What Happens to All The Plastic in the World's Oceans?

Five_gyres_collectionResearchers wield the collection trawl  Photo: Stiv Wilson

Despite what you might have heard, there are no huge, visually striking debris fields of plastic shopping bags and PET bottles swirling around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But if that's the good news, the bad news is much worse: there are in fact five different garbage patches, or gyres, formed by wind-driven ocean currents, and they are filled with photo-degraded plastic bits that are potentially far more dangerous to marine life and insidious than barges of plastic trash would be.

Oh, and every once in a while one will find huge gnarly balls of discarded fishing nets and bottles and buckets and toothbrushes bopping along the currents.

These were among the findings that Leslie Moyer and Carolynn Box, research aids with the 5 Gyres Project, shared with a packed house at Patagonia's North Point retail store in San Francisco on Wednesday. Five Gyres is a research initiative that has spent the past few years sailing into the world's subtropical gyres to collect water samples and measure the amount of plastic pollution within each.

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