Atlantic Ocean's Plastic Patch Rivals Pacific Garbage Gyre

Published on February 25th, 2010 | by

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch located in the North Pacific Gyre is well known; however, scientists have recently discovered the Atlantic Ocean is also littered with plastic debris.  After twenty years of study, it is surprising that no one has talked much about marine litter in the Atlantic until now.   Much of the plastic found by researchers is “low-density”, such as the kind used in plastic bags.

Photo by ingridtaylarThe Atlantic Ocean suffers from plastic debris
The Atlantic Ocean suffers from plastic debris

BBC News reports on the garbage patch found in the northern Atlantic Ocean:

The maximum “plastic density” was 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometer.
“That’s a maximum that is comparable with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Dr Lavender Law.
But she pointed out that there was not yet a clear estimate of the size of the patches in either the Pacific or the Atlantic.
“You can think of it in a similar way [to the Pacific Garbage Patch], but I think the word ‘patch’ can be misleading. This is widely dispersed and it’s small pieces of plastic,” she said.

According to Wikipedia, 80% of marine garbage is land-based.  It’s a disgrace to think so much flotsam originates from household garbage, and obviously it is detrimental to marine life.   The Independent writes about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food…
Dr Eriksen said the slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too.

It is most likely that every ocean on the planet has high concentrations of plastic debris.  Scientists have known garbage was collecting in the Atlantic Ocean, but it is only recently they found the exact latitude (22 and 38 degrees north) where it is accumulating.  Unfortunately, the nature of plastic decompensation into tiny pieces makes it “virtually impossible to recover” and a “permanent part of the ecosystem“.

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