Scientists are warning that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California, is accumulating trash faster than ever and is now three times the size of France.
According to a three-year study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, the swirling pile of trash and plastic is about 1.6 million square kilometres in size.
It is the largest accumulation of trash in the ocean and researchers estimate that it could be up to 16 times bigger than previously thought.
Researchers who teamed up with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, set out to understand how big this monstrous pile of trash was. They used 30 vessels and two aircraft to survey and 3D scan the accumulation.
The fleet found discarded fishing nets and 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 80,000 tonnes, floating in the sea. Researchers believe that 92 per cent of the garbage consists of larger pieces of trash, while eight per cent contained microplastics.
“We were surprised by the amount of large plastic objects we encountered,”said Dr. Julia Reisser, chief scientist of the expeditions. “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.”
Scientists started measuring the swirling pile of trash in the 1970s. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only marine trash vortex in the world — it is just the largest.
The floating trash is linked by a convergence zone, where warm water from the South Pacific meets the cold water of the Arctic. The entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch is stuck in what is called a subtropical gyre. What that means is that the ocean currents, which are in a circular motion, draw the debris together and traps it, forming the massive pile of trash.
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“To be able to solve a problem, we believe it is essential to first understand it. These results provide us with key data to develop and test our cleanup technology, but it also underlines the urgency of dealing with the plastic pollution problem,” Boyan Slat, founder of the Ocean Cleanup and co-author of the study, said.
Researchers hope this new data will encourage people to consume and use less plastic.
“Since the results indicate that the amount of hazardous microplastics is set to increase more than tenfold if left to fragment, the time to start is now.”