocean and where it's going and how it's spreading, but in fact every day, all over the Pacific basin, debris is going into the ocean," Crowley told reporters Wednesday.

"So the tsunami debris shows us graphically what's happening."

Specifically, she pointed to a massive field of floating plastic often referred to as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," which is believed to make up an area roughly the size of Texas.  
[ Pacific-TV note: It was the size of Texas, but after the tsunami it's estimated to be the size of the continental U.S. ]

The "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" is located between Hawaii and California in the northern Pacific Ocean, where millions of small bits of plastic have gathered in a vortex of ocean currents known as a gyre. Some of the debris from the tsunami is expected to join the garbage patch.


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