A new study has found the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to be 4 to 16 times larger than previously estimated, and it is still accumulating more and more garbage.
Larger Than Before
The study published in Scientific Reports shows that the garbage patch is now made up of 79,000 tons of plastic debris. About 94 percent of the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the patch are microplastics.
The researchers were able to get a better picture of the size of the debris patch by using two planes and 18 boats.
Debris that make up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch includes tiny flecks of plastic and discarded fishing nets. The nets alone make up 46 percent of the plastics found in the area. These ghost nets are proof of a large amount of fishing debris in the ocean, which can cause sea life to become entangled in the nets. The rest are from other fishing industry gear such as ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates, and baskets.
The study further shows that while the mass of material accumulating in the area is increasing, the size of the patch isn't changing. More and more plastics are finding their way to the patch and gathering in the area. It is now three times the size of France.
Researchers estimate that most of the accumulating material are coming from Pacific countries. They also suggest that some of the material came from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, which washed out waste into the ocean.
History Of The Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is considered the largest accumulation of garbage composed of marine debris in the Northern Pacific Ocean. It was discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore while sailing through the debris on his way home to Los Angeles.
There have been claims that the patch could be seen from space, which is not true according to the National Ocean Service. Even if someone were to sail through the area, it would very difficult to see the patch or even the plastics floating in the area as they are not immediately visible to the naked eye.
The reason for such a large amount of plastic remaining in the garbage patch is because some material doesn't decompose. To clean up the garbage patch, some companies have suggested dredging the area with nets and turning the material over to recycling companies. While this would clean up the area, it could potentially capture sea life in the process.