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There is a large island of trash in the Pacific Ocean and one forming in the Barents Sea

Plastic debris can accumulate in certain areas in the Pacific Ocean and other seas but there are no islands of trash.[1]Not only are there is no islands, there is no layer of trash that can be seen from airplanes. This is because much of the debris found in the ocean is in the form of small particles, not easily seen even from a boat.

In reality these areas, or “patches,” of marine litter consist of higher concentrations of small and tiny fragments of plastic rather than large pieces. But people usually envision seas full of plastic bottles, toys and other big items. In these patches, the number of fragments has been “recorded as over 200,000 particles per square kilometre … that equates to less than one microplastic particle per square metre.”[2]Large plastic pieces do occur but much less frequently. In general, the material is quite dispersed, like a soup of plastic particles. Since these concentrated areas of plastic are formed by dynamic and constantly changing currents, it is extremely difficult to estimate their size.

Concern has also been raised about a potential plastic patch forming in the Barents Sea,[3],[4]however even though the problem may be increasing and affecting fish, marine mammals and seabirds,[5] densities found there are only “slightly higher than those from Antarctica [and] substantially lower than those from temperate waters.”[6]

Regardless of the exact size, mass and location of the “soupy patches of plastic particles,” man-made debris does not belong in the ocean and must be addressed.

[1] Lebreton, L. et al 2018.Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific Reports, Vol. 8, Article number: 4666(2018). doi:10.1038/s41598-018-22939-w
[2] UNEP, 2016. Marine plastic debris and microplastics – Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi
[3] Bergmann, M. et al., 2015. Observations of floating anthropogenic litter in the Barents Sea and Fram Strait, Arctic. Available here
[4] Cózar, A. et al., 2017. The Arctic Ocean as a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic branch of the Thermohaline Circulation. Science Advances 19 Apr 2017: Vol. 3, no. 4, e1600582 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600582
[5] Norwegian Polar Institute, 2018. Plastic in the European Arctic
[6] Bergmann, M. et al., 2015. Observations of floating anthropogenic litter in the Barents Sea and Fram Strait, Arctic. Available here

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