A team of scientists led by oceanographer Charles Moore — the same man who also helped draw attention to the famous Great Pacific garbage patch in the northern part of the ocean in the late ’90s — has discovered a second garbage patch made of mostly plastic debris in a largely unstudied section of the ocean.
“We discovered tremendous quantities of plastic,” Moore told ResearchGate. “My initial impression is that our samples compared to what we’re seeing in the North Pacific in 2007, so it’s about ten years behind.”
The latest patch was discovered as Moore and his team of volunteer researchers, from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, sailed around Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island on a six-month trip.
Garbage patches like the two Moore has discovered happen when trash gets sucked in to gyres, or circular ocean currents. The circular motion of the gyre draws in debris to its calm and stable center, where it then becomes trapped.
The newly discovered South Pacific patch is comprised of extremely tiny pieces of plastic that are smaller than grains of rice and nearly invisible to the eye.
The South Pacific gyre was previously studied by marine pollution researcher Marcus Eriksen in 2011, though at the time, he saw very little debris.
In the six years since, tens of millions of tons of plastic are thought to have descended upon the oceans of the world.
“There’s very little information on plastic in the South Pacific,” oceanographer Erik van Sebille told ResearchGate. “Hardly anybody goes there, and it’s really very poorly studied.”
The plastic particles are smaller than grains of rice.
(Charles James Moore via researchgate.net)
Sebille is currently working on a project to help track the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean, but was not involved in Moore’s trip.
The patches pose a problem not only because of their size, but because they’re nearly impossible to clean up.
For starters, the patches’ locations in the middle of the ocean prevent any country from laying claim to them, not that any would want to — committing to cleaning a patch would likely “bankrupt any country” who tried, according to National Geographic. Additionally, attempts to clean the patches with nets would fail because the nets would also scoop up small animals.
The only solution is preventing them from the get-go, says Eriksen.
“Gone are the silly notions that you can put nets in the ocean and solve the problem,” he said. “This cloud of microplastics extends both vertically and horizontally. It’s more like smog than a patch. We’re making tremendous progress to clean up smog over our cities by stopping the source. We have to do the same for our seas.”
Moore and his crew returned from their trip in May, and are still processing their debris samples, but the captain said he was more than ready to share at least some of his findings.
“There’s a sense of urgency to get information out about this area, because it’s being destroyed at an enormously accelerated rate,” he said.
Source: Ny Daily News