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Friday, August 11, 2017

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What has come to be known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's the size of Texas, according to marine biologists.

The enormous 'continent' of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii.

The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, since the 1950s. And now, as our reliance on plastics continues, the problem has gotten even worse.

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Scientists on a recent six-month expedition have discovered the presence of a second garbage patch in the South Pacific, and are saying that the plastic vortex could be bigger than the state of Texas.

Charles Moore set sail with a group of volunteer researchers in November 2016 to look at plastic pollution off the coast of Chile. It was during their research that the team discovered the large amount of plastic floating in the South Pacific, measuring an estimated million square kilometers, or 1.5 times the size of Texas.

The plastic is gathered and trapped in one of the known gyres in the ocean - these are areas with circulating ocean currents - and it is difficult to remove the bits of plastic due to its size. Rather than the plastic trash that most would think of, such as six-pack soda rings or plastic bags, instead the plastic found in this part of the ocean are apparently smaller than grains of rice.

"We found a few larger items, occasionally a buoy and some fishing gear, but most of it was broken into bits," Moore said. He guessed that there are millions of plastic particles per square kilometer in this newly discovered patch.

A pollution researcher told the publication that the microplastics are difficult to clean up due to their size, and that it is easiest to prevent them from getting in the ocean than it would be to get rid of them once they're in the gyre.

Moore, incidentally, is the person who discovered the first garbage patch in the North Pacific in 1997. This latest research trip concluded in May, and Moore said he is now processing the samples of plastic that his team has collected.