Already the largest floating trash island in the world, researchers have found the mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is "increasing exponentially," the Washington Post
reports. “I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” the Guardian
quotes Laurent Lebreton as saying. Lebreton is the lead author of the most comprehensive study of the Patch, which was published Thursday in Scientific Reports
. While the actual size of the Patch, which floats in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California, is holding largely steady at around 600,000 square miles—twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France—the mass of plastics it contains is up to 16 times higher than previous estimates. Researchers using 18 boats and two planes found about 79,000 tons of plastic in the Patch.
The Patch is made up of about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, USA Today reports. While it contains everything from plastic bottles to a toilet seat, about 46% of its mass is comprised of huge fishing nets that have been dumped overboard, which is a big problem. "Entanglement and smothering from nets is one of the most detrimental observed effects we see in nature,” an expert on marine plastics tells the Post. Because the Patch—as well as four other floating trash islands like it—are located in international waters, the world's governments aren't doing anything about them, leaving it to private groups like the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, which led the recent study. “We need a coordinated international effort to rethink and redesign the way we use plastics," Lebreton tells the Guardian. "Things are getting worse and we need to act now.” (Read more Great Pacific Garbage Patch stories.)