It’s a rumor that we hoped would never be confirmed: at least 1,700 miles of plastic trash is floating in what is commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Up until this point, scientists only had a vague idea of the scope of the trash they would find in the North Pacific Gyre, a vortex where four ocean currents meet. Isolated patches have been reported by sailors and fishermen, but now researchers, sailors, journalists, and government officials on a nearly four-week journey through the gyre say that plastic shards and netting abound in a space bigger than the state of Texas.
Smaller expeditions have come across the patch before, but researchers from Project Kaisei and the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) journeyed through the entire area, collecting samples the whole way. The plastic trash is difficult to visualize from satellites since much of it consists of tiny plastic flecks beneath the surface of the ocean. Among the upsetting things seen by the team: barnacles attached to plastic bottles, and crabs, sea anemones, and sponges living alongside the trash. And while the expedition covered 1,700 miles, members of the Kaisei team say the patch could be much, much larger.
Now that Scripps scientists on the Kaisei team have brought back samples, they will spend at least six months on analysis of the problem to figure out the density of debris in the ocean, sort out the types of plastic there, and determine the ecological impact on wildlife in the Pacific. Some researchers even theorize that the plastic could be recovered and turned into fuel.
Next up for the Scripps researchers: visiting the South Pacific gyre for an expedition that could yield information on an even bigger patch of garbage. The South Pacific journey will set sail either later this year or in 2010.
Via BBC News