Newly Discovered 'Plastic Island' Shows Global Epidemic Worsening

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Common Dreams

Newly Discovered 'Plastic Island' Shows Global Epidemic Worsening

'Even if everyone stopped putting garbage in the ocean today, giant garbage patches would continue to grow for hundreds of years'

by
Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Floating patches of humanity's garbage have become a permanent feature in the world's oceans and a new discovery in the South Pacific shows that this woeful trend has worsened, not improved, since the phenomenon was first discovered nearly two decades ago.

As new research by the 5 Gyres Institute shows, the existence of a new plastic island has been found swirling with junk in ocean currents running near Easter Island in the South Pacific, marking the first documented garbage patch in the Southern Hemisphere.

The new study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, documents the first evidence of a defined oceanic “garbage patch,” an accumulation zone of plastic pollution, floating in the area designated as the South Pacific subtropical gyre.

Conducting the first ever sampling of the southern gyre, the research team, led by 5 Gyres Institute Executive Director Dr. Marcus Eriksen, "recorded increased density of plastic pollution with an average of 26,898 particles per square kilometer, and a high of 396,342 km/m2 in the center of the predicted accumulation zone [based on ocean current models]."

"Without a doubt, we have discovered a previously unknown garbage patch in the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre,” said Dr. Eriksen.

Also, a recent investigation by a team of Australia researchers found that "humans have put so much plastic into our planet’s oceans that even if everyone in the world stopped putting garbage in the ocean today, giant garbage patches would continue to grow for hundreds of years." No matter where plastic garbage enters the ocean, the group said, it will inevitably end up in any of the five ocean basins.

These findings were the result of research done by the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Climate System Science who employed drifter buoys to determine how these giant ocean garbage patches form as a result of ocean currents.

“There are five known garbage patches in the subtropical oceans between each of the continents. Each contains so much plastic that if you were to drag a net through these areas you would pull up more plastic than biomass," said lead author Dr. Erik van Sebille.

The 1997 discovery of the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch,' brought initial attention to the severe problem of plastic and plastic waste, particularly in how it affects our ocean ecosystems, but these findings show that "plastic pollution isn’t just a North Pacific phenomenon but rather a global problem with global implications for fisheries, tourism, marine ecosystems and human health."

In the video below, Dr. Erik van Sebille discusses his research on oceanic plastic polllution with animations that illustrate the movement of plastic through the oceans:

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