Great Pacific Garbage Patch
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Science and Technology

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The island of plastic

WHAT IT IS

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.1

  • The GPGP is located in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California.2

  • Estimated size: 1.6 million square kilometers (617,763 square miles) containing 1.8 trillion plastic pieces.3 4

  • 46% of the total mass is made of fishing nets, also known as "ghost nets."5

WHY IT MATTERS

 

After long periods in water with exposure to sun, plastic will break down into smaller particles called microplastics.6 Not only are microplastics extremely difficult to remove from the ocean, these smaller pieces also resemble food particles for marine life and can float all the way down to the ocean floor.

 

About 53% of the GPGP is composed of microplastics.7

IMPACT ON HUMANS

Food chain

Humans are indirectly eating the toxic plastics found in the GPGP. This process is known as bioaccumulation.

toc gpgp bioaccumulation 1280The Ocean Cleanup

"Chemicals in plastics will enter the body of the animal feeding on the plastic, and as the feeder becomes prey, the chemicals will pass to the predator - making their way up the food web that includes humans."

Economy

Environmental damage from the GPGP costs about $13 billion per year. That cost accounts for beach cleanups and financial loss by fisheries.8

IMPACT ON WILDLIFE

Death

Sea animals "can be killed directly by ingesting plastics, through blockage of the intestines or through piercing of the intestinal wall,"

-Qamar Schuyler, researcher at The University of Queensland.9

 

 

Toxic

Not only does the plastic block the intestine, it is also highly toxic. 84% of plastic found had at least one Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) chemical.10

 

 

Entanglement

Fishing nets are 46% of the mass in the GPGP. These ghost nets and are near impossible for animals to swim out of once stuck.11

  • Estimated 100,000 marine animals are strangled, suffocated or injured by ghost nets each year.12

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Scientists are preparing to launch the world’s first machine to clean up half of the trash (40,000 metric tons) within 5 years.
  • According to the United Nations, over 300 million tons of plastic will be produced this year.13

  • Foresight Future of the Sea found that plastic pollution in the ocean could triple by 2050 unless a “major response” occurs. Some scientists estimate that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans will outnumber all fish.15

  • Starbucks announced it will ban all plastic straws by 2020.16

 

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • Read more about the technology that Ocean Cleanup is using.

  • Ocean Cleanup is the leading organization in the cleanup and was founded by Dutch teenager, Boyan Slat.
  • You are a player in this story. Learn more about 6 Degrees of Separation.14
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