Regardless of where in the world plastic garbage is thrown in the ocean, new research shows that it can get carried to any of the ocean basins. Scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, based at UNSW, have established that even if we stop throwing plastics now, the places where it accumulates will continue to increase for hundreds of years.
These conclusions were reached based on analyses of ocean currents and eddies, which form five main garbage patches in the world oceans. These currents move plastics from one patch to another regardless of the distance between them.
The research also mentions the formation of a sixth patch, which is expected to form near the Arctic Circle in the Barents Sea in the next 50 years.
According to the lead author of the study, Dr Erik Van Sebille, the patches contain more plastics than biomass, and there is no single country that can take the blame for this. Sebille is certain that this is an international problem, which requires an international solution.
The study is based on data from drifter buoys, which are released by the Global Drifter Program. Every year, this program releases hundreds of buoys to determine surface ocean currents. The team was able to analyse this data in order to gain understanding of how plastics travel hundreds of miles to form the patches.
The big lumps of garbage, however, are not seen with a naked eye. The reason is that sun and interaction with the ocean break them down to small pellets, which however still have a strong effect on ocean ecosystems. Fish consume them with the water, while plankton use them to float on the surface, resulting in eutrophication.
Further work of the team is directed towards examining the fate of plastics near the coast in order to assess their influence on the environment in these crucial for humanity areas.