The Ocean Cleanup just completed its first aerial reconnaissance scan of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to assess how serious the problem of ocean plastic has become – and the results are worse than anyone expected. At a press conference in Mountain View, California, teenage inventor, CEO and founder Boyan Slat announced that the organization spotted over 1000 large pieces of plastic debris in just 2 hours.

Aerial Expedition – Ocean Force One TourTake a tour aboard the Ocean Force One, which is set to map the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this weekend.

Posted by The Ocean Cleanup on Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Ocean Cleanup Aerial Expedition is using a modified C- 130 Hercules aircraft, finely tuned human observers, and a variety of scanning equipment based on lidar technology.

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Related: Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup takes to the air to survey the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

They reported their initial findings, confirming the expected overabundance of plastic waste between the size of .5 meter or 1.5 feet and larger in the ocean garbage patch. While the crew only flew across the northern boundary of the patch for 2.5 hours, they still spotted over one thousand items.

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Anna Schwarz, a research assistant who was sitting right next to the open door on the flight, said: “It was unbelievable, there was trash floating everywhere, as far as the eye could see”

Flight one successfully completed! Initial results will be shared at press conference Monday 11am PT. Posted by The Ocean Cleanup on Sunday, October 2, 2016

Watch the video above to get a glimpse of the first flight

Laurent Le Breton, the Modeler on aerial research team described the cumulative impression of the ocean trash in this poetic way: “It’s like looking at the night sky filled with stars. You can see them everywhere you look, with space in between all of the large chunks. When you zoom in close you can only see one at a time, but from high up in the air, they extend infinitely in every direction.”

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Ocean Cleanup’s aerial solution to gathering data on this vulnerable stretch of ocean halfway between the California Coast and Hawaii began in August of 2015 with its breakthrough Mega Expedition project, which mapped an area of 3.5 million square kilometers. The follow-up Aerial Expedition in the Pacific Ocean is the first-ever aerial survey of of an ocean garbage patch and is focusing on the largest and most harmful pieces of debris, such as Ghost Nets. Once all of the flights are completed later this week, the findings from both expeditions will be published in a peer-reviewed paper early 2017.

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a massive vortex of swirling plastic flotsam, in an area larger than the size of Texas – located about halfway between San Francisco, California and Hawaii. Floating garbage accumulates in this area due to the ocean currents, which swirl around in a vortex pattern, slowly consolidating floating garbage into the center of the gyre.

Great-Pacific-Garbage-patch

The floating trash ranges from tiny microscopic plastic particles, to water bottles, plastic forks and spoons, plastic bags, to much larger chunks that can be over 1 meter across – including discarded fishing debris such as buoys and “Ghost Nets”. “Ghost Nets” are discarded nets, often many meters in diameter, which are notorious for ensnaring both sea life and ship propellers.

+ Ocean Cleanup

Images via Ocean Cleanup