Ocean plastic pollution is rapidly growing and could triple in the next decade, according to a new scientific research. It is estimated that ocean plastic in the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" between Hawaii and California has grown sixteen times more than its previous volume reported by international researchers. The ocean plastic pollution currently amounts to about 8,000 tonnes, covering about 600,000 square miles. That's twice the size of Texas, with its center recording the highest concentration of plastic in oceans ever recorded.
"Plastic concentration is increasing - I think the situation is getting worse," said study author Laurent Lebreton of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, which spearheaded the research. "This really highlights the urgency to take action in stopping the in-flow of plastic into the ocean and also taking measures to clean up the existing mess."
Wind and converging ocean currents are responsible for accumulating the garbage in five ocean areas, the largest having about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and located between Hawaii and California.
The North Pacific was mapped by the researchers using plans and boats to evaluate ocean plastic pollution, seaweed and plankton. Three years study showed that ocean plastic is "increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in the surrounding water", according to the international team.
Of the 1.8 trillion bits of plastic found, microplastics accounted for about 8%. Some of the plastic in oceans were larger than microplastics, they include toys, toilet seats, and fishing nets. "The amount of ocean plastic discovered was staggering," said Erik van Sebille of Utrecht University, who was not part of the study.
"While their estimates come with large uncertainty ranges, they do report a staggering amount of plastic," van Sebillle said. "And they also discovered that the Garbage Patch is moving around much more than anyone expected."
An explanation of why new estimates of plastic in oceans are "staggering" could be derived partially using aerial surveys according to BBC.
Scientific reports suggest that about 20% of recent ocean plastic accumulation could be as a result of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Report from the study
- In the surveyed part of the ocean, 99.9% of all debris was plastics.
- More than 75% of plastic in oceans, including film, plastic sheets and hard plastic was debris larger than 5cm, and at least 46% of ocean plastic includes fishing net.
- Containers, lids, bottles, straps, fishing nets, and ropes was among the small number of objects identified, although most items had broken down into fragments.
- Fifty samples collected from the ocean plastic had a readable production date: one from 2010, twenty-four from the 2000s, seventeen from the 1990s, seven from the 1980s, and one from 1977.
The survey reports are very clear. "It goes back to how we use plastic," Laurent Lebreton said. "We're not going to get away from plastic - in my opinion, it's very useful, in medicine, transportation and construction, but I think we must divert the way we use plastic, particularly in terms of single-use plastic and those objects that have a very short service lifespan."