Boyan SLAT, et al.
Pacific Plastic Patch Cleanup

See also :  ITO // ZADGOANKAR // BERL &c for proven methods that convert plastic to oil.
Friday, 26 April 2013

19 Yr. Old's Invention Could Clean Up All The Plastics In The Oceans

by Timon Singh

19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world.

Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.

At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.

Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels.

It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches. On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometres. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging.”

Get a Haircut & a real Job, Kid ! Good God & Country, Who'll Fight the next War?

But really, seriously, Folks : Fishing Trawlers can be refitted to skim the top 50 ft where the bulk of plastic is suspended. The plastic can be processed into oil on site aboard a fleet of freighters ( There are fleets of mothball freighters sitting @ Asian ports -- e.g., Singapore ).

Or : Wave-Powered Boats

Or : Slave-Power !

Ben Him, Done That ...

We could banish criminals, dissidents, palestinians, christians, native indigenes, undocumented immigrant non-citizens, climate-hotting deniers, conspiracy realists, unemployeds, mental impatients,  veterans, and the such-like to do the work. That would leave the Homeland free and clear for Us, We the Righteous, Chosen Ones and Only of the Great .... but I digress...

Problem: The plastic is not static, it moves around.

Solution: Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?

Fix the sea water processors to the sea bed, and save vast amounts of funds, manpower and emissions.

Problem:Oceanic 'Garbage Patches' are huge, and cleaning them up would result in huge amounts of by-catches.

Furthermore there is a huge variety in debris sizes.

Solution: By using floating booms instead of nets, much larger areas will covered.

No mesh means that even the smallest particles will be diverted and extracted. No mesh - together with its low speed - will result to virtually no by-catch.

Although this hypothesis still has to be tested, even the planktonic species - due to their density being close to that of the sea water - may move under the booms along with the water flow.
Problems: A clean-up operation would generate significant emissions. Besides that, in high seas much plastic would escape.

Solution: The platforms will be completely self-supportive, receiving their energy from e.g. the sun, currents and waves.
And by letting the platforms' wings sway like an actual manta ray, we can ensure contacts of the inlets with the surface, even in the roughest weather.

Problem: Conventional clean-up ideas have never been financially realistic, let alone remediation of millions of square kilometres.

Solution: This concept is so efficient, that we estimate that by selling the plastic retrieved from the 5 gyres, we would make in fact more money than the plan would cost to execute. In other words; it may potentially be profitable.

Boylan Slat @ TEDyak


The last couple of days several (spontaneous) articles have been published, claiming The Ocean Cleanup Array is a 'feasible method' of extracting plastic from the gyres.

This is an incorrect statement; we are currently only at about 1/4th of completing our feasibility study. Only after finishing that study, we believe such statements should be made. Although the preliminary results look promising, and our team of about 50 engineers, modellers, external experts and students is making good progress, we had and have no intention of presenting a concept as a feasible solution while still being in investigative phase.

Please stay tuned for this study, which will be published online in several months' time.

We kindly request the press to refrain from any further publication, until all assumptions of this concept have been confirmed.

Thank you.


Boyan Slat | Facebook

Boyan Slat is on Facebook.
March 26, 2013

The Ocean Cleanup Array Project


David Knowles

19-year-old Dutch engineering student Boyan Slat devises plan to rid the world’s oceans of 7.25 million tons of plastic

The Ocean Cleanup Array project would then sell the retrieved particles at an estimated profit. But the plan has already draw the ire of some biologists who fear for sea life that may become entangled during the plastic recovery process.

Slat's idea has earned him the Best Technical Design award from Delft University of Technology.

Boyan Slat's idea has earned him the Best Technical Design award from Delft University of Technology.

Sometimes it takes big ideas to solve big problems.

A 19-year-old Dutch aerospace engineering student has come up with what he believes is a way to remove millions of pounds of plastic trash from the world’s oceans.

Dubbed the Ocean Cleanup Array, Boyan Slat’s concept involves anchoring 24 sifters to the ocean floor and letting the sea’s own currents direct the plastic bits into miles of booms, or connected chains of timbers used to catch floating objects.

What started out as a college paper earned Slat the Best Technical Design award from Delft University of Technology.

Slat, demonstrating his concept, wants to anchor 24 sifters to the ocean floor and let the sea’s own currents direct the plastic bits into miles of booms, or connected chains of timbers used to catch floating objects.

From the start, Slat said he was motivated to get to work by the very scope of the problem facing the world.

“It will be very hard to convince everyone in the world to handle their plastics responsibly, but what we humans are very good in, is inventing technical solutions to our problems,” Slat said on his website. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

Powered by the sun and ocean currents, the Ocean Cleanup Array network aims to have as little impact on sea life as possible while sifting out some 7.25 million tons of plastic over the course of just five years.

The bulk of the ray-shaped sifters and booms would be set up at the edges of the five swirling ocean gyres to trap the most plastic particles possible.

Slat, who presented his idea to an audience at the TED lecture series in October, believes the recovered plastic could more than pay for the cleaning process.

Slat, who presented his idea to an audience at the TED lecture series in October, believes the recovered plastic could more than pay for the cleaning process.

Able to function in high seas and rough weather, the booms would trap floating plastic bits, then suck them into a trash sifter. Once the plastic is retrieved, Slat envisions, it will be brought ashore and sold.

“This concept is so efficient, that we estimate that by selling the plastic retrieved from the 5 gyres, we would make in fact more money than the plan would cost to execute. In other words; it's profitable,” Slat’s website states.

The plan is not without its critics, however.

“Ships on fixed moorings and thousands of miles of booms (because the scale of this is also improbable) have the potential to create a lot more marine debris, and seem particularly hazardous to entanglement-prone marine life.” Biologist Miriam Goldstein wrote on the University of Washington’s “Marine Debris Listserv”

Goldstein also raised questions about whether plankton, or small and microscopic life, would be killed by the sifting process.

For Slat, however, it’s full speed ahead. The wunderkind founded The Ocean Cleanup Foundation earlier this year and is looking to partner with plankton biologists, engineers, and, of course, philanthropists to turn his dream into a reality.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Map showing the oceans' five major gyres

The Garbage Patch is located within the North Pacific Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine debris in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N.[1] The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.

The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.[2] Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography, since it consists primarily of suspended particulates in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to even smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average.


Map showing large-scale looping water movements within the Pacific. One circles west to Australia, then south and back to Latin America. Further north, water moves east to Central America, and then joins a larger movement further north, which loops south, west, north, and east between North America and Japan. Two smaller loops circle in the eastern and central North Pacific.

The Patch is created in the gyre of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was predicted in a 1988 paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States. The prediction was based on results obtained by several Alaska-based researchers between 1985 and 1988 that measured neustonic plastic in the North Pacific Ocean.[3] This research found high concentrations of marine debris accumulating in regions governed by ocean currents. Extrapolating from findings in the Sea of Japan, the researchers hypothesized that similar conditions would occur in other parts of the Pacific where prevailing currents were favorable to the creation of relatively stable waters. They specifically indicated the North Pacific Gyre.[4]

Charles J. Moore, returning home through the North Pacific Gyre after competing in the Transpac sailing race in 1997, came upon an enormous stretch of floating debris. Moore alerted the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who subsequently dubbed the region the "Eastern Garbage Patch" (EGP).[5] The area is frequently featured in media reports as an exceptional example of marine pollution.[6]

The patch is not easily visible because it consists of very small pieces, almost invisible to the naked eye,[7] most of its contents are suspended beneath the surface of the ocean,[8] and the relatively low density of the plastic debris at, in one scientific study, 5.1 kilograms of plastic per square kilometer of ocean area.[9]

A similar patch of floating plastic debris is found in the Atlantic Ocean. See: North Atlantic Garbage Patch.[10][11]


It is thought that, like other areas of concentrated marine debris in the world's oceans, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch formed gradually as a result of marine pollution gathered by oceanic currents.[12] The garbage patch occupies a large and relatively stationary region of the North Pacific Ocean bound by the North Pacific Gyre (a remote area commonly referred to as the horse latitudes). The gyre's rotational pattern draws in waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean, including coastal waters off North America and Japan. As material is captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move floating debris toward the center, trapping it in the region.

There are no strong scientific data concerning the origins of pelagic plastics. The figure that an estimated 80% of the garbage comes from land-based sources and 20% from ships is derived from an unsubstantiated estimate.[13] Ship-generated pollution is a source of concern, since a typical 3,000-passenger cruise ship produces over eight tons of solid waste weekly, a major amount of which ends up in the patch, as most of the waste is organic.[14] Pollutants range in size from abandoned fishing nets to micro-pellets used in abrasive cleaners.[15] Currents carry debris from the west coast of North America to the gyre in about six years,[16] and debris from the east coast of Asia in a year or less.[17][18] An international research project led by Dr. Hideshige Takada of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology studying plastic pellets, or nurdles, from beaches around the world may provide further clues about the origins of pelagic plastic.[19]

Logically, the land-based sources of pollutants and plastics come from the great rivers from around the world. The Ganges, in India, is an example of a source of major sea pollution (see Pollution of the Ganges). The major rivers of Bangladesh, Nigeria, and other developing nations collectively provide another example of marine-pollution sources. It has been noted that the levels of pollution in and around these rivers constitute a major health hazard to people living and doing business around the water.

Estimates of size

The size of the patch is unknown, as large items readily visible from a boat deck are uncommon. Most debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface, making it impossible to detect by aircraft or satellite. Instead, the size of the patch is determined by sampling. Estimates of size range from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi) (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean), or, in some media reports, up to "twice the size of the continental United States".[20] Such estimates, however, are conjectural based on the complexities of sampling and the need to assess findings against other areas.

    Net-based surveys are less subjective than direct observations but are limited regarding the area that can be sampled (net apertures 1–2 m and ships typically have to slow down to deploy nets, requiring dedicated ship's time). The plastic debris sampled is determined by net mesh size, with similar mesh sizes required to make meaningful comparisons among studies. Floating debris typically is sampled with a neuston or manta trawl net lined with 0.33 mm mesh. Given the very high level of spatial clumping in marine litter, large numbers of net tows are required to adequately characterize the average abundance of litter at sea. Long-term changes in plastic meso-litter have been reported using surface net tows: in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre in 1999, plastic abundance was 335 000 items/km2 and 5.1 kg/km2, roughly an order of magnitude greater than samples collected in the 1980s. Similar dramatic increases in plastic debris have been reported off Japan. However, caution is needed in interpreting such findings, because of the problems of extreme spatial heterogeneity, and the need to compare samples from equivalent water masses, which is to say that, if an examination of the same parcel of water a week apart is conducted, an order of magnitude change in plastic concentration could be observed.[21]

Further, although the size of the patch is determined by a higher-than-normal degree of concentration of pelagic debris, there is no specific standard for determining the boundary between the "normal" and "elevated" levels of pollutants to provide a firm estimate of the affected area.

In August 2009, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography/Project Kaisei SEAPLEX survey mission of the Gyre found that plastic debris was present in 100 consecutive samples taken at varying depths and net sizes along a 1,700 miles (2,700 km) path through the patch. The survey also confirmed that, while the debris field does contain large pieces, it is on the whole made up of smaller items that increase in concentration toward the Gyre's centre, and these 'confetti-like' pieces are clearly visible just beneath the surface.

Charles Moore has estimated the mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch at 100 million tons,[22] which would be several tons per km2 .

Although many media and advocacy reports have suggested that the patch extends over an area larger than the continental U.S., recent research sponsored by the National Science Foundation suggests the affected area may be twice the size of Hawaii,[23][24] while a recent study concluded that the patch might be smaller.[25] This can be attributed to the fact that there is no specific standard for determining the boundary between the "normal" and "elevated" levels of pollutants and what constitutes being part of the patch. The size is determined by a higher-than-normal degree of concentration of pelagic debris in the water. Recent data collected from Pacific albatross populations suggest there may be two distinct zones of concentrated debris in the Pacific.[26]

Photodegradation of plastics

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels known of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photodegradation in the neustonic layer of water.[27] Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.[28]

As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean's surface. In this way, plastic may become concentrated in neuston, thereby entering the food chain.

Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs, and derivatives of polystyrene.[29]

The process of disintegration means that the plastic particulate in much of the affected region is too small to be seen. In a 2001 study, researchers (including Charles Moore) found concentrations of plastic particles at 334,721 pieces per km2 with a mean mass of 5,114 grams (11.27 lbs) per km2, in the neuston. Assuming each particle of plastic averaged 5 mm x 5 mm x 1 mm, this would amount to only 8 m2 per km2 due to small particulates. Nonetheless, this represents a very high amount with respect to the overall ecology of the neuston. In many of the sampled areas, the overall concentration of plastics was seven times greater than the concentration of zooplankton. Samples collected at deeper points in the water column found much lower concentrations of plastic particles (primarily monofilament fishing line pieces).[9] Nevertheless, according to the mentioned estimates, only a very small part of the plastic would be near the surface.

Effect on wildlife

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, and their young,[5] including sea turtles and the Black-footed Albatross. Midway Atoll receives substantial amounts of marine debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Of the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system.[30] Of the approximately one-third of the chicks that die, many of them are due to being fed plastic from their parents.[31][32]

Besides the particles' danger to wildlife, on the microscopic level the floating debris can adsorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs.[33] Aside from toxic effects,[34] when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal.[32] These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish.

Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals.[35] Marine plastics also facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems.[15][dead link]

On the macroscopic level, the physical size of the plastic kills birds and turtles as the animals' digestion can not break down the plastic inside their stomachs. A second effect of the macroscopic plastic is to make it much more difficult for animals to see and detect their normal sources of food.

Research has shown that this plastic marine debris affects at least 267 species worldwide and a few of the 267 species reside in the North Pacific Gyre.[36]

Research of cleanup

In April 2008, Richard Sundance Owen, a building contractor and scuba dive instructor, formed the Environmental Cleanup Coalition (ECC) to address the issue of North Pacific pollution. ECC collaborates with other groups to identify methods to safely remove plastic and persistent organic pollutants from the oceans.[37][38]

The JUNK raft project was a trans-Pacific sailing voyage from June to August 2008 made to highlight the plastic in the patch, organized by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.[39][40][41]

Project Kaisei is a project to study and clean up the garbage patch launched in March 2009. In August 2009, two project vessels, the New Horizon and the Kaisei, embarked on a voyage to research the patch and determine the feasibility of commercial scale collection and recycling.[42]

The SEAPLEX expedition, a group of researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, spent 19 days on the ocean in August, 2009 researching the patch. Their primary goal was to describe the abundance and distribution of plastic in the gyre in the most rigorous study to date. Researchers were also looking at the impact of plastic on mesopelagic fish, such as lanternfish.[43][44][45] This group utilized a fully capable dedicated oceanographic research vessel, the 170 ft (52 m) long New Horizon .[46]

In 2012 Miriam C. Goldstein, Marci Rosenberg, and Lanna Cheng wrote:

Plastic pollution in the form of small particles (diameter less than 5 mm) — termed ‘microplastic’ — has been observed in many parts of the world ocean. They are known to interact with biota on the individual level, e.g. through ingestion, but their population-level impacts are largely unknown. One potential mechanism for microplastic-induced alteration of pelagic ecosystems is through the introduction of hard-substrate habitat to ecosystems where it is naturally rare. Here, we show that microplastic concentrations in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) have increased by two orders of magnitude in the past four decades, and that this increase has released the pelagic insect Halobates sericeus from substrate limitation for oviposition. High concentrations of microplastic in the NPSG resulted in a positive correlation between H. sericeus and microplastic, and an overall increase in H. sericeus egg densities. Predation on H. sericeus eggs and recent hatchlings may facilitate the transfer of energy between pelagic- and substrate-associated assemblages. The dynamics of hard-substrate-associated organisms may be important to understanding the ecological impacts of oceanic microplastic pollution.[47]

The Goldstein et al. study compared changes in small plastic abundance between 1972-1987 and 1999-2010 by using historical samples from the Scripps Pelagic Invertebrate Collection and data from SEAPLEX, a NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer cruise in 2010, information from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation as well as various published papers. [48]

At TEDxDelft2012,[49][50] Dutch Aerospace Engineering student Boyan Slat unveiled a concept for removing large amounts of marine debris from the five oceanic gyres. With his concept called The Ocean Cleanup, he proposes a radical clean-up that would use the surface currents to let the debris drift to specially designed arms and collection platforms. This way the running costs would be virtually zero, and would the operation be so efficient that it may even be profitable. The concept makes use of floating booms, that won’t catch the debris, but divert it. This way by-catch would be avoided, and even the smallest particles would be extracted. According to Boyan Slat's calculations, a gyre could realistically be cleaned up in five years' time, collecting at least 7.25 million tons of plastic combining all gyres.[51] He however does note that an ocean-based cleanup is only half the story, and will therefore have to be paired with 'radical plastic pollution prevention methods in order to succeed'.[51][52]

Method, a producer of household products, took the garbage patch as an opportunity and began marketing a dish soap whose container is made partly of recycled ocean plastic. The company sent crews to Hawaiian beaches to recover some of the debris that had washed up. [53]
2012 Expedition

The 2012 Algalita/5 Gyres Asia Pacific Expedition, though plagued by severe weather on Leg 2, met the goals and objectives it set out to achieve.

Beginning in the Marshall Islands on May 1, Leg 1 investigated the little studied Western Pacific Garbage Patch, arriving in Tokyo three weeks later. During their scheduled layover and crew change, an International Scientific Symposium was held with Captain Charles Moore as one of the speakers.

Marcus Eriksen led the expedition, collecting samples for the 5 Gyres Institute, Algalita Marine Research Foundation and several other colleagues, including NOAA, SCRIPPS, IPRC and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Hank Carson. was aboard to study colonial communities fouling marine debris, as well as collect samples of plastic pollution for his students and colleagues at University of Hawaii at Hilo. Filmmakers Alex and Tyler Mifflin were aboard to document the journey for a series titled “The Water Brothers”, in which they explore water issues around the world. Belinda Braithwaite, Carolyn Box, Bob Atwater, Valerie Lecour, Michael Brown, Cynthia Matzke, Shanley Mcentee and Kristal Ambrose rounded out the expedition. [54]

From October 4 to November 9, 2012, the Sea Education Association (SEA) conducted a research expedition to study plastic pollution in the North Pacific gyre. 38 sailors, scientists, ship's crew, and journalists sailed from San Diego, California to Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, led by Chief Scientist Emelia DeForce and Captain Jason Quilter. A similar research expedition was conducted by SEA in the North Atlantic Ocean in 2010. During the Plastics at SEA 2012 North Pacific Expedition, a total of 118 net tows were conducted and nearly 70,000 pieces of plastic were counted to estimate the density of plastics, map the distribution of plastics in the gyre, and examine the effects of plastic debris on marine life. [55]

Study: Plastic in 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' increases 100-fold


Ian Johnston

The amount of plastic trash in the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased 100-fold during the past 40 years, causing "profound" changes to the marine environment, according to a new study.

Scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego found that insects called "sea skaters" or "water striders" were using the trash as a place to lay their eggs in greater numbers than before.

In a paper published by the journal Biology Letters, researchers said this would have implications for other animals, the sea skaters' predators -- which include crabs --  and their food, which is mainly plankton and fish eggs.

The scientists also pointed to a previous Scripps study that found nine percent of fish had plastic waste in their stomachs.

The "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" -- which is roughly the size of Texas -- was created by plastic waste that finds its way into the sea and is then swept into one area, the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, by circulating ocean currents known as a gyre.


This map shows the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone within the North Pacific Gyre.

The Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, known as SEAPLEX, traveled about 1,000 miles west of California in August 2009.

A statement on Scripps' website said the scientists had "documented an alarming amount of human-generated trash, mostly broken down bits of plastic the size of a fingernail floating across thousands of miles of open ocean."

Scripps graduate student Miriam Goldstein, SEAPLEX’s chief scientist, said that plastic had arrived in the ocean in such numbers in a "relatively short" period.

Dec. 29, 2007: NBC's Kerry Sanders reports on a huge mass of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean that is killing marine life and growing larger each day.

"Plastic only became widespread in late '40s and early '50s, but now everyone uses it and over a 40-year range we've seen a dramatic increase in ocean plastic," she said. "Historically we have not been very good at stopping plastic from getting into the ocean so hopefully in the future we can do better."

Researchers found fish larvae growing on pieces of plastic, such as the one above.

Sea skaters -- relatives of pond water skaters -- normally lay their eggs on flotsam such as seashells, seabird feathers, tar lumps and pumice. The sharp rise in plastic waste had led to an increase in egg densities in the gyre area, the study found.

"We're seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic," Goldstein said in a statement.

She told BBC News that the addition of "hundreds of millions of hard surfaces" to the Pacific was "quite a profound change."

Samples taken by the scientists showed how marine life, such as small velella pictured above, lives alongside pieces of plastic.

"In the North Pacific, for example, there's no floating seaweed like there is in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. And we know that the animals, the plants and the microbes that live on hard surfaces are different to the ones that live floating around in the water," she added.

A garbage patch has also been found in the Atlantic Ocean, lying a few hundreds miles off the North American coast from Cuba to Virginia.

Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who said he coined the phrase the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," told by phone that the only solution was to switch to using biodegradable plastic and let the plastic gradually disperse.

"We can't clean it up. It's just too big. You'd have to have the entire U.S. Navy out there, round the clock, continuously towing little nets. And it's produced so fast, they wouldn't be able to keep up," he said.

Ebbesmeyer said in 10,000 years scientists might find a layer of plastic in the ground and use this as evidence of "the plastic people."

Oh, This is Great : Humans Have Finally Ruined the Ocean

Thomas Morton

Photos by Jake Burghart

I’m not one of those guys who corners folks at parties to rant at them about biodiesel or calls people “fucking idiots” for being skeptical about global warming. But I should also point out that I’m not one of those Andrew Dice Clay “Fuck the whales” types either.

The problem with all the bravado on both sides of the ecology debate is that nobody really knows what they’re talking about. Trying to form opinions on climate change, overpopulation, and peak oil hinges on ginormous leaps of faith based around tiny statistical deviances that even the scientists studying them have a hard time understanding. It gets so convoluted with all the yelling and the politics that sometimes you just want something huge and incontrovertibly awful to come along for everybody to agree on. Something you can show anyone a picture of and go, “See? We’re fucked.”

Well, I have just such a thing. There is a Texas-size section of the Pacific Ocean that is irretrievably clogged with garbage and it will never go away. And I have seen it with my own eyes. Case closed. Oh, you want to hear more? OK, fine.

In the middle of the 90s, Charles Moore was sailing his racing catamaran back to California from Hawaii and decided on a lark to cut through the center of the North Pacific Gyre. The Gyre is an enormous vortex of currents revolving around a continuous high-pressure zone—if you think of the rest of the Pacific as a gigantic toilet, this zone would be the part where your poop bobs and twirls before being sucked down. Boats typically avoid it since it’s essentially one big windless death trap, so when Moore motored through it was just him, his crew, and an endless field of garbage.

As long as it’s existed, the middle of the Gyre has been a naturally occurring point of accumulation for all the drifting crap in its half of the ocean. Once upon a time, flotsam circled into the middle of the Gyre and (because up until the past century everything in the world was biodegradable) was broken down into a nutrient-rich stew perfect for fish and smaller invertebrates to chow on. Then we started making everything out of plastic and the whole place went to shit.

The problem with plastic is, unless you hammer it with enough pressure to make a diamond, it never fully disintegrates. Over time plastic will photodegrade all the way down to the individual polymers, but those little guys are still in it for the long haul. This means that except for the slim handful of plastics designed specifically to biodegrade, every synthetic molecule ever made still exists. And except for the small percentage that gets caught in a net or washes up on a shore, every chunk of plastic that’s dropped into the Pacific makes its way to the center of the Gyre and is floating there right now.

After watching junk lap against the side of his boat for the better part of a week, Captain Moore decided to convert his boat into a research vessel and make semiannual trips into the Gyre to study the trash. I tagged along on his most recent voyage, joining a divorced, 40-something doctor and a Mexican chemist and mother of two as his crew. It was like a family vacation, but with more science and way more bummers.

The garbage patch is located at one of the most remote points on earth. It takes a solid week of sailing just to get there. Considering how torturous the average daylong car trip gets, you can well imagine the kind of zap job that seven days on a 50-foot boat will do to your brain. You lose sight of land the first day, then you stop seeing other ships, then you stop seeing anything at all except for endless waves and occasionally a seabird, which, after days of nothing but water, becomes as exciting as spotting a UFO. Right at the point where you’ve come up with a separate song for every bird in the ship’s guidebook and have begun integrating them into a full seabird opera, you start seeing the trash.

I had assumed (completely without any basis in research or common sense) that there was some contiguous mass of concentrated garbage the captain was steering us toward, but (sadly?) this was not the case. The debris patterns shift with the currents, so you just have to aim the boat in one direction and hope for crap. Every so often we’d spot a few different pieces of garbage floating sort of near one another, but for the most part it was just a steady stream of junk, passing one piece at a time. It was a little underwhelming at first, but keep in mind we were cutting a razor-thin course through one of the biggest expanses of open water on the planet. The fact that we couldn’t look out the window for the better part of the trip without seeing some piece of junk bobbing by holds some seriously ugly implications for the rest of the ocean.

The first few times we spotted garbage, we made a big production of stopping the boat and going out to scoop it up. Then we began just picking up whatever trash we could snag from the front of the deck. Then we just grabbed whatever looked interesting.

Some of the flotsam is fun stuff that fell off the side of container ships, like entire crates of hockey masks and Nikes. You might have read about the shipment of rubber duckies that got lost in a storm back in 1992 and have been used by oceanographers to more accurately plot the movement of water currents. I guess that’s something of a silver lining to the situation, although it’s a lot like thanking AIDS and cholera for all the advances they’ve provided to epidemiologists.

Before we became equal parts bored and depressed with hauling garbage out of the sea all day, we managed to score a motorcycle wheel, a hard hat, and some children’s life preservers with shark bites in them. We also narrowly missed running into what was either a ship’s mast or a telephone pole. The majority of our haul, though, was just average crap like Coke bottles and grocery bags. A lot of it seemed to come from Asia, meaning it had to have traveled at least 5,000 miles just for us to find it. The scary, staggering thing to consider while holding this stuff is that only a fifth of it is tossed from boats. Most of it is land-born trash that somehow ended up in a waterway and worked a slow path out to sea. As the captain said a good ten or so times, “The ocean is downstream of everything.”

Once we were firmly inside the patch, Captain Moore rigged up a trawl and started taking water samples in little petri dishes. I figured these would be snoozers without a microscope, but when the first one came in it was more horrifying than anything we’d seen floating past.

There were a few water striders and tiny jellyfish here and there, but they were totally overwhelmed by a thick confetti of plastic particles. It looked like a snow globe made of garbage. Based on previous samples, Moore estimated the ratio of plastic to the regular components of seawater in what we were pulling up as 6 to 1. As we moved closer to the middle of the Gyre, the ratio got visibly higher, until we started pulling in samples that looked like they contained solely plastic.

This is the part of the trip that weighs heaviest on my mind. It’s terrible enough to litter sections of the planet with things that can conceivably be removed—I mean, even oil spills and radioactive dust can be cleaned up to a certain extent. But to fundamentally alter the composition of seawater at one of the farthest points from civilization on the globe is a whole different ballpark of fucking the planet. It’s fucking it right up the ass, for good and forever. Without lube.

But wait, here comes the scariest part.

Once the plastic confetti gets small enough to fit inside a jellyfish’s mouth, it gets sucked in and starts its way up the food chain back to us. As the jellies float out of the debris field, little fish eat them, absorbing all the built-up plastics. Then big fish eat a bunch of little fish, even bigger fish eat a bunch of big fish, and by the time you get to the point where we’re hoisting creatures out and eating them, you’re looking at entire milk crates’ worth of particles built up in their fat. It’s the cycle of life reimagined as a dystopian sci-fi cliché. We are eating our own refuse.

Aside from clogging up the digestive tract (biologists in the Pacific have found the bodies of birds who starved to death because their stomachs were completely packed with trash), degraded plastics also have the tendency to sop up foreign chemicals that have leached into the water. There’s a whole class of pesticides and solvents called persistent organic pollutants that are basically tailor-made to attach themselves to loose synthetics and wreak havoc on whatever living thing happens to swallow them. The chemist on our boat was studying a pair of the most prevalent of these pollutants in the Pacific water, DDE and DDT. Yep, the same DDT that kills baby eagles. It’s also a probable carcinogen with links to diminished sperm counts and developmental retardation. The ocean is brimming with this shit.

What’s worse than this is even when the plastic is free from outside toxins, its components can potentially wreck your body. Bisphenol A is a compound used in things like Nalgene bottles and dildos. It’s also a synthetic estrogen and can completely derail the reproductive system. Dr. Frederic vom Saal of the University of Missouri has been studying the effects of bisphenol A on lab mice for the past decade and has noticed ties to its exposure with an absurd suite of health problems including low sperm count, prostate cancer, hyperactivity, early-onset diabetes, breast cancer, undescended testicles, and sex reversal. Does the fact that humans can suffer SEX REVERSAL symptoms from inadvertently eating a compound that is used to make dildos qualify as irony?

Vom Saal’s research is at the center of a messy dispute because it involves exposure in such infinitesimal quantities and nobody is exactly sure how the endocrine system works. There’s also a tricky “magic bullet” sort of quality to his findings, but after talking with him it seemed like even he was a little taken aback that this one chemical could be at the root of almost every major US health crisis of the past 30 years. And even if he’s only right on one of the above counts, yeesh.

Still worse than any of this is the possibility that the same chemicals can simultaneously trigger massive disruptions in DNA. “All it takes is one misaligned chromosome and you’ve got things like Down syndrome,” vom Saal says. “If you examine the genetic material in animals exposed to low doses of bisphenol A, it looks like someone fired a shotgun into the chromosomes.”

On the outer edge of the Gyre, we ran smack into the white whale of the maritime trash world: a ghost net. Ghost nets are loose tangles of fishing line and nets that float freely across the ocean, snagging anything in their path. They are the langoliers of the sea. Ghost nets have been found that are miles long with oars and sharks’ skulls and full turtle skeletons peeking out of their knots. The one we caught wasn’t anywhere near that big, but it was easily twice my size, weighed 200 pounds, and housed both a toothbrush and its own school of tropical fish.

There was no way we could tow the massive clump of nets to shore, so we hoisted it onto the back of the ship, attached a GPS tag so that oceanographers could track its movement, and lowered it back into the water. Our camera guy Jake jumped in after it to film it drifting away in a cloud of slaked-off string and plastic. When he hopped back on board it looked like somebody had smeared body glitter across his chest. It was tiny chunks of plastic.

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