A traveler's guide to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
We've all seen the photos of attractive sea turtles sipping ocean cocktails through nose-straws, and the outlines of ocean bird bodies filled in with a colourful collage of bottle caps, but the true weight and magnitude of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – or "The Patch" – is one that is meant to be experienced first-hand.
No need to pack anything, because your lifetime of discarded water bottles and six-pack rings will be waiting for you when you arrive!
The Patch is really a series of clusters of ocean trash trapped by swirling currents. The "convergence zone" is where all our wilful ignorance and insatiable consumerism are brought together in a whirlpool of anthropocentric hubris.
Whether you're near a river, sewer, or the ocean itself, get to the nearest rising watermark, toss yourself in like a thing you're tired of carrying, and let the water do the dirty work. Eventually, wind-driven currents will swirl you into a dizzying gyre of fishing line, grocery bags, and Havaianas flip-flops.
Learn the local language
As with all cultures, the Patch's mutant colonies enjoy being condescended to in their own language. Here are a couple words to get you started:
"Flotsam" – Whoops!
"Microplastics" –Mmmmm, food, right?!
"This is chemical sludge" – A local expression used as a fun reminder of David Foster Wallace's point that "The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about."
Food is a sensual, intoxicating way to commune with local culture. And the best way to know what locals are eating is to eviscerate the carcass of a baby albatross, shake out its stomach like the contents of your plastic shopping bag, and find out. Sink your teeth into all that doesn't sink to the ocean floor, heavily spiced with synthetic polymers – they put that stuff in everything! – and wash it down with a Carcinogen and Tonic.
It's so vast, it's basically immeasurable! Even though people "know" about The Patch, they don't know-about-it-know-about-it. It's basically an abstraction that's also literally twice the size of Texas.
Out of sight and out of mind, The Patch is a wide-open void of direct consequences. Let your worries – and whatever plastic film they're packaged in – float away here, where no one can hold you accountable for the damage you cause.
Fun fact! The size of The Patch has a wide range of estimates, but whether measured in metric or imperial, the enormity of the mess is generally beyond the scope of our ability to imagine it – not that we bother to try!
Go now! (Or go later!)
Culture and geography constantly evolve, and a voyeuristic peek into an exotic world will one day look a lot different, even just a few Facebook memories later. But at The Patch, there's no time like the present – except for maybe the distant future. Since the rate of decomposition of most of its contents is somewhere in the 450-year range, that puppy is a soothing respite from the aggressive monster of change. The Patch isn't going anywhere. Instead, it's growing with the relentless uniformity of condo developments.
If you can't be whisked off by ocean waves, remember that the photodegraded microplastics ingested by sea animals eventually make their way up the food chain and down our gullets, so there's a Great Pacific Garbage Patch in all of us.
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