The Seventh Continent: 3.43 million km2 of waste floating off the Pacific

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Imagine a huge sponge that attracts millions of tons of waste in a single place. Except that this waste is not disposed of: it gathers and forms a sort of “plastic continent”, larger than a country the size of India and the consequences on the marine ecosystem are disastrous.

This is unfortunately not a nightmare: 3.43 million square km of trash divided into two islands is floating in the Pacific and has formed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch“, also known as “Pacific trash vortex“. Even worse news, now: this  is only one out of five ocean whirls of waste on the planet. We have known about their existence for nearly 15 years, but it took many years before the news became widespread.

Whirls of waste are the result of our excesses of consumption. In the Pacific Ocean, 3.43 million square km of clusters of small pieces of plastic ( up to 30 metres deep) pollute the waters. Precisely, there are nearly 750,000 square km of waste,  which means 5 kg of plastic versus  1kg plankton.

These figures, reported by the project “Expedition into the Seventh Continent“, cannot help shocking us. These findings have profoundly impressed Deixonne Patrick, one of its leaders. Patrick is one of the few people who took the initiative of the mission. He came across one of  the five whirls of waste during an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat and felt frustrated when he had to cross debris of cars in the middle of the ocean.

Patrick Deixonne has been the Head of the mission “Expedition into the Seventh Continent:” This operation has been possible thanks to the partnership between CNES, NASA and NOAA, which aims to “collect a testimony of […] this new ecological catastrophe […] directly related to human behavior.”

This is not strictly a scientific mission; the operation still aims to better understand these whirls. The project has its motto: “in collaboration with research laboratories, we will be able to collect more and more accurate data and provide samples that will improve our knowledge of the phenomenon“, so says the official website of the project.

But how were these islands of waste born? Oceanic whirls attract waste around the world, which accumulates in 5  parts of the ocean, including the spectacular “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. “In the image of a powerful marine siphon vortex that attracts all the residues of our society”, says the mission’s website.

These accumulations have disastrous consequences on the ocean’s ecosystem: “In this area most plastic pieces are very small. […] In fact they have the same size as the plankton that feed the fish“.

Almost unconceivable, but sadly true…

MANU

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