New Research Shows The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 3 Times the Size of France

New research published yesterday shows The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing exponentially and now covers 618,000 square miles of deep ocean, making it 3 times the size of France. This is four to 16 times larger than previous estimates. 

Leading the research was a team of scientists from The Ocean Cleanup, a PPC member organization, whose aim is to conduct a large-scale cleanup of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“It is important to quantify it, to understand it and to monitor it to see how it has moved over time,” Laurent Lebreton, a French scientist and lead author of the study, told The San Francisco Chronicle. “Marine life is eating that, so all of this is going up the food chain … and ending up on our plates in some aspect.”

Founder of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat, has said the solution to the global plastic pollution problem cannot only be cleanup: “We’re pleased to see how many initiatives have been taken in the past few years to raise awareness of the ocean pollution problem. However, for our work in the deep ocean to succeed in the long run, it’s crucial that governments and other organizations speed up their efforts to mitigate the sources of the problem we aim to resolve.”

Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition said: “We commend The Ocean Cleanup for the work they are doing to quantify and measure plastic pollution in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Cleanup alone cannot solve the problem, but cleanup coupled with source reduction, stopping the flow of plastic into our environment, can and will lead us to a world free of plastic pollution.”

Photo: Some of plastic collected in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo by The Ocean Cleanup. 

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Researchers from The Ocean Cleanup published the first estimate of plastic emissions from rivers into the world’s oceans on June 7. In a piece for Nature Communications, researchers calculated that rivers annually transport between 1.15 and 2.41 million metric tons of plastic waste into our oceans.

“Two-thirds of this input comes from the 20 most polluting rivers, most of which are located on the Asian continent,” writes The Ocean Cleanup in a press release. “The distribution of plastic in the oceans can only be mapped if the main sources of plastic pollution are known. By pinpointing these sources, The Ocean Cleanup can target the best possible locations in the ocean for the deployment of its cleanup systems. Additionally, knowledge about the sources of plastic pollution can aid prevention efforts.

Check out the interactive map illustrating the flow of plastics from rivers to the oceans.

We’re pleased to see how many initiatives have been taken in the past few years to raise awareness of the ocean pollution problem. However, for our work in the deep ocean to succeed in the long run, it’s crucial that governments and other organizations speed up their efforts to mitigate the sources of the problem we aim to resolve. The results of this latest study can assist with those efforts.

— Boyan Slat

“It is commonly accepted that most plastic found in the oceans originates from land-based sources. It is also well known that rivers play a particularly important role in transporting mismanaged plastic waste from land into the ocean. Until now, however, researchers had quantified neither the total amount of plastic flowing out of the world’s rivers, nor how much plastic is emitted by each individual river. With today’s study, this information is now available.”

Researchers created a model for the study using global geospatial information on population density, waste management, topography, hydrography, and the locations of dams. Of the 40,760 ocean-bound rivers studied, just 20 are responsible for two-thirds of the global plastic input. The model also shows that plastic input from rivers is highly correlated with drainage of debris from the river banks and creeks leading into main waterways, and that this river-to-ocean input therefore varies per season. Researchers concluded that three quarters of the plastic released annually enters the oceans between May and October.

In a statement, Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup said: “We’re pleased to see how many initiatives have been taken in the past few years to raise awareness of the ocean pollution problem. However, for our work in the deep ocean to succeed in the long run, it’s crucial that governments and other organizations speed up their efforts to mitigate the sources of the problem we aim to resolve. The results of this latest study can assist with those efforts.”

See also: The Institution of Plastic: We need a cultural reformation, not just clean-up

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