The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Has Sixteen Times More Garbage Than Previously Thought

For the last three years, researchers from Ocean Cleanup have been surveying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), mapping the entire region in the most detailed analysis ever done.

What they found is that the GPGP contains sixteen times more trash and plastic than previously believed and that number will continue to grow. The patch, which is roughly halfway between the United States and Hawaii, contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing in at roughly 88,000 tons, and covering an area of 618,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers).

The study, published in Nature, found that there are more large pieces of plastic drifting in the GPGP than originally thought but the majority of it is made up of microplastics measuring less than 0.5 millimeters in size.

By comparing the amount of microplastics with historical measurements of the GPGP, the team found that plastic pollution levels within the GPGP have been growing exponentially since measurements began in the 1970s.

“Although it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions on the persistence of plastic pollution in the GPGP yet, this plastic accumulation rate inside the GPGP, which was greater than in the surrounding waters, indicates that the inflow of plastic into the patch continues to exceed the outflow,” explains Laurent Lebreton, who led the study.

Most of the plastic comes from ships passing through, beach litter, or trash swept up into rivers, eventually leading to the ocean. The patters of currents in the Pacific allow for the trash to get swept up fro shallower waters and pushed towards the center of the Pacific, where it is kept in place by the gyres circular current.

Since the patch was discovered, countries have pledged to reduce and cut back on the use of plastic and help solve pollution but the exponential growth that has been recorded in the GPGP, it is clear that very little is being done by governments.

Ocean Cleanup is currently in the testing phases of their new large floating barriers with underwater screens that will scoop up trash. A full scale deployment of their systems is expected to clean-up 50% of the GPGP within five years.

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