Researchers find radioactive debris and garbage island large enough to walk on floating in Pacific Ocean
Friday, October 03, 2014
by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: garbage, radioactive debris, Pacific Ocean
(NaturalNews) Researchers on an expedition to assess the state of plastic pollution in the North Pacific Ocean discovered two disturbing things: 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.
The "garbage island" was discovered by researchers from the nonprofit Algalita, which studies plastic pollution, about a thousand miles to the west of California, and about a thousand miles north of Hawaii.
It is located in what is known as a gyre, where ocean currents meet and circle. Because of the nature of these currents, garbage tends to accumulate in gyres.
It was in just such a gyre that, 15 years ago, Algalita researchers discovered the giant plastic mass that has come to be known the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."
Never seen anything like it
The newly discovered garbage island was found to be composed mainly of buoys, nets and fishing gear that the researchers believe was washed away from Japan following the 2011 tsunami that triggered the Fukushima meltdown. Although that debris probably formed the original base of the island, the mass seems to have collected more garbage and grown since then.
"It's 80 feet long. It's about 30 feet across in some places. If you were looking down from above, it would look like an island floating in the middle of the ocean," said Marieta Francis, executive director of Algalita.
In 15 years of studying plastic pollution in the ocean, Francis said, Algalita researchers have never seen anything like the island before.
Researchers spent two days studying the island, collecting data on everything from its movement patterns to rates of trash accumulation. They even discovered some animals using the island as a habitat.
The scientists believe that the island may eventually drift east, but will likely get swept up in currents before reaching California, and will probably end up drifting either south toward Mexico or get pushed back west into the Pacific.
About a week before discovering the garbage island, researchers made another troubling discovery, perhaps one also linked to the 2011 tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
While taking routine trash samples, the researchers pulled aboard a piece of rope that was found floating in the ocean.
Following their standard protocol, they tested the rope with a Geiger counter and received a reading of 120 cycles per minute (CPM). It was the highest reading that they had received until that point, and significantly higher than the background reading of 30 CPM.
While 120 CPM was probably not a dangerous level of radiation, the researchers noted, they considered it "important to monitor."
Ocean pollution worseningFrancis warned that, since the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plastic pollution in the oceans has only worsened. The most recent expedition confirmed this trend.
"The fact that in 15 years it's not getting better -- there's not less debris -- is of concern to scientists, and it should be a concern to the public," Francis said.
"They found a lot more plastic farther away from the area that's called the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' than they've ever seen. So they ran across it sooner than they expected, and it was a lot of debris."
This pollution may have more subtle, less visible effects. For example, as the plastic breaks down into smaller particles, it may be eaten by ocean life, causing hormonal problems or other health effects. This can affect humans who eat seafood.
"What we have speculated for years is probably in fact happening: That we need to be concerned about eating the fish," Francis said.