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Australian researchers modeled distance marine debris travels

Debris deposited in the waters of shipping ports travels 140 miles.

By Brooks Hays
Australian researchers modeled distance marine debris travels
Plastic pollution in the ocean. Photo by Rich Carey/Shutterstock

CAIRNS, Australia, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- A new model developed by researchers in Australia works to predict the path of marine debris propelled by tides, currents and wind. The simulations are a reminder of how easily local problems become regional, and regional problems become global.

Kay Critchell, a scientist with James Cook University, used the computer model to determine the destinations of trash dropped at various points along the Australia coast -- an inlet, the mouth of a river, atop the Great Barrier Reef.

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Running the simulations, Critchell began to pick up on specific patterns.

"For floating plastic the big driver was the wind," she said in a press release. "The main collection points were south or south-east facing beaches and those in close proximity to a river mouth."

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When trash is dropped near a river mouth, it travels an average distance of 11.6 miles. Debris deposited in the waters of shipping ports travels 140 miles.

Critchell says the modeling data -- detailed in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science -- can be used to pinpoint marine debris hot spots for cleanup purposes.

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"According to this study, the best use of their time would be to patrol beaches facing south or south-east after a big high-tide or storm," she explained.

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Critchell is now working to find out what happens to trash that comes dislodged from its resting place on the beach and makes its way out into open water.

Previous studies have attempted to plot the paths of trash collecting in giant open ocean gyres of floating waste. One model revealed how trash from some parts of the world can end up floating in garbage patches on the other side of the planet.

Another study suggested there isn't quite as much plastic waste in the ocean as one would expect. That's a bad sign, as it means fish are likely eating it.

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