The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Now Twice the Size of Texas
A new report published in Nature Magazine’s Scientific Report suggests that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, originally studied in 2015, has rapidly increased in size and now consists of up to 16 times the amount of trash compared to previous estimates.
The report is based on a new analysis conducted by a team of international scientists using a three-year mapping survey. Spanning about 1.6 million square kilometers (617,763 square miles), the new estimate on the size of the garbage patch means that it has grown to about twice the size of Texas and about three times the size of France.
Located roughly halfway between California and Hawaii, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is essentially a large area of floating trash and debris. According to the report, it is comprised of about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, along with other forms of debris, weighing a total of 90,000 tons. Despite the large amount of area it takes up, the low density of the garbage patch means that it can’t be discerned through satellite imaging.
The study’s researchers also sent out a team of 30 vessels to sample the garbage patch in order to determine its nature. They discovered that of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, microplastics, or pieces that measure less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) in size, make up about 94% of the garbage patch while larger pieces make up about 6%. However, when measuring using tonnage, 92% of the mass of the debris comes from large materials while only about 8% comes from microplastics.
Researchers have found that about half of the debris consists of abandoned fishing gears and equipments rather than their initial prediction of about 20%. The remainder consists mainly of consumer-produced trash and plastic. They also estimate that about 20% of the garbage patch consists of materials that were washed into the ocean due to the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Originally, researchers had actually expected to find more trash and plastic due to the fact that about 8 million tons of plastic go into the ocean every year. They posit that much of the plastic sinks to the seabed or is consumed by marine organisms. The latter is of much concern due to consumed plastic moving up the food chain, eventually onto our plates.
Organizations like Ocean Cleanup is using this new study to better understand the garbage patch and update its cleanup technology. The group is currently testing a new technology that would locate, concentrate, and transport the debris back onto land.