Gyres in the Great Lakes?
Which came first, the gyre or the “plastic islands” in the world’s oceans?
Actually, gyres came first – gyres being rotating ocean currents caused by natural forces. Prior to the invention of plastic, you were probably an oceanologist if you ever used the word gyre or knew what it meant. The word has now become mainstream for environmentalists concerned about how these currents concentrate floating plastic debris into what they describe as plastic islands.
It’s easy to see how this could happen. Some plastic floats. Many plastics take decades or longer to decompose.
People accidentally or intentionally put plastic stuff in the ocean where it’s swept along by natural forces, eventually concentrating in these far offshore whirlpools. Calling these plastics-laden gyres “islands” is a bit of a stretch, but it does highlight the problem of mass amounts of plastic trash floating about in the world’s seas.
Waters in the Great Lakes sometimes react to natural forces similarly to waters in the oceans. Could gyres exist in bodies of water the size of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan or the other Great Lakes? If so, are there plastic islands building far offshore in the upper Midwest’s inland seas?
Researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology say no to the existence of Great Lakes gyres and plastic islands. That doesn’t mean there’s not a problem. The RIT plastic-sniffers claim around 22 millions pounds of plastic debris end up in the Great Lakes each year – half of it in Lake Michigan, the remaining four lakes sharing the rest.
Gyre-like conditions can exist to concentrate and trap floating plastic crap from time to time but these are not permanent nor persistent in the Great Lakes. Most of the material just drifts with the wind, eventually washing ashore on the downwind side of the lake.
With the prevailing westerlies across the Great Lakes, most of Milwaukee’s misplaced plastic trash ends up on Michigan beaches. Jetsam originating near Algoma often ends up in Canada.
Plastic is wonderful stuff. The world is a better place because of it. Use it well, dispose of it properly.