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Scientists reveal the Great Pacific garbage patch is now three times the size of France

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Susan Devaney
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The Great Pacific garbage patch floating in the Pacific Ocean is now three times the size of France, scientists warn. 

We’ve all heard of the so-called ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’ that’s floating around in the ocean somewhere.

And, like most things we’ve never seen up close and personal, it can be heard to comprehend its reality, let alone the vast scale of it - which is most likely why so many people have dismissed it as yet another far-fetched conspiracy theory.

However, unlike the Bermuda Triangle and the Loch Ness Monster, the Great Pacific garbage patch most definitely does exist, and it’s growing so rapidly that it’s now nearly three times the size of France.

The patch takes up 1.6 million square kilometres (618,000 square miles) and contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing around 80,000 metric tons (equivalent to 500 jumbo jets), according to a new study. With scientists estimating that the floating debris, currently between California and Hawaii, is up to 16 times larger in size than previously thought.

The analysis, conducted by scientists over two years by boat and air surveys, found the GPGP made exclusively from plastic and is “increasing exponentially”.

“Overall you would expect plastic pollution is getting worse in the oceans because we are producing and using more plastics, globally and annually,” Dr Laurent Lebreton told the Independent.

“We found that there’s about 80,000 tonnes of plastic floating in an area of 1.6 million square kilometres. That corresponds to about 1.8 trillion particles of all sizes,” he says.

The researchers from Ocean Cleanup Foundation, who are trying to establish the true extent of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, discovered that 99% of the floating patch was made from plastic – predominantly from microplastics which are tiny fragments less than five millimetres in size.

“When we compare our results with other studies on microplastics – because other studies were only reporting on microplastics – we showed that the concentrations have been increasing,” says Dr Lebreton.

And people have taken to Twitter to vent their anger at the situation. 

“If this doesn’t give you chills. New study finds #GreatPacificGarbagePatch now occupies an area three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean,” one user posted, followed by an image of the debris. 

“Why do they call it a ‘Patch’ like it’s a garden or a just a little spot on the horizon? The #GreatPacificGarbagePatch is a f**king floating continent of junk, which will someday be the size of our planet. So, humans what are we gonna do about it, huh?,” another user posted.

In recent days, leading scientists have warned the government in a report that if action is not taken now to curb the issue then we’ll witness plastic waste trebling in the sea within the decade.

And the scientists who conducted this study have issued the same warning for all. 

“There were things you just wondered how they made it into the ocean. There’s clearly an increasing influx of plastic into the garbage patch,” Dr Lebreton told the Guardian.

“We need a coordinated international effort to rethink and redesign the way we use plastics. The numbers speak for themselves. Things are getting worse and we need to act now.”

You can read more on how to successfully reduce your everyday waste here.

Images: Getty / Twitter

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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