Expedition Charts 'Plasticized' Pacific

'Synthetic soup' extends far into western Pacific
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2012 4:06 AM CDT
Updated May 22, 2012 4:36 AM CDT
Expedition Charts 'Plasticized' Pacific
A common sight on beaches in islands within the plastic patch.   (NOAA Marine Debris program)

An expedition charting the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has been hauling out depressing amounts of plastic from the little-studied waters of the western North Pacific gyre. "We've been finding lots of micro plastics, all the size of a grain of rice or a small marble," the Sea Dragon expedition leader tells CNN. "We drag our nets and come up with a small handful, like confetti—10, 20, 30 fragments at a time. That's how it's been, every trawl we've done for the last thousand miles." The team has been searching for plastic pollution between the Marshall Islands and Japan.

As it sails through what it describes as "synthetic soup," the team aims to study which species can survive on the plastic, and whether the trash will allow species to move among continents. The leader of a previous study—which found that the amount of plastic in the Pacific has grown 100-fold since the '70s—warns that although some organisms can survive amid the plastic, that's a detriment to other species. "Things that can grow on the plastic are kind of weedy and low diversity—a parallel of the things that grow on the sides of docks," she says. "We don't necessarily want an ocean stuffed with barnacles." (More marine debris stories.)

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