Pacific News Minute: Plastic Garbage Gyre in South Pacific Bigger than Texas

Jul 26, 2017

Credit photolib.noaa.gov

After marine scientists found a huge patch of plastic garbage in the North Pacific Ocean, they figured there might be one in the South Pacific as well. Now they’ve found it, and it’s huge…details from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

About a million square miles, half again the size of Texas, but hard to find because most of the plastic isn’t bottles or bags, but tiny fragments, from microscopic bits to about the size of a grain of rice. And this enormous patch has accumulated recently - marine researcher Marcus Erikson from the 5 Gyres Institute sailed through this area five years ago and saw very little debris. Eriksen said the plastic is simply too small to collect in nets: “This Cloud of micro plastics extends both vertically and horizontally,” he told the website ResearchGate, “it’s more like smog.”

The discovery was made by a team from Algalita Marine Research Foundation, led by oceanographer Charles Moore, in a remote area near Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island. Moore told Radio New Zealand International that most of the plastic starts as waste from the fishing industry and that it creates probably the most deserted marine environment on the planet. “It was just a dead place,” Moore said, “you don’t catch any fish, you don’t see any flying fish for the most part, there’s no food web there.”

The plastic is swept up by currents and winds and concentrated into a gigantic swirl called a gyre. It’s not too far from Henderson Island, which an expedition earlier this year found buried under plastic and described as the most polluted island in the world.