Science and Technology

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The island of plastic

shutterstock 556842991


  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. [The Ocean Cleanup]
  • The GPGP is located in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California. [NatGeo]

  • Estimated size: 1.6 million square kilometers (617,763 square miles) [Nature], containing 1.8 trillion plastic pieces. [CNN]

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




After long periods in water with exposure to sun, plastic will break down into smaller particles called microplastics. [NOAA] Not only are microplastics extremely difficult to remove from the ocean, but 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. [The Ocean Cleanup]


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."


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



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. [The Washington Post]




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. [The Ocean Cleanup]




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. [The Washington Post]

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


  • 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. [The New York Times]

  • 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. [The Washington Post]

  • Starbucks announced it will ban all plastic straws by 2020. [NPR]

Key Vocabulary