The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is still going strong. However, search teams have been encountering a rather tricky predicament: large amounts of ocean garbage.
Despite the fact that a number of countries and organizations have sent out search parties for the missing plane, the search efforts have been slow and tedious. Searchers are hoping to find parts of the plane to help narrow its location but given the size of the search area, it's like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Aside from attempting to cover a large swathe of ocean, the search teams also need to deal with various pieces of garbage floating on the ocean. Since these floating pieces of debris can easily be misidentified as part of the missing plane, the searchers have more difficult times ahead.
"The ocean is like a plastic soup, bulked up with the croutons of these larger items," Los Angeles captain Charles Moore said to the Associated Press (AP). "It's like a toilet bowl that swirls but doesn't flush." Moore is an environmentalist who is known for making the public aware of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a large swathe of ocean littered with countless bits and pieces of garbage and debris.
When thinking about ocean garbage, flotsam and jetsam is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, these large ocean garbage patches are actually made up of very small pieces of plastic. While all of these little plastic pieces came from cities and coastal areas, many of large pieces of debris are from the fishing industry. While less common, a wide variety of other pieces of garbage can also be seen. This can be anything from floating toilet seats to old light bulbs.
"It takes 400 or 500 years for lots of types of plastics to completely break down," Australian researcher Denise Hardesty told the AP. "It just goes into smaller and smaller bits. You even find plastics in plankton - that's how small it gets."
Ocean garbage is one of the biggest environmental problems today. Aside from making things extra difficult for the teams searching for MH370, these pollutants an also wreak havoc on marine life. Little pieces of plastic can easily be ingested by fishes, whales and even marine birds.
Search teams are currently looking for the plane in a 123,000 square mile area. While the current area is closer to the shores than previous search areas, the deepest part of the area is around 19,000 feet deep. The ocean floor in this part of the Indian Ocean is also covered with a thick and murky layer of dead plankton. On the surface, ocean garbage continues to make the search more difficult and time consuming.
"From my experience, it can be quite a roller coaster," said Wing Cmdr. Andy Scott from the New Zealand Defense Force. "You sight these search objects, and think you've made a breakthrough, and then you have to get back to your routine."