There’s even more plastic in the Pacific than we thought. At least 79,000 tonnes of plastic are floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. That’s four to sixteen times as much as was estimated by two studies in 2014.

The Garbage Patch is an area of 1.6 million square kilometres between Hawaii and California. There, floating debris – from microscopic particles of plastic to large pieces like ropes and fishing nets – is carried by currents and accumulates. Similar patches exist in other oceans.

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is getting denser with floating plastic, but is not expanding in terms of surface area,” says team member Laurent Lebreton of The Ocean Cleanup in Delft, the Netherlands, an organisation trying to find ways to remove plastic from the seas.

We still know little about how plastic affects ocean life but there is growing evidence that it is harmful to many creatures – including us. “Floating plastic litter can be ingested or entangle marine life, and carry invasive organisms across oceanic basins,” says Matthew Cole of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK.

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