Garbage patch should become common dialog

The accumulation of garbage in the Atlantic is a result of ocean current, more commonly known as a gyre. There are five major ocean gyers. (NOAA)

Environmentally Challenged: By Brian Troutman

It spans hundreds of miles and is the home of possibly hundreds of years of lost beach balls, candy wrappers, fishing corks and random plastic - the North Atlantic Garbage Patch.

One can only speculate why this floating mass has not gotten more attention. Scientists have been conducting research on the patch for two decades.

The patch is said to sit hundreds of miles off the North American coast and spans from the northern tip of Cuba to Virginia.

According to a report by National Geographic, student researchers recently found more than 200,000 bits of trash per square mile in one area of the patch. Scientists say that it is difficult to get complete and accurate numbers of total amounts of waste due to waves.

What causes the garbage patch?

Ocean currents follow the same patterns, so in most cases if it is something lost at sea, it eventually ends up in the patch. Such is also the case in the Pacific with the Texas-sized debris patch that seems to have gotten more publicity.

Why should we care?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency debris in the Atlantic Ocean can be a problem for a number of reasons:

1) It can snare boat propellers or clog cooling water intakes, causing substantial damage to boat motors.

2) Debris with sharp edges can eventually end up on the coast and pose a threat to beachgoers and wildlife.

3) Marine animals can be caught in floating debris.

4) Some animals mistakenly eat debris. Ingesting man-made materials can often causes damage to the animal's digestive system. It has also been discovered that ingesting certain types of man-made debris can cause an animal to feel as if its stomach is full when it really is not. The result, starvation.

Where do we go from here?

I think the first logical step is to raise awareness. Discussions on the status of the garbage patch should become common dialog not just for the environmentalists but of all that enjoy the water and coastlines.

It's sad that in many cases it takes a catastrophe like the Deepwater Horizon spill to raise awareness on an environmental issue.

We as a community, state and nation are in a position with this floating garbage patch to prevent catastrophe by raising awareness and practicing more Earth-friendly behavior.