The President and the Garbage Patch

It is the rare occasion when environmentalists congratulate President Bush on an eco-job well done, but when he designated a coral island chain in Hawaii as a marine national monument, we were ready to do some presidential high-fiving.

What we didn’t know: An area of ocean immediately adjacent to the protected island chain is one of the dirtiest areas in the world—so dirty, in fact, that it’s often referred to as the great “eastern garbage patch.” According to a piece in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor, the area, which is about twice as big as Texas, is a “gyre,” meaning its currents rotate, sucking in debris.

Just how trashy is the garbage patch? Well:

About 3 million tons of the trash floating in the garbage patch is plastic, estimates Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Ca., who has traversed the gyre on research expeditions.

Samples he collected in a recent study showed that there were more tiny bits of plastic by weight than there were plankton per cubic meter of sea water.

"It's a toilet that never flushes, but just keeps accumulating," he says of the patch. "If you're an organism in this area you have six times as much chance of bumping into something plastic as you do something natural."

The good news: according to the CSM article, the House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill that would direct more funding to cleaning up the garbage patch. The even better news: President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law in November. At which point, our visions of presidential high fives shall resume.