You may be familiar with the dreaded Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a massive soup of plastic debris, flotsam and junk floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Scientists say that ocean currents determine the precise gathering of the junk: the patch lies in the middle of a giant ocean gyre, or vortex in the sea. There are five major gyres in the world’s oceans, and one group, 5 Gyres, is determined to search the remaining 4 for evidence of similar plastic island gatherings.

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Plastic floating in the ocean presents numerous hazards – not only is it unsightly and marine animals mistake it for food, but the material itself absorbs waterborne toxic chemicals. Persistent organic pollutants like DDT, PCBs, and the like attach onto these fake food flakes and may reenter the food chain, as marine animals who munch on plastic get caught and eaten by humans. The bulk of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not visible from above; it’s already broken down into confetti-like pieces and swims dangerously through the subsurface of the water.

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The 5 Gyres Project, a collaboration between AMRF, Livable Legacy and Pangaea Explorations, is determined to travel to each of the planet’s major vortexes and document the extent of plastic pollution. This past January two intrepid sailors, Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, explored the North Atlantic Gyre, finding, among other things, plastic soup, buckets, and a boot. The extent of the pollution, they claim, is similar to that in the Pacific Gyre. A number of expeditions have publicized and explored the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, including Project Kaisei, the Plastiki, and the JUNK raft.

The 5 Gyres couple will present their findings at the Ocean Sciences Conference in Portland, OR on Feb. 24. In the meantime, they hosted a number of beach cleanups and school lectures in an attempt to stop pollution before it hits the water.

+ 5 Gyres Project