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Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic

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      Abstract

      Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world’s oceans. Here we characterise and quantify a major ocean plastic accumulation zone formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45–129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported. We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1–3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area. Plastic collected during our study has specific characteristics such as small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the capacity to persist and accumulate at the surface of the GPGP. Finally, our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.

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      The NCEP/NCAR 40-Year Reanalysis Project

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        A global map of human impact on marine ecosystems.

        The management and conservation of the world's oceans require synthesis of spatial data on the distribution and intensity of human activities and the overlap of their impacts on marine ecosystems. We developed an ecosystem-specific, multiscale spatial model to synthesize 17 global data sets of anthropogenic drivers of ecological change for 20 marine ecosystems. Our analysis indicates that no area is unaffected by human influence and that a large fraction (41%) is strongly affected by multiple drivers. However, large areas of relatively little human impact remain, particularly near the poles. The analytical process and resulting maps provide flexible tools for regional and global efforts to allocate conservation resources; to implement ecosystem-based management; and to inform marine spatial planning, education, and basic research.
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          Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments.

          One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics. Within just a few decades since mass production of plastic products commenced in the 1950s, plastic debris has accumulated in terrestrial environments, in the open ocean, on shorelines of even the most remote islands and in the deep sea. Annual clean-up operations, costing millions of pounds sterling, are now organized in many countries and on every continent. Here we document global plastics production and the accumulation of plastic waste. While plastics typically constitute approximately 10 per cent of discarded waste, they represent a much greater proportion of the debris accumulating on shorelines. Mega- and macro-plastics have accumulated in the highest densities in the Northern Hemisphere, adjacent to urban centres, in enclosed seas and at water convergences (fronts). We report lower densities on remote island shores, on the continental shelf seabed and the lowest densities (but still a documented presence) in the deep sea and Southern Ocean. The longevity of plastic is estimated to be hundreds to thousands of years, but is likely to be far longer in deep sea and non-surface polar environments. Plastic debris poses considerable threat by choking and starving wildlife, distributing non-native and potentially harmful organisms, absorbing toxic chemicals and degrading to micro-plastics that may subsequently be ingested. Well-established annual surveys on coasts and at sea have shown that trends in mega- and macro-plastic accumulation rates are no longer uniformly increasing: rather stable, increasing and decreasing trends have all been reported. The average size of plastic particles in the environment seems to be decreasing, and the abundance and global distribution of micro-plastic fragments have increased over the last few decades. However, the environmental consequences of such microscopic debris are still poorly understood.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, Martinus Nijhofflaan 2, Delft, 2624 ES The Netherlands
            [2 ]The Modelling House, 66b Upper Wainui Road, Raglan, 3297 New Zealand
            [3 ]Teledyne Optech, Inc., 7225 Stennis Airport Road, Kiln, MS 39556 USA
            [4 ]ISNI 0000 0001 0728 6636, GRID grid.4701.2, School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, Faculty of Technology, , University of Portsmouth, Portland Building, ; Portland Street, Portsmouth, PO1 3AH UK
            [5 ]ISNI 0000 0000 9561 4638, GRID grid.262627.5, Department of Biology, , Marine Biology and Environmental Science, Roger Williams University, ; 1 Old Ferry Road, Bristol, RI 02809 USA
            [6 ]Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ Paris 06, CNRS, Laboratoire d’Océanographie Microbienne (LOMIC), Observatoire Océanologique, F-66650 Banyuls/mer, France
            [7 ]ISNI 0000000123222966, GRID grid.6936.a, Department of Civil, Geo and Environmental Engineering, , Technical University Munich, Arcisstraße 21, ; Munich, 80333 Germany
            [8 ]ISNI 0000 0001 1009 3608, GRID grid.5560.6, ICBM-Terramare, , Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, ; Schleusenstr. 1, Wilhelmshaven, 26382 Germany
            [9 ]ISNI 0000 0001 0742 471X, GRID grid.5117.2, Civil Engineering Department, , Aalborg University, ; Fredrik Bajers Vei 5, Aalborg, 9100 Denmark
            Contributors
            laurent.lebreton@theoceancleanup.com
            Journal
            Sci Rep
            Sci Rep
            Scientific Reports
            Nature Publishing Group UK (London )
            2045-2322
            22 March 2018
            22 March 2018
            2018
            : 8
            29568057
            5864935
            22939
            10.1038/s41598-018-22939-w
            © The Author(s) 2018

            Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

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