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Plastic waste in the Pacific is much more widespread than we had feared

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The vast sea of plastic waste which is floating in the Pacific Ocean is now larger than France, Germany and Spain put together. It is much larger than we had feared, and according to a study published last month, it is rapidly expanding. 

Scanning the immense accumulation of bottles, containers, fishing nets and microparticles floating in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (GPGP) -the giant vortex of waste in the North Pacific -a team of marine biologists have observed that the spread of this “ocean dustbin” is now much larger than was previously thought. “We found around 80,000 tons of plastic currently floating in the GPGP”, said Laurent Lebreton, the main author of the study, which appeared in Scientific Reports. To put this into perspective, this is 16 times the size of the plastic mass reported in previous studies.

But what really shocked the team was the number of pieces of plastic that have built up in the ocean gyre between Hawaii and California in the past number of years. The researchers noted that the ocean dump now contains around 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, which constitutes a double threat for marine life. Microplastics measuring less than 5 mm in diameter get into the food chain when they are swallowed by fish. At the end of this chain are the greatest marine predators on the planet, and humans. Remember that the pollutants contained in microplastics become more concentrated as they progress through the food chain.

“The other environmental impact comes from larger debris, particularly fishing nets”, follows the researcher. Fish, turtles, dolphins and whales are among the numerous species that end up trapped in these nets and the animals generally die from their injuries. This is referred to as “ghost fishing”.

Finally, the study estimates that eight million tons of plastic get into the ocean every year, the majority of which builds up in five large waste areas around the planet.

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