The Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Haiti is much larger than we think. In
fact, scientists say it stretches over an area more than double the size of Texas. More than
previously thought, research found that it’s 4 to 16 greater in size than past estimates according
to Nature Scientific Reports.
Scientists state there are 79,000 tons of plastic in this patch. One of these such scientists,
Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead researcher in the Ocean Cleanup Foundation
describes the view of the patch:
“You start to see one debris, two debris, three debris and so on,” he tells NPR. “Oh, there’s a
crate, oh, there’s a buoy, oh, there’s a bottle. And it’s crazy because there’s nothing else
around. There’s no land mass, there’s no humans, there’s nothing.”
Laurent’s team took more than 7,000 aerial photographs of the patch. This aerial method
performed is said to have been better in comparison to those previously taken from boats. “We
realized by doing this that the overall stark estimate was much bigger than what we thought
already,” Laurent says to NPR reporters.
After trawling for trash samples, the research team discovered that three-quarters of the pile’s
mass are more than five centimeters. Nearly half of it was made up of fishing nets. Lebreton
estimated that they’ve found 1.8 trillion pieces floating in the area. What’s most concerning,
however, are smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics, which can be ingested by animals
and thus can work their way up the food chain.
What could be the reason for all this trash? With the research produced by Laurent’s team, the
tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 could be partially responsible. The biggest clues would be the
logos and other such labels on the bottles and other plastic items that have added themselves
to the patch. Thirty percent of these items have and are continuing to come from Japan.
The biggest answer of why this keeps happening and how, is because of the earth’s rotation.
The rotation builds water circulation around the equator that builds up clockwise currents in the
area of the Pacific ocean. However, researchers say that not all plastic can travel like this. The plastic must be buoyant enough that it floats on the surface. Not all plastic can achieve such
buoyancy. Lebreton expects to find these missing pieces of plastic sunk or sinking right on the
seabed, and in the gyre, which is a flat trash pancake.
Nick Mallos, the director of the Ocean Conservancy Trash Free Seas Program said that
“there’s a lot of pathways along the way, whether it’s sinking into sediment, whether it’s being ingested by marine organisms, whether it is actually being spit out onto the beaches.”
The best way to fix this problem, Nick adds, would be “cut off the source” which is finding where
the trash is coming from and reaches the trash patch. When the source is cut off, only then can
we begin to fix the trillion pound mass of trash in the pacific region. We’d be able to permanently
take care of what’s out there.
Joseph Frare is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.