The swirling mass of garbage in the Pacific between Hawaii and California contains even more trash than researchers imagined, the Ocean Cleanup foundation says.
Known as the "great Pacific garbage patch," it's made of floating fishing nets, pieces of plastic, and other discarded items caught in rotating currents, with the center believed to be around 386,999 square miles and the periphery spanning 1,351,000 square miles. Ocean Cleanup conducted an aerial survey of the massive garbage patch, and founder Boyan Slat told The Guardian when they arrived, "we opened the door and we saw debris everywhere. Every half second you see something. So we had to take snapshots — it was impossible to record everything. It was bizarre to see that much garbage in what should be pristine ocean."
The patch is expanding so quickly the UN says it's becoming visible from space, and Slat calls it a "ticking time bomb." There are huge items that will "crumble down to micro plastics over the next few decades if we don't act," Slat warns, eventually being eaten by fish and entering the food chain. A 2014 study found more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world's oceans, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation earlier this year issued a report predicting that if something isn't done to combat the problem, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Ocean Cleanup is hoping to put an end to the problem through a V-shaped boom that uses sea currents to funnel trash into a cone. If it works, a 62-mile barrier could be put up by 2020. In the meantime, Slat says it's important to prevent plastic from ever entering the ocean: "Better recycling, better product design, and some legislation is all part of that. We need a combination of things."