They call it “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. Not that it really needs or deserves proper noun status. It is great because of its size, not because it is great, and the people who call it that are probably limited to the small collective who spend most of their time staring at it from the side of a research vessel out in the Pacific Ocean. Which does deserve proper noun status. This so called “garbage patch” is there to remind us what a terrible species we really are. It is the accumulation of decades of environmental guilt: the guilt that we throw into the bin everyday, or toss on the side of the road. Is it a guilt built up by twisting winds of relentless greed and waste, and I suppose someone has already had the idea to let it serve as some kind of ironic tourist destination. If they haven’t then I’d be more than happy to make a few quid out of it.
This huge gathering of pointless waste (don’t get confused, I haven’t just switched to writing about the crowd at Glastonbury) is technically called a gyre – a point where ocean currents conspire to create a dead end for all the flotsam that we can’t cram into someone else’s wheelie bin. Apparently the oceans contain five vast gyres in total, and this one is said to contain the most amount of plastic: an estimated 79,000 tonnes of the stuff, or to put it another way – a shit load. I am also led to understand that to add to all the shit we throw away it also contains really quite a lot of the bonus shit that was swept out to sea following the Japanese tsunami in 2011. As you can imagine the scientists who are ‘working’ on the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” are very less than impressed by it all, though given that there are so many other problems to deal with that won’t get dealt with, I would advise them to knock it on the head and find something more manageable to keep them occupied. Don’t get me wrong, this is a complete tragedy and a stain on us all, but I’d bet you that in 20 years time it will still be there and if anything it will be even bigger.
The scientists also tell us that this huge floating plastic turd is so well established that it has become a new habitat for assorted coastal creatures, the ones that just wanted to get away from it all. I think that this is good news: that lots of seaside critters who would normally have little to look forward to other than being consumed by an oil spill or gathered in a bucket and urinated on by a malicious nine year old, can now spend their days floating on a discarded Christmas toy and slowly choking themselves on micro-plastic. Hurrah for the human race, we’ve cracked it with science! I’m being slightly flippant but there is at least something to celebrate in the knowledge that after we’re gone and our bodies are rotting in the streets the animals that are left behind will just get back to their lives as if nothing had ever happened. Jolly good for them.
But even this isn’t enough to put a little smile on their faces (the scientists, that is) because now they’re worried that all these crabs and molluscs and other creatures we don’t really give a toss about might just be getting a free ride from one coastline to another and then they could become invasive species somewhere else. And you can see why they’re worried; I mean, just imagine the horror of a new crab arriving at a rock pool thousands of miles away and, over many years, slowly taking over that rockpool with all their baby crabs and sending the indigenous crab population into permanent exile, perhaps by hurling them onto a handy passing gyre. Wouldn’t that be just awful? So much worse than anything else any other species could ever deliberately inflict on a fragile ecosystem. Oh, hold on.
It’s all just a load of rubbish really. The rubbish in the oceans and the rubbish that isn’t in the oceans. The rubbish stuff we spend our time researching and the rubbish that we get told about it. If a crab wants to live on some plastic that shouldn’t be floating in the oceans in the first place then just let them get on with it instead of accusing it of something it might very well not do. Besides, I thought these plastic gyres were just going round in circles so I can’t see our little crabs and all their invasive friends making landfall any time soon. I think it’s safer to focus on bigger things. Literally. But it does give me a thought – if crabs can successfully colonise the vast cannon of unerodable shit that we have flushed into the sea then can we not use them to accommodate some of the dubious individuals that don’t really deserve a place on terra firma, but also don’t deserve to swim in blue, clean water either? There would be something quite satisfying in knowing that the Sackler family or some executive prick from Exxon (you could throw in Rose West too, if you wanted) were gently bobbing up and down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, being attacked by a resentful army of anemones and crustaceans and slowly going mad in the sun. Anyway, I’m off to decorate the tree with non-biodegradable tat; the garden centre said that the real tree they were selling to us for money was better for the environment than a re-useable plastic one, but then they would say that.
G B Hewitt. 05.12.2021