There was a story about the Pacific gyre in the news recently, that island of floating rubbish that has greenies tearing their hair out in despair. In one of nature’s many quirks the different currents of the Pacific Ocean conspire to gather all the rubbish of the ocean in one spot, the gyre. A bit like how all the leaves in your pool get swept to the middle as the pool pump creates a vortex around the edge. The collected rubbish pile in the gyre, much of it plastic, is getting bigger and bigger and the plastic itself is breaking down into smaller pieces and affecting all marine life in the area. It’s a horrible, terrible mess and no one quite knows what to do with it. Volunteers have gone out and tried to tackle it, but a few small ships with nets can’t hope to make an impact on it. Larger, industrial ships will be needed but then you run into the problem of clearing the fish and dolphins that swim under the rubbish island out of the way. Can’t endanger your greenie credentials by killing fish and dolphins even if you’re clearing up a major problem…that affects fish and dolphins. So everyone is flapping their hands and saying how terrible it is, but nothing is happening.
Well stop your flapping and listen up, as I turn a sow’s ear into a beautiful purse. If we really want to clean this mess up, it will take a bit of money and some research but it’s totally do-able. If every Pacific nation kicks in some money we’ll build a small flotilla of big, rubbish-munching ships and factory ships that can recycle all that plastic back into feed stock for new plastic products. The money from selling the feedstock will help fund the flotilla. Then we get some marine biologists to research what sounds, blasted underwater will scare fish and dolphins away. Not loud enough that it will damage their little fishy brains, but enough to make them crap themselves and move away. I’m thinking the hunting calls of killer whales might do the trick. Any fish too dumb to flee from the sound, or any dolphin insanely feisty enough to want to tackle a killer whale will just have to take their chances with the big ships. Think of it as culling outrageous stupidity from the fish and dolphin gene pool.
Once we’ve cleaned up the current mountain of rubbish, take a minute to think how mind-bogglingly useful that ocean gyre truly is. If it didn’t exist, if it wasn’t there to gather all this crap in one relatively small spot, if all that rubbish had remained evenly spread throughout the whole ocean, it may have taken decades to realise just how much garbage is out there. Years down the track a marine biologist may have noted the increasing amount of tiny plastic pellets found in the bellies of dead fish and then it might have taken even more decades to figure out what was actually happening. As it is, the ocean has virtually picked up a microphone and announced to the world, ‘Clean up on aisle five please, clean up on aisle five, STAT!’ (just to mix up my metaphors even more charmingly). It truly is astonishing.
I should point out here that there is more than one ocean gyre. There are actually two in the Pacific, two in the Atlantic and one in the Indian Ocean (the poor third world ocean always gets less than the big fancy oceans). I don’t know if they all collect rubbish in the same way as the infamous Pacific one and we just don’t hear about it, but I’ll take a punt that the same physics is at work and that they too collect rubbish at their centres. So once our flotilla is up and running and has cleaned up the Pacific gyre, then we can send it on to the other gyres. It means that we have a marvellously effective way of cleaning all the world’s oceans and keeping them clean by patrolling the gyres on an ongoing basis. One flotilla, rotating through five specific spots on the planet will be able to do that. So look past the horrible, nasty floating island of rubbish we’re hearing about now, and marvel that the ocean currents have naturally evolved a system of garbage collection so efficient that any pointy-headed engineer would be jealous. Let’s use it quick, and then we can cross another item off the environmental ‘to do’ list.