Humanity has tossed a lot of plastic into the Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years. The level of small plastic pieces in the so-called "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased 100-fold over that span, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found in a new study. "We did not expect to find this," one researcher tells the BBC. "To find such a clear pattern and such a large increase was very surprising."
Leave plastic in the ocean long enough and it'll break down into small easy-to-swallow pieces—an earlier study indicated that 9% of fish have plastic in their stomachs. There's another environmental consequence, too: Marine insects called Halobates sericeus, or sea skaters, have been using the plastic as a place to lay eggs, so their population is exploding in the region and could impact plankton and fish eggs, which they feed on. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a Texas-sized area, born from ocean currents that conspire to assemble trash and detritus, MSNBC explains. (Read more Great Pacific Garbage Patch stories.)