Fruitless searches for the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing three weeks ago have put a spotlight on another horror—the state of our garbage-filled oceans.
Searches for Flight 370 are focused on the southern Indian Ocean, but while possible leads on floating objects have been made, they have turned out to be debris not related to the missing Boeing.
They're just floating trash.
"To identify what it is from a passing airplane or a passing ship is very difficult," Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, which focuses its work on the plastic swirling around the five ocean gyres, told CTV's Canada AM. "There's a lot of stuff that's been out there long before this plane crashed," he said.
"In the Indian Ocean, you have cold water coming up from the southern ocean near Antarctica, coming up north along the coast of Perth and then whipping across," Eriksen explained. "In these gyres, there can be accumulations of trash coming off our coastlines, falling off of fishing vessels that get stuck in these gyres, where they'll sit for years, or decades," he said.
Wing Cmdr. Andy Scott, of New Zealand’s defense force who took part in a mission this weekend scanning the ocean for remains of the flight, said his team found several promising objects but they turned out to be unrelated objects.
"A lot of the stuff we are seeing," Scott told the Associated Press, "is basically rubbish."
So looking for the aircraft "isn't like looking for a needle in a haystack," Conservation International senior scientist M. Sanjayan told CNN. "It's like looking for a needle in a needle factory. It is one piece of debris among billions floating in the ocean."
While some objects may eventually end up on shore, others, including a lot of plastics, get sucked into the oceans' gyres, most notably the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in North Pacific Gyre, though the Indian Ocean has its own gyre and swirling garbage patch.
These plastics can accumulate toxins, be swallowed by or choke seabirds and other sea life, and hold up a mirror to the consequences of the ubiquitous material.
Research published last year showed that the plastic garbage epidemic afflicting the oceans was worsening, and that even if everyone in the world stopped putting garbage in the ocean today, giant garbage patches would continue to grow for hundreds of years."
Fabien Cousteau, ocean explorer, filmmaker and grandson of Jacques Cousteau, told MarketWatch, "It may take years to find " Flight 370, and said that the story reveals "How little [attention] we’ve paid to our oceans and how it impacts this kind of tragedy. What rules our health and our economy is our curiosity about what else lives on this planet. When it comes to the oceans, we are like the doctors of the 1800s who are just starting to learn a little bit about our own bodies."