A floating clump of garbage in the Pacific Ocean has grown to be more than twice the size of Texas, research published Thursday found. That's at least four times larger than previously thought, the researchers noted.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies between California and Hawaii and comprises at least 79,000 tons of plastic, the study found, spanning across 617,763 square miles. To track the patch's growth, researchers flew over the area and used 18 boats to survey its true size and density.
"Ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially," they concluded. Microplastics, which are tiny fragments of plastics, make up the bulk of the 1.8 trillion pieces of debris in the patch, though the number of fishing nets present has also alarmed scientists, reports The Washington Post. The nets account for at least 46 percent of the patch's mass — a concerning statistic given sea life often become entangled in them.
The size of the patch is not changing as rapidly as is the sheer amount of trash, the study noted. The patch is becoming more dense, as plastics travel from all over the world on ocean currents and settle in the Pacific.
The findings present a daunting challenge to organizations seeking to clean up the mass. The United Nations estimates that there will be more plastic waste in the world's oceans than fish by 2050 without a major reduction in single-use plastic consumption.
Read more about the research at The Guardian.