By Meenu Johnkutty ‘21
Almost two trillion pieces of plastic are currently floating in the Pacific Ocean. Nestled between Hawaii and California, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is unrivaled in size — three times the size of continental France, to be exact. New findings published by the Ocean Cleanup Foundation reveal the latest updates on the state of this plastic monstrosity, and the findings are a clear call to action.
The researchers first used a type of Hercules aircraft to examine the nature of the plastic within the dump. The aircraft was equipped with sensors that collected images and 3D scans of the garbage; aerial sensors also collected numerical data regarding the debris. After analyzing the plastic, the researchers found over 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing more than 80,000 metric tons. The team also found that contrary to previous hypotheses, 92% of the plastic was large in size, while only 8% of the mass was composed of pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in both length and width (“microplastics”). The lead author of the study, Lauren Lebreton, commented that the plastic accumulation rate has exceeded the rate of outflow since the 1970s, resulting in the exponentially increasing size of the garbage patch. Further exacerbating the situation is the projected breakdown of larger plastics into microplastics: if fish consume these microplastics, the amount of plastic toxins that humans consume in their diets will also increase.
The results of the study expose the danger of letting the plastic pollution crisis continue. The researchers hope that imminent legislation will be put into place to prevent further contamination of ocean waters with plastic debris.
- L. Lebreton, Evidence that the Great Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific Reports 8, (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-22939-w.
- Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-cup-water-drink-87383/