The Great Pacific Garbage Patch seem to have 16 times more plastic than previously believed

in nature •  7 months ago

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North Pacific Ocean. This gyre has been known to host a lot of plastic due to the nature of the currents that carry plastic and other man-made objects from the shores where they are dumped, to one of the major gyres such as this one.


Not all plastic in the ocean ends up on the beach, and much of it gets stuck in a gyre. Image by epSos.de, posted with the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Despite popular belief, this "plastic island" is not really something that you can see with your eyes. It is in fact just an area in the ocean where the density of plastic waste is much higher than the rest of the ocean. New estimates suggest that there are about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in this patch, which sounds like it's plastic everywhere, but you have to keep in mind that the patch is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

What I wanted to share today is a brand new scientific article that have been looking at how much plastic that is actually found in this Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and as the title say, it's as much as 16 times more than previously believed!

How the research team measured the plastic in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

There have been many attempts to find out exactly how much plastic there is in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and up until now researchers have been hiring boats that were trawling nets that were originally used to catch plankton. These nets would be trawling behind the boat while the researchers collected their samples, and repeated many times to get a good average number.

The big problem with using these plankton nets is that while they are good for microplastic, they don't really catch buoys, plastic bottles and other waste of this size, which obviously affected the results pretty heavily. This lead to there being a lot of estimations, and the different research groups got vastly different results based on their estimations.

The new research from a group of international scientists lead by The Ocean Cleanup foundation recently attempted a different approach. They did not settle for only one boat with one net, but rather hired 18 boats and attached a total of 652 nets of different sizes to get all the differently sized plastic particles.

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A nice view of all the sites where the research team trawled nets and did aerial photos. By L. Lebreton et. al. Image is posted with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

In addition to this they conducted aircraft surveys, and used a total of 7,300 photographs to better estimate the number of large plastic particles in the region.

The sum of it all is a study that is most likely a lot more accurate than the previous studies, but the bad news is that their estimations of the mass of the plastic waste is 16 times higher than the previously agreed upon number.

A closer look at the numbers

The research gave us some interesting numbers to look at, so let's take a closer look at them.

  • There is an estimated 1,800,000,000,000 pieces of plastic in the patch. In words, this is 1.8 trillion pieces, or almost 250 pieces per human being on the planet!
  • The size of the patch is between 700,000 square kilometres and 15,000,000 square kilometres, so the density of the plastic particles is not all that high, but much higher than the rest of the ocean.


The North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. These currents bring the plastic to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Image is Public Domain.

  • Over 99.9 % of the trash in the patch is made up from plastic polymers, so plastic really is the biggest perpetrator.
  • Microplastics make up over 94 % of the plastic pieces, but only account for 8 % of the total mass of the plastic.
  • Megaplastics (5cm+) is responsible for 75 % of the mass, with the intermediates accounting for the rest.
  • A pieces of plastic that was inspected by the research team during the study was found to be from 1977, which shows how long it takes for it to degrade naturally!

Will The Ocean Cleanup foundation be able to clean up the patch?

The Ocean Cleanup foundation got bigger plans than just estimating the mass of the patch - they also want to clean it up! This is a huge favor to the marine life in the North Pacific Ocean, and pretty much all humans on earth who enjoys having a healthy ocean, and their goal is to clean up 50 % of the patch within the next five years.

This is a huge undertaking, and hope to raise $370 million in from corporations to finance the cleanup. This project sounds a little bit too optimistic to me, but I hope to be proven wrong about my skepticism!

Thanks for reading

The entire scientific article is available for free, so check if out if you're like my and loves to see the original sources for yourself.

About @valth

Hey, I'm @valth - the author of this post. I love to write about nature, biology, animals, nature conservation, ecology and other related branches of science, and I occasionally write about my life, about Steem or about random stuff as well. I'm trying my best to write at least one post every day, so make sure to give me a follow if you enjoy my content and want to see more of it.

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Hi @Valth
I have read about The ocean clean up project. Didn't they adapt an ide that a young guy from The Netherlands came up with and were a plan to build a lot of huge "plastic traps" and send them out in the ocean to circle around and collect floating plastic? Think they was planed to be out in 6 months at the time before being emptied and then sendt out on another 6 months period.

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Hey @gyldenhorn.

Yes, you remember correctly :) I think the technology has change a bit since their inception, but they still have big plans to clean up all the plastic. I just hope they are able to get the funding they need to test it out.

This issue really is alarming but seems like our governments are not doing something about this. They are more busy with wars and more exploitation. This issue is not juat an issue by the way. This is reality.

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I think a lot of the problem behind this is that no single government owns the area where the plastic waste is located, so they expect someone else to fix the problem.

It does sound optimistic but it's worth a try. I hope they'll be able to do what they claim

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Yeah, I hope so as well :)

The Ocean Cleanup foundation be not able to clean up
the patch alone...We can take several steps to prevent
plastic pollution..I think, At first we We must be aware
of plastic patch ...Than said to Others have to be aware of this.

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Yeah, awareness is a good thing, but we also need to take action to remove all these trillions of plastic pieces that we have already thrown away. I believe that we need both awareness and action if we ever want to save the ocean.

U write this awarness post just bcz its EARTH DAY today?
Naa then this not going to sort out this issue.. We need to work individually on this problem.. Public awarenes time to time can work.This is common issue everywhere.. I think we must start from us and work sincencerly on this..

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U write this awarness post just bcz its EARTH DAY today?

I try to write these types of awareness posts pretty often actually, because plastic is a huge problem for the entire world, so I'm doing my best to tell people about the issues ;)

There is enrmous amount of garbage and plastic in world and ocean and it could be of benefit and can be harmful. But its upto us how to use it . Wether in useful manner or just to waste. It can be recycled . Research team have done a great job. Impressive article.

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Yeah, it's way too much plastic out there! We really need to solve this in one way or another.

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Yes exactly

How selfish and stupid we human beings are, aint we know what goes around comes around.

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Hehe, yeah, that's true.

There is an estimated 1,800,000,000,000 pieces of plastic in the patch. In words, this is 1.8 trillion pieces, or almost 250 pieces per human being on the planet!
My God how careless and selfish are we, we humans only care about ourselves not about the Mother Earth, who sustains us by the will of God. Who dumps this much of plastic at a single place, where are the fuckin recycling plants? , don't they work anymore? , are they even practical? or they are just mentioned on our text books which we read when we are at primary schools. If action isn't took immediately our future generations will suffer a lot.

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I agree with your saying

the degrading environment and efforts that can be made to curb it has always fascinated me. I recently made a post about how bioremediation can be used to do a biological clean up.
But what about these plastic dumps you just highlighted? As one of my commenters said, lack of awareness is the first thing killing our environment.
As much as the Ocean Cleanup Foundation tries, so long as companies and people keep dumping waste with no thought to the consequences, it will be like pouring water into a basket.

Thats really bad stuff to dirty the atmoshpere

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Yes, but I don't think the plastic from the ocean will ever reach the atmosphere.

Great article @valph as always highlighting such a huge environmental issue that needs addressing urgently 😊

Hey @valth,
Sorry to reach you here. But I love your posts, and you probably know that I also love green-tech and environment.

I think that the community on Steemit is not involved. So I thought it would be cool to create a server under Discord to discuss and share about the environment. There is absolutely nobody on the server (just launched it), but everybody is Welcome! https://discord.gg/4wgsv6u

Despite popular belief, this "plastic island" is not really something that you can see with your eyes.

There are quite a few of macroplastics in this patch that can actually be seen with our eyes, just the majority is microplastics.

Very informative post and glad someone posted about this topic (the paper you mentioned in particular). I was going to talk about this subject a bit more in-depth since my previous rant but you hit everything I was going to do.

This is a huge favor to the marine life in the North Pacific Ocean, and pretty much all humans on earth who enjoys having a healthy ocean, and their goal is to clean up 50 % of the patch within the next five years.

Well,let's just stay positive though. This is a great project which aims to help our marine life and of course us. This just proves that we need to start changing for our environment. Great article! @valth 🌸
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incredible pieces of plastic a lot of friends.

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Sure :)

16 times more than the estimates....that was expected, wasn't it...given they way we human do things...
I sincerely hope that The Ocean Cleanup foundation manage to collect 50% of the garbage but its a huge task...I think even if they succeeded in cleaning even the 25% of the debris, that would still be remarkable!!!

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The writers like you need the steemit community. By doing so you can succeed in providing us very good information. I am proud that I am part of this society. I read every article you need. And indeed I responded very much to you and your articles.

I know you can climb the highest mountains. Never lose faith in yourself. Good luck!

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Thanks :)