Annalee Newitz –
You’ve probably heard of the “Pacific garbage patch,” also called the “trash vortex.”
It’s a region of the North Pacific ocean where the northern jet stream and the southern trade winds, moving opposite directions, create a vast, gently circling region of water called the North Pacific Gyre — and at its center, there are tons of plastic garbage.
You may even have seen this picture of the garbage patch, above — right? Wrong.
That image, widely mislabeled as a shot of the Pacific garbage patch, is actually from Manila harbor.
And it’s just one of many misconceptions the public has about what’s really happening to plastics in the ocean.
We talked with Scripps Institution marine biologist Miriam Goldstein, who has just completed a study of how plastic is changing the ecosystem in the North Pacific Gyre, about myths and realities of the Pacific garbage patch.
“That picture of the guy in the canoe has been following me around my whole career!” Goldstein laughed when I brought it up.
“I think it’s an example of media telephone, where somebody wanted something dramatic to illustrate their story — and then through the magic of the internet, the picture got mislabeled.”
Goldstein has gone on several research trips to the garbage patch, 1,000 miles off the coast of California, and has even swum in it. “We have never seen anything like that picture,” she asserted.
“I’ve never seen it personally, and we’ve never seen it on satellite.”