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Study: No 'garbage patch' of ocean plastic

Jan. 4, 2011 at 8:12 PM

CORVALLIS, Ore., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Claims of a "Great Garbage Patch" floating in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas are grossly exaggerated, an Oregon State University scientist says.

Angelicque White, an assistant professor of oceanography, says additional claims the oceans contain more plastic than plankton and that the patch has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950s are equally misleading, a university release reported Tuesday.

"There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world's oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists," White said.

"We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don't need the hyperbole. Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic."

White participated in an expedition solely aimed at understanding the abundance of plastic debris and the impact of plastic on microbial communities, part of research funded by the National Science Foundation.

If you look at the actual area of the plastic itself, rather than the entire North Pacific subtropical system of rotating ocean currents in which some plastic is found, the hypothetically "cohesive" plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas, White says.

"The amount of plastic out there isn't trivial," White said. "But using the highest concentrations ever reported by scientists produces a patch that is a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size."