By area, France is the second largest country in Europe – when you take into account its overseas departments. A sprawling 643,801km2, only the vastness of Russia tops it. In comparison to the States, it is roughly the same size as Texas.
Now, imagine that landmass, but tripled in size. Then, imagine an object of that size afloat in the Pacific Ocean. And now imagine that mass is made up of a growing hoard of marine litter and debris – and right there, is the Great Pacific Garbage patch, an enormous trash “island” that has just been estimated as up to 16 times larger than first anticipated. And if that fact does not imbue a spur to action within you, then it’s unclear what will.
Over the past few months, you’ve probably noticed a huge global push calling for the eradication of single use plastic. And the new findings over the size of this trash patch has heightened the alarm that the world’s oceans are being choked by millions of pieces of plastic.
The research has been published in scientific reports that this sprawling glob of detritus is now 1.6 million square kms and contains at least 79,000 tonnes of plastic. The analysis was conducted by boat and air surveys and found the make up of the patch is almost exclusively plastic – and what’s worse is that it’s size is growing, exponentially. In fact, it is microplastics that make up the bulk of the mass – which are being kept in a rough formation by an ocean gyre.
“I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” Laurent Lebreton told the Guardian. Laurent’s an oceanographer and lead author of the study.
“There were things you just wondered how they made it into the ocean. There’s clearly an increasing influx of plastic into the garbage patch.
“We need a coordinated international effort to rethink and redesign the way we use plastics. The numbers speak for themselves. Things are getting worse and we need to act now.”
Lebreton also works for the Ocean Cleanup, a group dedicated to tackling the rubbish nation. They’re currently developing large floating barriers that can capture plastics in an area. But the downfall is that it cannot yet scoop up the tiny microplastics.
Cover shot by Konbini