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'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' Spans 3.5 Million Square Kilometers, Worse Than Imagined

Oct 05, 2016 04:32 AM EDT
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The beaches of Henderson Island is littered with up to 671 items per square meter, the highest ever recorded. The trash adds up to an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic.
(Photo : Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Pacific Ocean is in bad shape as an aerial survey discovered that the floating pile of debris and micro-plastics is far vaster than initially believed.

According to a report from The Guardian, the floating mass is found between Hawaii and California, and is dubbed the "great Pacific garbage patch." It consists of mainly plastic waste, including big ones and broken down micro-plastics that can be consumed by marine animals.

Like the Great Wall of China, this unseemly patch of garbage is growing so rapidly that it's actually becoming visible from space. The heart of it is around one million square kilometers and its periphery extends further at roughly 3.5 million square kilometers. Because it is located in a rotating current, its dimensions are constantly in flux.

Boyan Slat, the founder of Ocean Cleanup, said that there were so many debris that it was impossible to record everything.

"Most of the debris was large stuff," he added. "It's a ticking time bomb because the big stuff will crumble down to micro plastics over the next few decades if we don't act."

One of Ocean Cleanups plans is to use a massive V-shaped boom, which would take advantage of the sea currents to funnel the debris into a cone. If all goes well, a prototype is expected to be tested in 2017 and deployment is set on 2020. It won't be able to magically suck up everything, though.

"We need to clean it up, but we also need to prevent so much entering the oceans," Slat explained. "Better recycling, better product design and some legislation is all part of that. We need a combination of things."

An Elle MacArthur Foundation report earlier this year revealed that about eight million tons of plastic make their way into the ocean annually - the equivalent of pouring all the contents of one garbage truck into the sea every minute. If nothing is done, the report expects more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

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