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Plastic Dumped in the Ocean Travels Far, New Research Reveals

For a few years now the world has been aware of the poisoning of our oceans with plastic. The image of spiral-shaped debris island in Pacific off the Californian coast, called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is a haunting one as is the image of decomposing dead birds whose bodies have become plastic dumpsters.

Recent research carried out by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, based at UNSW shows that plastic travels a long way. The research looked at the Australian case and it showed that plastic dumped in the ocean by Australians can have ended up in any of the five ocean basins.

The research also showed that the longevity of plastic is so implacable that even we managed to stop dumping plastic into the ocean (which doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon), trash patches would continue to form for hundreds of years.

“There are five known garbage patches in the subtropical oceans between each of the continents. Each contains so much plastic that if you were to drag a net through these areas you would pull up more plastic than biomass,” said lead author Erik Van Sebille, a research fellow at the Center.

He said a smaller sixth garbage patch may form within the Arctic Circle in the Barents Sea, but not before another 50 years. Oceanic eddies were also shown to move plastic between patches that were thousands of miles apart in different oceans.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.