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What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

The "garbage patch" is a popular name for concentrations of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean.

marine debris

While "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" is a term often used by the media, it does not paint an accurate picture of the marine debris problem in the North Pacific ocean. Marine debris concentrates in various regions of the North Pacific, not just in one area. The exact size, content, and location of the "garbage patches" are difficult to accurately predict.

The name "Pacific Garbage Patch" has led many to believe that this area is a large and continuous patch of easily visible marine debris items such as bottles and other litter—akin to a literal island of trash that should be visible with satellite or aerial photographs. This is not the case. While higher concentrations of litter items can be found in this area, much of the debris is actually small pieces of floating plastic that are not immediately evident to the naked eye.

Ocean debris is continuously mixed by wind and wave action and widely dispersed both over huge surface areas and throughout the top portion of the water column. It is possible to sail through "garbage patch" areas in the Pacific and see very little or no debris on the water's surface. It is also difficult to estimate the size of these "patches," because the borders and content constantly change with ocean currents and winds. Regardless of the exact size, mass, and location of the "garbage patch," manmade debris does not belong in our oceans and waterways and must be addressed.

Debris found in any region of the ocean can easily be ingested by marine species causing choking, starvation, and other impairments.