Measuring it is one thing – what to do about it is proving controversial

Eco magazine ‘The Ocean Cleanup successfully concluded its Mega Expedition with the arrival of three of the boats, including the 171-foot R/V Ocean Starr, in the port of San Francisco on 23 August 2015. Volunteer crews on 30 boats have been measuring the size and mapping the location of tons of plastic waste floating between the West Coast and Hawaii. The month-long voyage through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been in preparation for the large-scale cleanup of the area, set to begin in 2020. “I’ve studied plastic in all the world’s oceans, but never seen any area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Dr. Julia Reisser, Lead Oceanographer at The Ocean Cleanup. “With every trawl we completed, thousands of miles from land, we just found lots and lots of plastic.” The Mega Expedition’s primary goal has been to accurately determine how much plastic is floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, by executing the largest ocean research expedition in history. This was also the first time large pieces of plastic, such as ghost nets and Japanese tsunami debris, have been quantified. Although the samples collected during the expedition still have to be analysed, preliminary findings indicate a higher-than-expected volume of large plastic objects floating in the ocean. This underscores the urgency of The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to clean it up, according to CEO and founder Boyan Slat, “The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up. It really is a ticking time bomb.”

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