Most divers know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of up to 5 million square miles north of Hawaii, which holds an estimated 100,000 plastic particles per kilometer. The plastic was drawn there by the North Pacific Gyre, formed by four prevailing ocean currents and moving in a clockwise circular pattern. Rotating currents draw in — and keep the gigantic field of floating plastic, much of it in the form of microplastic — in place, spinning endlessly. Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Research Foundation discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997 and now he’s found another one in the South Pacific.
Scientists discover second Pacific garbage patch
Charles Moore and a group of researchers set out in late 2016 to investigate plastic pollution off Chile’s coastline. What they found was sobering. During the expedition, they discovered a field of plastic debris measuring an estimated million square miles, around 1.5 times the size of Texas. Plastic in this second patch is also trapped in a gyre, much like the plastic in the previously known patch. Plastic in the new patch is mostly in the form of microplastics, tiny pieces of broken-down material that are hard to clean up due to their miniscule size. “This cloud of microplastics extends both vertically and horizontally,” said marine pollution scientist Marcus Eriksen to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s more like smog than a patch.”
Plastic use has exploded in the last few decades, with up to 80 percent of the marine debris originating on land. After discovering the first garbage patch in 1997, Moore conducted a study in 1999, which found that the dry weight of plankton in the garbage patch outweighed plastic by six times. By 2008, plastic outweighed plankton density by 46 to one. The best way to prevent plastic from entering the ocean is not to use it in the first place, as once it’s in the ocean it is difficult — if not impossible — to clean up. Dutch inventor Boyan Slat came up with one potential way to address the problem in 2014 — stay tuned for an update on his progress.