The Great Garbage Patch is an island of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific, between Hawaii and California. A study shows how it continues to grow.
Ocean plastic can persist in the surface waters of the sea, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world's oceans. But the largest patch is the one in the Pacific, between Hawaii and California.
This area of garbage is often described as a mass or an island, although in reality it is an area with a large concentration of plastic that increases as one approaches its center.
The study characterized and quantified an important area of oceanic plastic accumulation formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).
The model, calibrated with data from studies from multiple ships and aircraft, predicted that at least 79 (45–129) thousands of tons of ocean plastic are floating within an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported.
More than three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was made up of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass, but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1–3.6) billion pieces floating in the area.
The plastic collected during the study has specific characteristics, such as a small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the ability to persist and accumulate on the surface of the GPGP.
“The concentration of plastic is increasing exponentially. I think the situation is getting worse, ”said Laurent Lebreton, lead author of The Ocean Cleanup Foundation study in Deltf, the Netherlands.
"This highlights the urgency of taking measures to stop the arrival of plastics in the ocean and to clean up the existing mess."
The researchers used boats and planes to map this area in the northern Pacific Ocean, where rotating currents and winds converge marine debris, including plastic, algae and plankton.
Erik van Sebille, from the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, commented that "Although the estimates have an uncertain range, they speak of an overwhelming amount of plastic."
"And they also discovered that the island is moving more than expected."
What the study found
► Plastics make up 99.9% of all waste in this part of the ocean.
►At least 46% of the plastics are fishing nets and more than three-quarters of the plastics were pieces larger than 5 cm, including hard plastics, plastic sheets, and plastic film.
►Although most of the waste was broken into fragments, they observed a small number of objects: containers, bottles, lids, packing tapes, ropes and fishing nets.
►The production date could be read on 50 objects: one was from 1977, seven from the 80s, 17 from the 90s, 24 from the 2000s and one from 2010.
►Only a certain type of trash was thick enough to float and remained in place, such as common plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene, which are used in packaging.
Every year millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean. Some pieces end up in the great circulation systems of ocean currents, which are known as gyres.
Once caught in the twists, the plastics crumble and become microplastics, and this is how they can become ingested by sea creatures.
The study's message is clear, says Laurent Lebreton.
"It all goes back to how we use plastic," he explains.
“We cannot get rid of plastics. In my opinion they are very useful, in medicine, transportation and construction. But I think we must change the way we use them, especially those that are used only once and objects that have a very short useful life.