Group Sets Sail to Study Pacific Garbage Patch

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A team of scientists, journalists, recyclers, government officials and sailors set sail from San Francisco Bay on Aug. 4 for a monthlong mission to study what’s known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” located about 1,000 miles north of Hawaii.

Plastic debris in the Earth's waterways is often mistaken for food sources by sea life. Photo: tropicalblendsurf via Photobucket.com

The floating garbage patch is still a mystery as scientists continue to explore hundreds of miles of debris. Photo: tropicalblendsurf via Photobucket.com

Said to be twice the size of Texas, the Garbage Patch is an island of floating debris (mostly plastic) that is swirling and trapped by the North Pacific Gyre, a large, circular ocean current.

The mission, called Project Kaisei, is the first step in examining the immense amount of garbage and what can possibly be done to clean it up. But, according to researchers, it’s no easy task.

“The missing link is how can you capture the plastic, since it’s spread out over such a large area,” Mary Crowley, project co-founder, tells The New York Times. “The key realization here is that the plastics might have a value, a recycled value, which is a very exciting deal.”

Crowley says the garbage has been accumulating over the past 30 years, and the group’s first step is to make a dent in the most recent accumulation. But cleanup will be overwhelming as the murky water holds about six pounds of litter to every pound of plankton, according to a 2006 report from the United Nations.

This group isn’t the first to raise awareness about the Pacific’s growing problem. This past April, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation created its “JUNKraft” to expose the effects of plastics pollution in the ocean.

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