And as if there wasn’t enough trash ALREADY floating in our oceans, an undersea volcano near New Zealand has thrown up nearly 10,000 square miles of pumice onto the surface of the Pacific Ocean. This is almost 10 times as large as the state of Rhode Island. Pumice is a byproduct of lava that has cooled quickly after a volcanic eruption, and it’s so lightweight that it floats.
There are more than just cracks in the ocean floor: While working on a research sailboat gliding over glassy seas in the Pacific Ocean, oceanographer Giora Proskurowski noticed something new: The water was littered with confetti-size pieces of plastic debris, until the moment the wind picked up and most of the particles disappeared. In other words, the ocean is a gigantic, deep trash can.
Disposing of plastic trash will be one of the biggest problems we face in 2012. The oceans are filled with plastic items that have washed out to sea (or been dumped from ships), and several coastal communities in California have banned plastic bags.
It’s a problem in Europe as well: Five hundred tons of Christmas tree lights, not to mention food wrappers, plastic bottles and broken toys, will be thrown away in the UK this year, and only a tiny proportion will be recycled.
Can we clean up our trashy oceans? When it comes to debris that floats in from the Japanese Fukushima disaster, it may be vitally important, because some of it may be radioactive. This hasn’t been proven yet, but flotsam from Fukushima–such as empty soda bottles with Japanese labels–are washing up on West Coast beaches.