Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The North Pacific Garbage Patch

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Pollution, Sustainability, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

I suspect that many of us, if asked, about common materials in that great patch of garbage in the northern Pacific (known as the North Pacific Garbage Patch) would say common household plastic items - straws, containers, shoes, those famous duckies, small crates, etc. The patch was discovered in 1997 and has been monitored since. It has grown.

Freda Kreier, reporting on a new study of the patch for the journal Nature writes that the research found that "Fishing gear from just five regions could account for most of the floating plastic debris in the ‘North Pacific garbage patch’, a vast swathe of the North Pacific Ocean.. 

"The  just published research (Scientific Reports) "found that as much as 86% of the large pieces of floating plastic in the garbage patch are items that were abandoned, lost or discarded by fishing vessels. The finding is counterintuitive...." 

The researchers were surprised because as Kreier reports, what was "notably absent from the debris was plastic from nations with lots of plastic pollution in their rivers..." long "thought to be the source of most ocean plastic. Instead, most of the garbage-patch plastic seemed to have been dumped into the ocean directly by passing ships."

This suggests, said Matthias Egger of The Ocean Cleanup  that “'plastic emitted from land tends to accumulate along coastal areas, while plastic lost at sea has a high chance of accumulating in ocean garbage patches'".  The research "indicates that fishing — spearheaded by the five countries and territories identified in the study — is the main source of plastic in the North Pacific garbage patch."

Kreier includes a map of the area as well as a very useful and compact data chart and, of course, a link to the original paper. I include a link to the 11 page PDF of the original which you may want to look at, especially the abstract and the discussion as well as the figures.

Numbers on the map are reported in metric units so for reference: 2000km = ~ 1243 miles; 1.6 sq. km. =  ~ 0.62 sq. mi.; 80,000 tonnes = ~ 88,185 US tons

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