Livia Albeck-Ripka, THE NEW YORK TIMES
In the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, hundreds of miles from any major city, plastic bottles, children’s toys, broken electronics, abandoned fishing nets and millions more fragments of debris are floating in the water — at least 87,000 tons’ worth, researchers said Thursday.
In recent years, this notorious mess has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling oceanic graveyard where everyday objects get deposited by the currents. The plastics eventually disintegrate into tiny particles that often get eaten by fish and may ultimately enter our food chain.
A study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports quantified the full extent of the so-called garbage patch: It is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought, occupying an area roughly four times the size of California and comprising an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of rubbish. While the patch was once thought to be more akin to a soup of nearly invisible microplastics, scientists now think most of the trash consists of larger pieces. And, they say, it is growing “exponentially.”
“It’s just quite alarming, because you are so far from the mainland,” said Laurent Lebreton, the lead author of the study and an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a nonprofit that is developing systems to remove ocean trash and which funded the study. “There’s no one around and you still see those common objects, like crates and bottles.”