The Pacific gyre has received a fair bit of attention in recent years – the great floating ‘seafill’ spirallying between the US and Japan. Last week scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute confirmed that there’s one in the Atlantic too.
A new study compared 22 years worth of water samples and found a comparable concentration of plastic particles in the North Atlantic – 580,000 pieces per square kilometre at the centre.
There are lots of unanswered questions about plastic in the seas, a phenomenon that was only noted in 1997. Interestingly, the concentration of plastic has remained stable, suggesting that either something is eating the plastic, or organisms are attaching themselves to the particles and causing them to sink. There are also mysteries around types of plastic. PET for example, isn’t found in the gyres, but washes up on beaches all the time. And the extent of the Atlantic patch is unknown, as scientists were unable to locate its Eastern edge.
“For the first time we’ve been able to put north-south bounds on the region of plastic accumulation. We’ve presented the most extensive dataset on plastic marine debris on any ocean basin” says Dr Kara Lavender Law. “Most pieces are smaller than the eraser on the top of your pencil. These are fragments from larger objects but we cannot say which objects they are from or where they originated.”
Although this is the first time data has been available for the Atlantic, it has been suspected. Ocean currents would suggest that non-biodegradable waste would accumulate in 5 different areas. The 5 Gyres project has been out looking for them this past year, and their website is a great introduction to the problem of plastic in the seas.