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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.
Oceanic plastic can persist in the surface waters of the sea, and eventually accumulate in remote areas of the world’s oceans but the biggest spot is the one in the Pacific, between Hawaii and California.
This garbage area 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 survey data from multiple ships and aircraft, predicted that at least 79 (45-129) thousand tons of oceanic plastic are floating within an area of 1.6 million km 2 ; a figure of four to sixteen times higher than that reported previously.
More than three quarters of the mass of GPGP was transported by debris of more than 5 cm and at least 46% was composed of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass, but 94% of the 1.8 (1.1-3.6) trillion estimated pieces that floated in the area.
The plastic collected during the study has specific characteristics, such as a small surface-volume ratio, which indicates that only certain types of waste have the ability to persist and accumulate on the surface of the GPGP.
The specialists warn
“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 disaster.”
Researchers used boats and planes to map this area in the northern Pacific Ocean, where rotating currents and winds cause marine debris to converge, including plastic, algae and plankton.
Erik van Sebille, of 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 what was expected.”
What the study discovered
► 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 of more than 5 cm, including hard plastics, plastic sheets and plastic film.
►Although the majority of the waste was shredded into fragments, they observed a small number of objects: containers, bottles, lids, packaging tapes, ropes and fishing nets.
►In 50 objects the production date could be read: one was from 1977, seven from the 80s, 17 from the 90s, 24 from the 2000s and one from 2010.
► Only one type of garbage was thick enough to float and remained in place, such as common plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene, which are used in packaging.
Each year, millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean. Some pieces end up in the great circulation systems of the ocean currents, which are known as turns.
Once they get caught in the twists, the plastics crumble and become microplastics, and that’s how they can be ingested by sea creatures.
The message of the study is clear, says Laurent Lebreton.
“Everything goes back to how we use plastic,” he explains.
“We can not get rid of plastics. In my opinion they are very useful, in medicine, transport and construction. But I think we should change the way we use them, especially those that are used only once and objects that have a very short lifespan. “