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Plastic samples collected from the Great Pacific garbage patch. The Ocean Cleanup

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Now Twice the Size of Texas

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) floating off the coast of California now measures 1.6 million square kilometers (about 1 million square miles), according to a startling new study. To put that into perspective, the clump of trash is about the size of three Frances, or twice the size of Texas.

Not only that, the analysis, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, also revealed that the massive Pacific trash vortex contains up to 16 times more plastic than previous estimates—and could rapidly get worse.


The researchers estimated there are about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing 80,000 metric tons, the equivalent of 500 Jumbo Jets, are currently afloat in the area. That's largest accumulation zone for ocean plastics on Earth.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains up to 16 times more plastic than previously estimated.The Ocean Cleanup

The study is the result of a three-year mapping effort conducted by an international team of scientists affiliated with Dutch non-profit The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, six universities and an aerial sensor company.

According to a press release provided to EcoWatch, to analyze the full extent of the GPGP, the team conducted a comprehensive sampling effort by crossing the debris field with 30 vessels simultaneously, supplemented by two aircraft surveys. The fleet collected a total of 1.2 million plastic samples, while the aerial sensors scanned more than 300 square kilometers of ocean surface.

About 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing 80,000 metric tons are currently afloat in the area. The Ocean Cleanup

The results showed that 92 percent of the mass was represented by larger objects—such as discarded fishing nets several meters in size—and 8 percent consisted of microplastics smaller than 5 millimeters in size.

"We were surprised by the amount of large plastic objects we encountered," said Dr. Julia Reisser, chief scientist of the expeditions in a statement. "We used to think most of the debris consists of small fragments, but this new analysis shines a new light on the scope of the debris."

The team found that plastic pollution levels within the garbage patch have grown exponentially since measurements began in the 1970s.

"This plastic accumulation rate inside the GPGP, which was greater than in the surrounding waters, indicates that the inflow of plastic into the patch continues to exceed the outflow," said Laurent Lebreton, lead author of the study.

The Ocean Cleanup team is preparing to launch its highly anticipated cleanup system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this summer with the goal of collecting 50 percent of the trash in five years.

"To be able to solve a problem, we believe it is essential to first understand it," said Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup and co-author of the study. "These results provide us with key data to develop and test our cleanup technology, but it also underlines the urgency of dealing with the plastic pollution problem. Since the results indicate that the amount of hazardous microplastics is set to increase more than tenfold if left to fragment, the time to start is now."

Slat, who shot to fame five years ago with claims that his invention could clean up the seas, explains the methodology and results of the new study in the video below:

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"I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them," he said in the interview.

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The remarks come as California has suffered the deadliest blaze in the state's history. The death toll from the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California, has now risen to 79. Around 1,000 people are still listed as missing, and the fire is now 70 percent contained, according to an Associated Press report Monday.

California Governor Jerry Brown blamed climate change in a statement made last weekend.

"Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness," Brown said.

Regardless, Zinke has remained consistent in pointing the finger at forest management. His current criticisms echo his remarks following other fires this August, in which he said the increasingly frequent and violent blazes were the result of inadequate forest management, and not climate change. He continued in that vein during Sunday's interview:

"In many cases, it's these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it's not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged."

President Donald Trump has indeed vehemently blamed forest mismanagement ever since the recent batch of fires broke out, even threatening at one point to withhold federal funding if the forests weren't managed properly. During a visit to California Saturday to survey damage, Trump brought up forest management again, suggesting that the problem in California was that the forests were not raked enough.

"You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said, as CNN reported. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic] ..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, told a Finnish newspaper he did not recall suggesting raking to Trump.

"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said.

Finnish people have taken to Twitter to poke fun at the U.S. President's statement using the hashtag "Raking America Great Again."

Despite Trump and Zinke's criticisms, the fact remains that the federal government controls almost 60 percent of the forests in California while the state controls only three percent. Paradise was surrounded by federal, not state, forests. Further, the fires in Southern California spread in suburban and urban areas, The Huffington Post reported.

Some think the emphasis put by Zinke and Trump on forest management is not about preventing fires at all but rather an attempt to justify opening more public forests to private logging interests.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with land managers, private landowners, university staff, and the media about federal forestry and land management at Boise State University on June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

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