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South Pacific Ocean Gyre holds massive garbage patch

Hailey Montgomery
Digital Reporter

Friday, July 28, 2017, 5:10 PM - A team of research oceanographers are currently analyzing the contents of a large patch of plastic garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean – and it is not the first discovery of its kind.

Algalita Marine Research and Education, lead by oceanographer and founder Captain Charles Moore,  was first to discover what is widely known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean.

Moore, who holds an honourary PhD from Kamloops' Thompson Rivers University,  and Algalita have confirmed the existence of another, aptly named the South Pacific Garbage Patch. Near the coast of Chile and Easter Island, it is an enormous accumulation of countless pieces of small, plastic debris, which, he tells research gate, could be more than a million square kilometres in size.

They made the discovery within the South Pacfic Subtropical Gyre - a large circular system of currents, which has the potential to trap ocean garbage and debris. There are five main gyres in the world's oceans, each containing plastic and garbage. 

During a six month research expedition beginning in California and spanning to the southern Hemisphere, the researchers hoped to learn more about the degree of ocean pollution in the ocean and its affect on the natural world. Chief among multiple concerns was the issue of the fate of the the Lanternfish, a species which makes up over half of the volume of living organisms in the ocean's ecosystem. Agalita reports that over 35% of south Pacific Lanternfish have consumed plastic, containing chemical compounds that they cannot digest. This is also a concern for humans, as the fish serve as prey to commercially farmed tuna and salmon.

Agalita also explains that plastic pollution in ocean gyres, which account for 40% of global ocean volume, has killed and/or poisoned various different sea creatures, including whales and turtles.

While it is known that an alarming amount of plastic ends up in our oceans the exact volume is difficult to pin down. A 2015 study published in the journal science estimates that between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic entered our oceans in 2010. 

Plastics are engineered to break down very slowly, which is why they account for a large percentage of the world's landfill waste. A 2017 University of California Santa Barbara study estimates that humans have created about 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since the large-scale production of plastics in the early 1950s. According to the study’s lead author Roland Geyer, half of all plastics produced become waste after for or fewer years of use.  9 per cent of plastic waste is recycled, and 12 per cent is incinerated, Geyer reports.

This new discovery is reflective of a dramatically increasing industry which seems to be expanding: A 2015 study conducted by Grand Market Research says the market will be worth $645.38 billion U.S. by 2020. 

Below: "Plastic" island: Researchers warn about pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans

See more photos of the debris below: 

Source: Captain Charles James Moore | Agalita Marine Research and Education | Research Gate | National Geographic | ORMA | [All images courtesy of Captain Charles James Moore and Algalita Marine Research and Education]

WATCH BELOW: Adidas shoe made from ocean garbage

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