The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, as the name would imply, a giant patch of floating garbage located in the Pacific Ocean. It is also, as the New York Times recently reported, bigger than scientists thought. The patch is four times the size of Calif., and made mostly of plastic. The size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch speaks to a more general issue: we have to do something more to deal with pollution.

The patch is not an island, and is not as localized as one would expect when imagining it. National Geographic described the patch as “the world’s largest collection of floating trash.” It contains both the large pieces of plastic and garbage that one might imagine, and smaller pieces of broken down ‘microplastics.’ The microplastics pose a problem, especially as more of the trash breaks down, as they are more difficult to clean up than large pieces of garbage.

National Geographic also commented on the nature of the garbage patch, stating that it was 46 percent discarded fishing gear. This is way higher than was expected – one of the scientists who conducted the study on the patch stated that usually only 20 percent of ocean garbage comes from fishing. The discarded fishing gear is just as problematic as the microplastics are; netting can get caught on marine life, trapping or choking them. This is much like the plastic that gets stuck around the penguin Lovelace’s neck in the movie Happy Feet, except that it usually kills the creature it entraps.

The study also reported that the garbage patch is growing exponentially every year. And, obviously, people aren’t just accepting this at face value – there are numerous efforts by citizens globally to clean up the garbage patch, especially by the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. The organization is committed to cleaning up the patch, but it isn’t going to be easy – the New York Times reported that the patch is impervious to typical clean-up methods. Instead, the foundation will have to develop mechanical methods to clean up the plastic.

This is a world with a giant, floating patch of scattered garbage. It is also a world where the last male northern white rhino died on March 19, spelling extinction for the species, and rapid climate change is causing freak weather in the United Kingdom. We as a species have to get more serious about dealing with climate change and pollution – if we don’t, marine life will die, more species will die and natural disasters will impact our homes and our lives.

We have to take pollution seriously.

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