Plastic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean

Published in The Hindu on August 28, 2009

SEAPLEX researchers spotted a large net tangled with plastic in the “garbage patch” in the Pacific Ocean. Photo: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. — Photo: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Scientists discovered extensive plastic garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, located some 1,000 miles off California’s coast. What is intriguing is that how could there be this so much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean so far away from land.

Little was known about the ‘Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch,’ its size, the threat it poses to marine life before the expedition was undertaken by a team of graduate students from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The team left on August 2 and returned on 21st.

The purpose of the study was to survey and understand plastic distribution and abundance in the Pacific Ocean, taking samples for analysis in the laboratory and assessing the impacts of debris on marine life. The team studied everything from phytoplankton to zooplankton to small midwater fish.

After transiting for six days aboard the Scripps research vessel (R/V) New Horizon, the researchers reached their first intensive sampling site on August 9th. On the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), researchers got the first detailed view of plastic debris floating in a remote ocean region. The team collected plastic present at several ocean depths by using a variety of tow nets.

Flecks of plastic were abundant and easily spotted against the deep blue seawater at numerous areas in the gyre. Among the plastic waste that the team managed to collect were plastic bottles with a variety of biological inhabitants, including large barnacles.

But the biggest surprise was the discovery of a large net entwined with plastic and various marine organisms.

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