Until recently, my concept of a ‘garbage patch’ was of an area of ocean with large pieces of floating debris, the kind of stray fishing gear and trash from ships and shorelines that collect where currents form eddies far from view of most people.
Having seen my share of sea trash in 20,000+ miles of lake and ocean sailing and even untangled sheets of plastic and thick ropes from the propeller and rudder of my 37-foot sailboat, I was shocked to learn that the kind of garbage scientists are most concerned about is invisible to the naked eye. They’re finding tiny bits of plastic known as “micro-plastics” floating near the surface of the water in high concentrations. The particles are so small that a microscope is needed to even see them.
The scary news this week was about a garbage patch discovered in the Great Lakes last year. Although scientists have studied plastic pollution in the oceans since NOAA researchers discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in 1988, a team of scientists is conducting the first-of-its-kind research on the open water of the Great Lakes. One of the team members presented preliminary results of a study on the topic at meeting of the American Chemical Society.