May
25
2009

The HMS Fiddlesticks will also be sailing to Trashlantis: Where it will promptly be abandoned, with all the other garbage.
The HMS Fiddlesticks will also be sailing to Trashlantis: Where it will promptly be abandoned, with all the other garbage.Courtesy hexodus...
You all remember Trashlantis, right?

In case you do remember, but still feel like reading a summary anyway, here: Trashlantis was only named “Trashlantis” in early 2008 by one marginally-informed science blogger, but—considering how the fabled floating garbage continent is made of your trash, and your parents’ trash, and your grandparents’ trash—it has been around for a good while longer than that. Trashlantis, also referred to as the “Eastern Garbage Patch” and the “Plastic Vortex,” is a floating mass of plasticy waste from Asia and North America, which has sort of congealed in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Ocean currents have brought our plastic there and kept if there since we realized how much fun it was to throw plastic into the ocean, about 60 years ago. Today the floating mass is continent-sized in surface area. (It’s the size of the Lower 48, or twice the size of Texas, or just really, really, really big, depending on who you believe.)

There hasn’t been a whole lot of research done on the Eastern Garbage Patch—oh, shucks, let’s just call it Trashlantis—partly because it’s way out in the ocean (about 500 miles off the coast of California), but mostly, according to scientists, because it’s “super yucky.”

However, a group of scientists and entrepreneurs is now planning to sail to (through) Trashlantis aboard the 145-foot-tall sailboat, the Kaisei, accompanied by a fishing trawler. The scientists intend to study the plastic mass to determine the extent of its toxic effect on the sea and sediment beneath it, while international business man and pectoral enthusiast Doug Woodring hopes to see if the waste might be able to be collected to be recycled or used as fuel.

Part of the problem with Trashlantis is that because the plastic has been floating out in the sun for decades, it’s starting to break down. It’s not necessarily breaking down in a good way—think soda bottles turning into poisonous goop, not banana peels turning into fertile compost—and scooping it up in nets is going to be difficult, if we don’t want to snag too many fish and too much plankton along with it (we don’t want to). Trashlantis, sadly, is very much what many people refer to as “a hot, sticky mess.”

The expedition looks like a good step towards understanding the problem, and maybe developing a solution. And don’t anybody even think about taking the voyagetotrashlantismovie.kz url, because as soon as I can scrounge up ten dollars, that sucker is mine, and I’m going to be taking Paramount to the cleaners next summer.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Gene's picture
Gene says:

Can you see Trashlantis on Google Earth?

posted on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 9:33am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Huh... Good, question, Gene, and one that should have been obvious to me, swimming in the Internet as often as I do.

I'll check it out in a sec, and post anything interesting here, but here's my guess: no. You'd think that a "continent-sized" mass of garbage show up pretty well, but I bet that the gloopy, transparent and semi-broken down nature of a lot of this stuff makes it hard to distinguish from the water from orbit. And as big of an environmental issue as it might be, it's not so substantial that you could, you know, walk on it. But let's go see...

posted on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 9:42am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

So Wikipedia claims that, despite its size and density, the garbage patch isn't visible in satellite photography. And although someone kindly marked it on Google Maps, I couldn't see anything. (Unfortunately, the middle of the Pacific Ocean hasn't got many high res photos on google. C'mon, guys, get that street view van out there.)

posted on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 10:47am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

The Straight Dope has addressed the garbage island question as well. Their take is a little less misleading than mine—that is, that "Trashlantis" isn't like a continent of garbage, but rather a continent-sized area with plenty of plastic in the water (and so it can't be seen in photographs of the resolution provided by Google Earth.) I like to highlight the fake parts of a story and downplay the depressingly real parts (Trashlantis is, most likely, very very bad for the oceans), but SD's is a good article too.

posted on Thu, 09/10/2009 - 9:54am
bryan kennedy's picture

Oh this is super informative to read. I'd seriously been picturing a big mass of plastic that people could wander around on. Boo popular media.

Still massive expanses of ocean full of small shreds and particles of plastic hardly sounds reassuring.

posted on Thu, 09/10/2009 - 10:59am

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