Great Pacific Garbage Patch now twice the size of Texas
Wednesday, April 04, 2018
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch that so many of us have heard about in recent years is much bigger than previously thought. In fact it's estimated to be more than twice the size of Texas and at least three times the size of France. The garbage patch is a "floating" island that surpasses more than 600,000 square miles, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.
As large as it is, it’s still growing, with little in the way of stopping it.
Some have called it a garbage dump, and it’s living up to the name. Nearly two years ago environmentalists said there was cause for concern after a team of researchers from the Ocean Cleanup Foundation surveyed the vortex of trash between California and Hawaii. Per reports, they spotted chunks of plastic glued together measuring more than a yard.
It’s a "ticking time bomb because the big stuff will crumble down to micro-plastics over the next few decades if we don’t act," Boyan Slat, founder of Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that helps remove pollution from the world's oceans, told Newser in 2016.
The size of the trash pile has nearly doubled in size since it was measured in 2016, but its low density prevents detection by satellite imagery. It’s estimated to contain a minimum of 79,000 tons of plastic, or four to 16 times higher than previously reported. Researchers said they collected more than 1.2 million samples during a multivessel expedition in October 2017, a year after the 2016 test.
The garbage patch floating out there is also known as a vortex — a whirl of marine debris particles — discovered between 1985 and 1988. The patch is made of plastic, chemical sludge and other debris that has been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It is also made up of bottles, ropes, plastic bags and buoys; fishing nets were overwhelmingly present.
"We were surprised by the amount of large plastic objects we encountered," Dr. Julia Reisser, the chief scientist of the expeditions, said in a statement. "We used to think most of the debris consists of small fragments, but this new analysis shines a new light on the scope of the debris."
What's the obvious takeaway from this news? The patch is growing, and more plastic is entering the environment than is being taken out of it. That’s discouraging.
In other words, the findings were "depressing to see," Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead author of the study, told The Guardian. "There were things you just wondered how they made it into the ocean," adding that the group even found a toilet seat discarded into the sea.
"We need a coordinated international effort to rethink and redesign the way we use plastics," he said. "The numbers speak for themselves. Things are getting worse and we need to act now."
Given the growing size of the patch, there probably needs to be more than just an effort, but a full-force culture change. Because there is worse news: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn't the only accumulation of debris in the world's oceans. There are four other areas known as gyres, located in the South Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the North and South Atlantic Ocean.
"Since the marine debris issue is caused by humans, we can make great strides in turning this problem around," Nancy Wallace, the director of the NOAA's Marine Debris Program, told NBC News. "We need to focus on generating less waste and stopping the flow of debris into our waterways and ocean.
"This will take significant effort, but awareness around this issue is growing, and people are willing to make changes to make an impact."
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