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Led by veteran Captain Charles Moore, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation team is mapping the dimensions of the plastic dump, and analysing samples to work out just how harmful its contents are – and how it works its way through the marine food chain.
Moore was part of the team which discovered the first ocean “garbage patch” in the North Pacific gyre (a kind of circulating ocean current) in 1997 and has now turned his attention to the South Pacific.
For more than 30 years, he has transported scientists to remote debris patches aboard his research ship.
The phenomenon of oceanic garbage patches was originally documented in the North Pacific, but plastic has now been found in the South Pacific, Arctic and Mediterranean, the BBC reported.
Algalita’s current expedition to monitor plastic pollution in the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans started in November last year.
The gyres that drive water around the globe, channel plastics together – both domestic and industrial – form solid chunks in some places.
These marine rubbish dumps are a threat to the world’s fish species, and an indirect threat to humans who ingest fish as food.
Algalita, as it says on its website: “The world is awash in plastic. It’s in our cars and our carpets, we wrap it around the food we eat and virtually every other product we consume; it’s choking our future in ways that most of us are barely aware.”
It noted the extremely slow speed at which plastics biodegrade, breaking into tiny fragments in a centuries-long process.
“While at sea, plastic acts as a sponge for toxic chemicals, which are ubiquitous in our oceans as a result of human activity.
These contaminated plastic pieces are ingested by a broad range of marine organisms, from microscopic plankton and fish to marine mammals and birds. The entire food chain is impacted by contaminated plastic. Plastics are known to concentrate pollutants adsorbed from seawater, and transport these pollutants to seabirds, and other marine life, through ingestion.”