NOAA: Trash Island doesn’t exist

A view of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Photo Credit: NOAA)

A view of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Despite stories to the contrary, there is no Texas-sized trash island floating in the Pacific, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.

While there is a Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean (apparently, there’s many of these patches throughout the global ocean), it’s not an island of trash, it’s difficult to see and it definitely can’t be walked on.

NOAA has tried debunking this myth since at least 2012. But it doesn’t seemed to have worked since NOAA ran another blog post on Monday (plus, someone on Sunday told CalWatchdog about a “plastic island,” which prompted us to contact NOAA in the first place).

“Garbage patches have been wildly misrepresented in the media in the past, causing confusion on the subject and leading many to believe that there is a large “island of trash” in the Pacific Ocean—at least the size of Texas!— that you can walk around on,” wrote the NOAA Marine Debris Program on Monday. “This is extremely far from reality.”

While there is certainly an issue of garbage collecting in the ocean, it’s mostly “microplastics,” which are pieces of debris less than 5mm in size that constantly get broken into smaller and smaller pieces but never fully break down, according to NOAA.

Because of the nature of the ocean and currents, the size of the garbage patch is constantly changing, making it difficult to accurately estimate its size.

The patch is also largely below the surface, all the way down to the sea floor. That, plus the size, makes cleanup all the more difficult, as it could be both cost prohibitive and harmful to the local habitat.

NOAA recommends a focus on cleaning up shorelines and preventing the garbage patch from increasing.

History

The whole trash island idea came from a man named Charles Moore, who spotted some floating debris on his return home from a sailing race in Honolulu, HI.

It’s easy to see how the story got distorted, since online there are even conflicting dates of Moore’s discovery. Wikipedia says he saw the trash island in 1999, while most media reports say 1997.

The TED website said the trash pile is the size of two texases, but CBS News reported that Moore didn’t find “an overwhelming amount of trash.”

Natural News, which CalWatchdog wasn’t familiar with but considers itself “The World’s Top News Source on Natural Health,” reported in 2014 that researchers had found “an island completely made of trash, large and sturdy enough to walk on; and a piece of radioactive rope floating in the midst of the ocean.”

In 2014, Moore wrote in The New York Times that the “world is awash in plastic.” He wrote that he’d just retured from a research trip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and compared to his last trip in 2009, he “was utterly shocked to see the enormous increase in the quantity of plastic waste.”

In 2015, a story in The Guardian reported that a trash-mapping team found mostly large pieces of garbage in the garbage patch.

13 comments

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  1. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 18 April, 2016, 17:59

    Most modern plastics are designed to disolve in salty sea water all this poppycock of a giant island of plastic are lies spread by the various eco-freak groups

    Reply this comment
  2. DaveW
    DaveW 19 April, 2016, 10:08

    Garbage Island stories have been running for several years. Personally, I never envisioned them as actual islands capable of being walked on, but, rather, as large garbage “patches” as defined by NOAA. Islands. Patches. Whatever they are, they are a glaring example of man’s adverse impact on global ecology, and deserve to be dealt with as such. Nit-picking definitions or ignoring the problem altogether is a disservice.

    Reply this comment
  3. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 19 April, 2016, 14:01

    The cost of progress includes cleaning up the messes we make along the way. To me, there is not excuse not to clean up garbage we leave in the ocean. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not there is an actual floating plastic island the size of Texas, a lot of little stuff floating freely around the sea, or forming piles of plastic & other junk all the way down to the sea floor. It doesn’t matter to me how much it costs or how long it takes to clean it. We made the mess, it is our responsibility to clean it up. If somebody else made the mess, it is still our responsibility to clean it up. And anyone who thinks we don’t need to bother because nature is going to clean up after us, I’ve got news for you. If we let the problem get that far, we’ll end up in the refuse heap of history along with our garbage.
    I would like to think a libertarian can also be a conservationist.

    Reply this comment
  4. Ted. Mentor to the doomed....Builder of the FUTURE!
    Ted. Mentor to the doomed....Builder of the FUTURE! 20 April, 2016, 08:07

    Standing Fast– of course yo are 100% correct but whack jobs have hi jacked conservatism— Fox News and Rush won’t let any idea except far right nonsense seep in…..sorry man.

    Reply this comment
  5. Grace_ia
    Grace_ia 21 April, 2016, 07:24

    Actually, much of the plastic in the ocean comes from things left on beaches and riverbanks by swimmers and hikers.

    This is unacceptable, but it is not confined to the North American continent. Clean-up should not be only a U.S. burden.

    The overwhelming amount of plastic trash comes from storms and tsunamis that hit coastlines all over the world, and carry all kinds of materials back into the ocean. Remember the pictures from 2010?

    Plastics are a part of the world. Not something that is going to change, yet the formulas have changed to address the overall trash issue with more and more being bio-degradable.

    This story of a “trash island” the size of Texas brings to the general populace a vision. It is not an accurate picture – not saying it is a good picture, but it is not this horror. This has been blown out of proportion. Then the answer is (as always) to throw money at environmentalists. gaaah!

    Reply this comment
    • Standing Fast
      Standing Fast 21 April, 2016, 10:03

      The truth will prevail where there are pains taken to bring it to light. — George Washington

      Thank you for posting your comments, reminding us of the junk people leave on the beaches and riverbanks of the world. And, I agree with you about the problem being worldwide.
      But, if we the people of the United States just mind our own business and clean up after ourselves, and private non-profits tackle the junk out on the bounding main, other countries will get the message.
      Biodegradable plastics sound good, but what effect do the broken-down components have in the water and on the land?
      If Common-Sense Americans weigh-in loudly on environmental issues, the government will be less likely to throw money at special-interest environmental groups.
      We could be the voice of reason in this controversy.

      Reply this comment
  6. Grace_ia
    Grace_ia 21 April, 2016, 15:16

    Good comments, Standing Fast.

    I fully agree that we should clean up after ourselves – I believe we have been doing that since the 50’s to such an extent that those who weren’t alive then can’t imagine the trash everywhere on our roadsides at that time. We, as a society, promote and sometimes enforce recycling. Are we perfect? No, of course not and there is room for improvement, but I wonder how much our efforts will make a concrete improvement (the idea of diminishing returns comes to mind.) of our natural world.

    As for where do the broken-down components go and how do they affect our water and land, I need to remind us all that everything, “every thing”, that makes up the component material of plastic originally came from this earth. It will degrade. Some of the older compounds would take a ridiculous amount of time, but much of those have been replaced. Again, not perfect, but what is?

    Reply this comment
    • Standing Fast
      Standing Fast 21 April, 2016, 15:42

      Thank you for your post. Your points are well-taken– I was around in the fifties and sixties throwing garbage everywhere. But there was a “Beautify America” campaign launched by First Lady Ladybird Johnson, I think, that encouraged people to stop throwing trash everywhere and to clean up trashy places. And, yes, it really has helped a lot. But, there is still too much of it out in the natural world where it shouldn’t be.
      And, although I agree with your point about everything being biodegradable eventually, the amount of time it takes most man-made things to biodegrade–longer than one person’s lifetime– means an increasing accumulation of trash over the long haul. There will come a time when material consumption will reach a saturation point ecologically.
      Just for the record, I do not subscribe to Progressivism, a global warming crisis, a climate change crisis, socialism, communism, liberalism or the Donald Trump world view.

      Reply this comment
  7. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 24 April, 2016, 15:17

    So who realy trusts c-BS News or the New York Slimes anymore as well as those various eco-freak groups(Greenpeace,Sierra Club,PETA or the rest of the granola munchers/tree huggers anyway?

    Reply this comment
  8. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 25 April, 2016, 13:58

    Well, I’m neither an eco-freak nor a granola-munching tree-hugger, although I must confess that trees are an especial favorite thing of mine because I do like to breathe air that has fresh oxygen in it,
    And, I don’t have to read about floating plastic islands to know they are out there because I have seen with my own eyes all kinds of plastic in every waterway I have ever visited. Along with aluminum cans, bottles, waxed-cardboard containers, cellophane wrappers, cigarette wrappers, straws, and other unsightly evidence of progress.
    Since my last post I’ve learned that the “floating island” story has been around for years and doesn’t adequately describe what is going on. Because the mass of debris moves with the currents and changes its appearance sometimes daily or hourly.
    The main point here is that there is a problem that we have made and the sooner we start cleaning up this mess, the better.
    I would like to think that people who love Liberty can also love Nature. The two are hardly mutually-exclusive.
    It would be a real attention-getter if Libertarians and Conservatives got together with nature-lovers who are already tackling the problem with volunteers and private non-profit organizations. It would be a step in the right direction if the world could see a solution to an environmental crisis that doesn’t involve force or coercion by government.
    We might be able to make a few converts.

    Reply this comment
  9. Daniel
    Daniel 26 February, 2020, 13:11

    So that’s why I can never actually find a photo of it anywhere. I assumed I would find an aerial photo of this giant patch, but no, none to be found.

    Reply this comment
  10. Karen Renfro
    Karen Renfro 26 February, 2020, 13:23

    It doesn’t matter whether the trash is floating on top of the water or around in it, it shouldn’t be there. We should clean it up. And do what we can to prevent more without imposing severe hardships on people. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work this out.

    It would help if we all set aside our little prejudices and face reality.

    Reply this comment

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