MISSION: WATER 38 HEADLINE OCEAN & COASTAL Their program leads the U.S. government’s efforts to educate and create awareness for the need to make ocean cleanup and plastic pollution prevention a priority. NOAA currently provides grants to nonprofits for plastic education, cleanup, pollution prevention and research projects—such as trash surveys—in the Pacific and along coastal regions across the U.S. As for cleaning up vast spans of ocean, industry and scientists are working on ways to best make this happen. Some technology that’s been proposed would skim and/or filter the ocean water, to “remove” large plastic debris as well as the tiny plastic particles from the water. The challenge with this particular solution, however, is that it would also remove plankton and other small ocean organisms from the water that are so vital to the world’s marine food chain. As technology is explored to effectively and efficiently clean up these garbage patches and our world's oceans, we must reduce our society's dependence on plastic. If we don’t address the source, then the problem becomes an exponentially greater one, in search of an ever-more elusive solution. If Captain Moore saw plastic as far as the eye can see, we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to limit the amount of plastic we continue to add to the pile, so that we may ultimately have a finite level of garbage to contend with in the years to come. Fish food This is where the problem becomes exponentially more complicated, when large chunks of plastic become increasingly smaller pieces over time, into fragments of debris. The smaller the fragments get, whether they’re the size of a pea or a miniscule speck of dust, the more it begins to resemble food to fish, sea turtles, and birds. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists estimate that 90% of all seabirds have ingested plastic, and plastic can be detected in 50% of sea turtles. Not only are aquatic organisms consuming the plastic, but they are also getting wrapped and tangled up in it too. Sea lions have been found with shipping material wrapped around their neck, while turtles have been caught in six-pack rings, shells bound by the plastic. NOAA also suggests that by 2050, there may be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Where do we go from here? National Geographic estimates that only 20% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris directly into the water. The remaining 80% comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia, so any solution needs to address both ocean cleanup and the source of plastic as well. One of the primary challenges with this gyre in particular is its location in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. And as large as it is – the NOAA estimates it’s as large as the state of Texas – most people have no idea it even exists. Without general awareness and that common knowledge, it’s difficult to get funding to support cleanup efforts from government, industry, or even individual philanthropists. But there are several organizations working to increase awareness about this issue. For example, the NOAA Marine Debris Program is a nationwide program that addresses marine debris and ocean cleanup. Plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose. In the meantime, it doesn’t break down – it simply breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces. Learn More: https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/