Gyres are large systems of circulating ocean currents, kind of like slow-moving whirlpools. There are five gyres to be exact—the North Atlantic Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, the South Pacific Gyre, and the Indian Ocean Gyre, that have a significant impact on the ocean. The big five help drive the so-called oceanic conveyor belt that helps circulate ocean waters around the globe. While they circulate ocean waters, they’re also drawing in the pollution that we release in coastal areas, known as marine debris.
The 5 largest accumulation zones of trash in our oceans, which are formed within areas called ‘ocean gyres’, are so big they are sometimes referred to as ‘floating plastic islands’.
The circular motion of gyres draws floating debris (especially plastic) into its calm and stable center, where it then becomes trapped by the current. Once discarded items get in contact with currents, they can circulate this part of the ocean for years and years, causing irreparable damage to marine life. An example shared by the Nation Geographic regarding marine currents, described an imaginary, but realistic, voyage of a water bottle, showcasing how pollution truly is an international problem, as the oceans have no boundaries and connect us all! According to the example: “A plastic water bottle discarded off the coast of California […] takes the California Current south toward Mexico. There, it may catch the North Equatorial Current, which crosses the vast Pacific. Near the coast of Japan, the bottle may travel north on the powerful Kuroshiro Current. Finally, the bottle travels westward on the North Pacific Current.” Here, “The gently rolling vortexes of the Eastern and Western Garbage Patches gradually draw in the bottle”.