A team of scientists have conducted a new comprehensive study of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, finding that the rotating soup of plastic contains up to 16 times more waste than previous surveys discovered.
The scientists used a combination of visual surveys and drag-netting to analyse the patch, which is located in the north Pacific Ocean. They estimated that the patch is 1.6 million square kilometres in area with 78,000 tonnes – and 1.8 trillion pieces – of plastic. Microplastics made up approximately 8% of the mass.
Laurent Lebreton, lead researcher and oceanographer at the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, said the patch was growing at an alarming rate, ABC News reports. “Plastic concentration has been increasing exponentially since the 1970s for different reasons,” she said.
The study also found that the debris was boosted by the 2011 Japanese tsunami. “We found about 30% of the identifiable objects were likely coming from Japan. We correlated that with our model and we looked at estimates from the Japanese Government in terms of how much they think was washed to sea that day… and we predict that about 10-20% of the materials post-2011 in the larger size class came from the tsunami.”