local | Environment | Science

Pacific's Giant Plastic Island May Be Marine Myth

OPB | Jan. 4, 2011 10 p.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:06 a.m. | Portland, OR

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Scientists say that reports the great garbage patch swirling around the Pacific Ocean is the size of Texas, maybe greatly exaggerated.  Kristian Foden-Vencil reports on new research out of Oregon State University.


You’ve heard the accounts: that the oceans are filled with more plastic than plankton; and that the patch grows tenfold every decade.

But Angel White, an assistant professor at OSU, says such claims are misleading.

Angel White: “You couldn’t see the plastic from the deck of the boat and we ended up trawling a net, so sieving the surface ocean to collect plastic. And then conduct a whole series of experiments between microbes that were attached to the surface of this plastic.”

White estimates that if you took all the plastic in the North Pacific, it would cover an area of land less than 1 percent of Texas.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have also found that the amount of plastic in the Atlantic Ocean, hasn’t increased since the mid-1980s.

White says whatever the size of the garbage patch, there’s too much plastic and what scientists don’t know is how much is sinking below the surface.

She says she also learned that large colonies of photosynthetic microbes are using the plastic pieces to live on.

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