The amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean’s “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” has grown 100-fold over the past 40 years, according to a new study into the influence of human trash on the ocean environment. The study, which was published today in the journal Biology Letters, was part of the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), which looked at the area of the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles west off the coast of California.
“Plastic only became widespread in late ’40s and early ’50s, but now everyone uses it and over a 40-year range we’ve seen a dramatic increase in ocean plastic,” said lead researcher Miriam Goldstein in a statement. “Historically we have not been very good at stopping plastic from getting into the ocean so hopefully in the future we can do better.”
The researchers found that not only is the amount of trash growing at an alarming rate, but it’s having other effects on the natural environment. The marine insect Halobates sericeus (better known as “sea skaters” or “water striders”), for instance, has started using the floating trash as a surface on which to lay eggs, which has led to an increasing number of eggs in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. While it’s beneficial to the water strider, such a dramatic increase in insect population could have consequences all along the ocean’s food web.
Photo by Ingrid Taylar: Flickr