According to a three-year study published in Scientific Reports Friday, the patch known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about 1.6 million square kilometers in size — up to 16 times bigger than previous estimates.
According to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program:
“The debris is continuously mixed by wind and wave action and widely dispersed both over huge surface areas and throughout the top portion of the water column. It is possible to sail through the “garbage patch” area and see very little or no debris on the water’s surface. It is also difficult to estimate the size of these “patches,” because the borders and content constantly change with ocean currents and winds. Regardless of the exact size, mass, and location of the “garbage patch,” manmade debris does not belong in our oceans and waterways and must be addressed.”
Ghost nets, or discarded fishing nets, make up almost half the 80,000 metric tons of garbage floating at sea, and the researchers believe that around 20% of the total volume of trash is debris from the Japanese tsunami in 2011.
The study utilized two aircraft surveys and 30 vessels to cross the debris field, and the team was made up with international scientists, university’s and the Ocean Cleanup Project.
Along with nets to survey and collect trash, researchers also used two six-meter-wide devices to help measure medium to large-sized objects. An aircraft was also equipped with advanced sensors to be able to collect 3D scans of the ocean garbage. They ended up collecting a total of 1.2 million plastic samples and scanned more than 300 square kilometers of ocean surface.
The bulk of the pile is made up of larger objects while only 8% of the mass is microplastics, or pieces smaller than 5 millimeters in size.
“We were surprised by the amount of large plastic objects we encountered,” Chief Scientist Julia Reisser said in a statement.
“We used to think most of the debris consists of small fragments, but this new analysis shines a new light on the scope of the debris.
In the Fall of 2017, groups of environmentalists called on the United Nations to declare the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a country, called “The Trash Isles,” complete with its own passport and currency, called debris.
They reached out to nearly 200,000 people to become citizens, including celebrities Their first citizen to take the offer was former US vice president and environmentalist Al Gore.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered in 1997 by oceanographer Charles Moore when he sailed home to Southern California after finishing the Transpacific Yacht Race, from California to Hawaii.
“I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic,” wrote Moore about his discovery in Natural History.
“In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.”