Search for Malaysian Flight 370 uncovers another tragedy

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First Posted: 4/14/2014

The search for Malaysian Flight 370 seems to be a never-ending mystery. What the heck happened to that plane? Five weeks into the search and still no clues. While the search continues, one thing has become clear: the amount of trash found in the Indian Ocean is heartbreaking.

Satellites used to search for Flight 370 have picked up hundreds of large objects thought to be possible wreckage from the plane. When looked at a little closer, the debris was found to be floating garbage. Objects sighted off the Australian coast turned out to be fishing equipment, cargo containers, plastic bottles, and plastic shopping bags. Buoys used on cruise ships often the size of large cars are also part of the mess.

The garbage floating in the ocean looked like possible wreckage debris because it was packed together. Individual pieces of trash accumulate and form patches throughout our oceans. Many ships have reported encountering garbage patches while sailing. The area being searched is a region known as the Indian Ocean Gyre, an area where there is little movement in the ocean’s currents, so it’s a place where floating garbage can easily accumulate.

Interestingly enough, most of the garbage found in the ocean is the size of a grain of rice. Because of constant exposure to sunlight and being tossed around in waves, plastic in the ocean breaks down over time and becomes so small that marine life can easily ingest it. Marcus Eriksen, founder of the 5 Gyres Institute and a marine scientist, says that a lot of different types of plastic are being found in the ocean.

“We are seeing an abundant accumulation of micro-plastics from all single-use, throwaway plastics like bags, bottles, bottle caps, and kitchen utensils,” Eriksen explained. “I have pulled cigarette lighters from hundreds of bird skeletons.” Fish are also ingesting the garbage and are either dying or entering our food supply, causing a threat to humans.

Garbage patches like the one in the Indian Ocean have been found all over the world, but the largest patch is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of garbage the size of Texas! Floating halfway between Hawaii and California, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch holds an estimated 100,000 to 1 million large wood objects, including beams from houses and large pieces of timber. There have been dozens of reports about collisions with the garbage patch where boats were damaged by the floating wood.

What happened to Flight 370 is a tragedy and a mystery, but the world has been watching as another tragedy has been revealed. The environmental damage caused by the pollution in our oceans will be hard to reverse, if not impossible. While the search for the missing flight continues, people are realizing just how serious pollution is and that it’s a problem that needs to get fixed before it’s too late.