Woman takes on 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch'

Planet Earth

By Ayesha Tejpar
October 29, 2009 9:29 a.m. EDT

 -- For Mary Crowley, the sea is her second home.
She learned how to sail at age 4 and spent almost half her life running an international yacht chartering business in Sausalito, California.
But about two years ago, Crowley dove into a new project: helping to clean up the world's oceans. She set sail on a monthlong voyage into the North Pacific Gyre, parts of which are known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The gyre, or area of spiraling ocean currents, is approximately twice the size of the continental United States. It isn't filled with garbage, but the region is known for accumulating large amounts of waste and debris that get trapped by its large clockwise currents between North America and Japan.
"I've been out to the same part of the ocean 30 years ago, and then, it was clean oceanic wilderness. And now, it's like a dump," Crowley said. "This is significantly worse."

Scientists say that much of this debris comes from land, rather than from ships. Litter from up to hundreds of miles inland can come from places like cars or storm drains and end up in the ocean.
"Estimates are that 50 to 80 percent of what ends up in the ocean starts on land," said Dianne Sherman, director of the International Coastal Cleanup at the nonprofit Ocean Conservatory.
Last year, the organization collected more than 7 million pounds of trash on or around the coastline, including 250,000 pounds of debris found in the ocean.
Sherman said that while an increasing number of dead animals are found with plastic in their stomachs, the scientific community has not reached a consensus on the effect the plastic has on the food chain and on humans.

More to the story:  www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/10/29/ocean.garbage/index.html

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